And Then We Were Surrounded
Jay Ahern and Morgan Packard:
Here we've got two new EPs from Microcosm alumni whose names haven't appeared in our pages for a little while—Morgan Packard and Sven Laux. The latter's release is the longer one of the two at forty minutes and is also more conventionally structured in presenting five pieces that vary in length from five to ten minutes; the collaboration between Packard and Jay Ahern, by contrast, is a single-track live piece of some twenty-five-minutes duration.
Laux's And Then We Were Surrounded (issued by the Vancouver-based Dewtone imprint) locates a middle ground so precisely between ambient and techno that it neither leans more in one direction than the other. As he has done on previous releases for Microcosm, Archipel, Villar Village, and others, the Berlin-based Laux here transmutes instrument sounds, foundsounds, and field recordings into multi-layered set-pieces that are anything but minimal. There's a little bit of that Microcosm aesthetic in play in the tiny clicks that lock “Hidden Poem” into rhythmic position, and there's a bass drum that adds a hefty lower end to the material, too. But more than anything the piece is distinguished by a wealth of piano shadings and synthetic colour that gives the material an almost symphonic grandeur. Adding to the music's lustrous character, its melodic elements are besieged occasionally by waves of crackle, making for a dynamic and multi-dimensional result. Laux's ambient-techno is deeply atmospheric, to say the least, but it can also be subtly funky, in large part due to the minimal bass pulses that snake their way through the tracks' dense undergrowth. There's also a dub dimension (perhaps most noticeably evident during “Morning Dew” and “PN-YD”) that dovetails naturally with Laux's penchant for ambient soundsculpting. Above all else, fully realized creations like “Hidden Poem” and “Morning Dew” show how refined and polished his work has grown over time.Morgan Packard established himself solidly with two Anticipate full-lengths (2007's Airships Fill The Sky and 2010's Moment Again Elsewhere) but has spent the past few years nomadically traversing the globe, first moving from Brooklyn to Berlin and then back to the US, first touching down in Denver and now Boston. The Berlin move was inspired in part by Packard's re-awakened interest in techno and his desire to play gigs for dancing as opposed to listening audiences. Issued on Jay Ahern's Modular Cowboy label, Mesa Sequences is a live improvisation piece (actually a twenty-five-minute edit of a longer New Mexico performance) that finds Packard combining his homemade software synthesizer sounds with Ahern's vintage electronics in a frenetic, real-time dialogue. Even though Mesa Sequences has the quality of a studio recording (no microphones were used to record the audience so no non-musical sounds appear), it plays like a live techno set in the way it emphasizes hellacious pulse over melody. The material does undergo constant change but does so subtly, with transmutations emerging as part of the music's ceaselessly galloping flow. Dubby percussive accents echo as they ricochet off of the charging groove and textures of varying kinds surface throughout the steamy trip, making for a piece that holds up equally well as music for the body and the mind.