- The aesthetic of PAN and its founder Bill Kouligas could be said to perfectly encapsulate where we're at in late 2012: a place where homespun experimentalism and the academic avant-garde meld with visceral body music in new and unexpected ways. PAN releases from NHK'KoyxeN, Heatsick, SND and others have been among the finest of the year, but it seems that Kouligas has saved his best till last. In the past month, Lee Gamble has delivered not one but two superlative records that both encapsulate the PAN ethos and push it into new realms: first Diversions 1994-1996, a 12-inch of jungle abstractions, and now Dutch Tvashtar Plumes.
What's perhaps most remarkable about these two releases is how entirely distinct and yet accomplished each of them is. Where Diversions ruminated on notions of memory, decay and loss, this LP is a forward-looking affair, a singular take on dance floor mechanics which takes up the reins from Gamble's past work in more purist computer music realms. There's no doubting that Gamble's previous discography is a presence here—in its individual moments (the furtive modem-like burble of opening track "Skorokhodz," for example) and its general sonic world: one of paper-thin but precise textures, strange glitch-like sonic artifacts and nimble, fiendishly complex structures. The appeal of this LP lies in the adroit splicing of this aesthetic with that of dance floor techno, a combination which has the potential to be horrifically stale, sterile, smug—but ends up being anything but.
Granted, Gamble does offer up a few more sedentary workouts: the gorgeously windswept "Black Snow"; "Overund"'s deep-space plangency; desolate closer "Kuang Shaped Prowla." But more or less everything else is animated by a pulse and a kick drum of sorts, allowing Gamble to approach techno conventions from multiple angles. "Barker Spirals" pins down its stumbling, refracted synth patterns with a malfunctioning slow-mo throb, while "Nowhen Hooks" is a druggier affair, its synths oozing and swirling ceaselessly. "Coma Skank (BinocConverge Mix)" has something of the airiness of dub techno, but those keenly degraded pads—labouring under a hiss somewhere between tape crunch and a low-bitrate MP3—steadily crumble under a galloping percussive onslaught, the seemingly disparate sounds beginning to throb and wheeze in unison in a masterful sleight of hand.
Often it's the unpredictability of these tracks that makes them so fascinating. Take "Plos 97s," whose thunderous kick and percussive filigree perpetually hove in and out of view with impressive fluidity. But it's also, more fundamentally, Gamble's innate understanding of techno as a subjective experience. "Tvash Kwawar" is built around a beautiful winding synth passage that sends reverb tails off into the murk; before long though, a hi-hat strafes down from on high, leaving a cloud of particulate noise in its wake that consumes the mix. It's an effect which would never work on the dance floor—and yet it's incredibly astute in its simulation of the peak time experience. Gamble may approach techno as an outsider, but his contribution is not to be ignored.
A2 Plos 97s
A3 Black Snow
A4 Coma Skank (BinocConverge Mix)
A5 ExpRand Trace
B2 Barker Spirals
B3 Nowhen Hooks
B4 Tvash Kwawar
B5 Kuang Shaped Prowla