Architecture affects us. Structures set conditions that inform how we see, hear and navigate an environment. Since founding Emptyset in 2005, Paul Purgas and James Ginzburg have explored the effects of a given space on sound. Between their first self-titled album and Recur, released on Raster-Noton in 2013, the duo honed their singular aesthetic, suspended in the ether around post-industrial noise and sound art. Their focus was not on the body, but on the atmosphere around it.
On Borders, their fifth full-length and a first for the label Thrill Jockey, the physical presence of its performers is essential. Recorded live on homemade instruments, Borders swells and lurches in distorted thuds. There are 11 tracks, but there may as well be one. The grinding, halting rhythm of the album's wordless mantras shifts through tracks like "Body," "Speak" and "Sight," rarely deviating from a given frequency.
After the avant-techno of their self-titled debut album, Purgas and Ginzburg moved on to exploring the limits of their weighty, droning sounds. Their bass-heavy dance music was dismantled then set loose in uncommon settings—a disused nuclear power plant in 2011's Demiurge, an abandoned Victorian mansion in Medium, released the following year. Although the objective was to add spontaneity to drones and sine waves—fed through carefully placed analogue effects, processors and filters—they could only do so much in uninhabited spaces.
As a title, Borders points to a shift in what the project represents. It's no longer just a matter of what space does to sound, but what space, sound and the body do to each other. Once it pulls you into its core, its dissonant sound becomes comforting, and then cathartic. In evoking confusion as to where man ends and machine begins, Borders offers a musical interpretation of a very modern dilemma.