- The very format of Innervisions' latest, A Critical Mass Live, is eye-catching: A group live record isn't something you see in the techno bin every day. You'll be excused however if you have trouble figuring out the artist name. Wait, wasn't last year's tour called the Innervisions Orchestra? Or wasn't the project itself called A Critical Mass? On the release, consisting of two tour excerpts, Innervisions has steadfastly refused to subsume the foursome under a new moniker, so you get the simultaneously clunky and distinctive "Henrik Schwarz, Âme and Dixon." No matter—with live group techno it seems that being confused about who's playing what is part of the game—you see four laptops, but you get a swirling torrent of electronic sound into which the role of each individual has been dissolved, like a molten cauldron.
In an interview last year, they described the live Innervisions sound as "free jazz but with a techno approach," although truth be told it's more like the opposite of that—techno approached with the sensibility for freedom and controlled chaos of free jazz. It's an exciting concept, and since there's no set convention yet for how group-improv techno should work, every outfit that takes it on needs to write the rulebook as they go.
So how does this all play out in practice? A-side "Chicago" is an updated version of an earlier Henrik Schwarz track, which casts out some of the original's Moodymannisms in favor of a more Robert Hood-like touch, adding a bit of Detroit to Chicago in robo-bleep form. It includes some nicely orchestrated beat drops that must have been terribly fun to hear live and which still retain a punch on wax. Near the final third, a lovely, haunting organ-like chord change emerges to guide the group towards the finale.
In contrast, "Berlin-Karlsruhe" adopts a more long-form undulation, becoming expansive big room techno with plenty of layered synths that eventually sounds like Manuel Göttsching playing Fabric Room 1. Here you get more of a sense for the dialectics of restraint and freedom in improvisation, with everyone working together, using trust to move through unexplored territory—you can almost feel a collective breath in anticipation before a big beat drop. Club techno's always been about bodies, about listening with your whole body, and this seems like a case where it's about playing with your whole body as well.
A Chicago (Live Version)
B Berlin-Karlsruhe-Express (Live Version)