- On Stabil, his 2006 debut for Raster-Noton, Kangding Ray (David Letellier) took the label's signature high-end frequencies and precise digital rhythms, and added traces of acoustic tones and melodies. The album largely retained the label's cool austerity, but touched on something warm beneath the surface. Automne Fold, the Berlin-based artist's sophomore effort, goes further in exploring this combination of digital and organic sounds, incorporating more acoustic instrumentation (such as violins and a detuned piano) and even vocals, creating what is one of the label's warmest and most openly emotional releases.
Perhaps reflecting Letellier's background as a guitarist and drummer, there's a pop sensibility at work here, with the longest tracks clocking in at a little over five minutes. "Idle," one of the album's many highlights, is actually a song, complete with verses and a chorus. Other tracks also have a song structure, such as "A Protest Song" (where the warm wall of hiss is reminiscent of what some bands do with guitars) and "World Within Words." The CD case even includes lyrics.
Readers concerned that this all sounds like too much of a departure from the Raster-Noton aesthetic needn't worry. Letellier still uses many of the hallmarks of the label's sound, deploying crisp digital beats and flickering rhythmic bursts of hiss and static to create an album that feels clean and pristine, yet also warm and organic. It's this contrast that makes Automne Fold so engaging and compelling, with the acoustic tones softening the edges of the sharp digital rhythms. And it's here, where these seemingly opposing sounds meet, that real feeling is found. For Letellier the heart of the machine is not cold and analytical, but is instead human and emotional.
Automne Fold is largely introspective (although not melancholic) in mood, despite its pop leanings. This is due to Letellier's sombre melodies and choice of organic instruments, such as the sonorous bowed guitar on "Apnée," the violins on "Parallel" and the contrabass on "Palisades." That Letellier can so deftly and consistently merge these sounds with a digital palette is impressive; in fact the album has only a single misstep, "Apnée. Part II," which features a spoken word monologue about eyeballs and ice cube trays that tries a little too hard to say something profound. (In Letellier's defense, somebody else wrote the lyrics in question.)
Of course, melodies and organic instruments are no strangers to Raster-Noton, having most notably appeared on Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto's collaborations. Yet the extreme restraint of those releases made them difficult for some listeners to approach. With Automne Fold Letellier has crafted an album that is extremely moving, expressive, and accessible from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
02. Automne Fold
04. The Distance
05. A Protest Song
11. World Within Words
13. Apnée. Part II