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NHK - Program [LINE - 2015]

Post-techno is a vanishing art. Not that there's a shortage of the stuff but rather its skeletal deconstructed form tends towards the compositional vanishing point. This is especially the case with the output of Kouhei Matsunaga here appearing under the NHK moniker along with fellow countryman Toshio Munehiro for a set of abstract experimental pieces bearing a tenuous relationship to what in a less cynically detached age we might have called "dance music".

There are no track names. Undoubtedly such conventions would offer too much of a window into the soul of the artist. Instead the nine tracks are given chapter numbers Ch.1, Ch.2 etc. Cunningly labelled Ch.1 sets the tone with a reverberating kick drum accompanied by dissonant analogue squeals and fuzz. It doesn't get much time to develop and we move on after not much more than a minute. The second track is given more of an opportunity, developing multiple lines of rhythmic distortion and broken beats. It's still an entirely dissonant affair with nothing coming close to a groove or swing. Clipped hi-hats, static blips and warped claves are the order of the day with the artists seemingly taking the familiarity of the 303 and 808 kits and doing quite nasty things to them with their software and analogue gear.

Ch.4 extends the template introducing grating blasts of contact mic generated noise and minimal drones into an even sparser arrangement. One recalls those dishes Masterchef contestants sometimes produce; deconstructed cheesecakes and such like, where the pastry, cheese, and other ingredients are separated out, prepared in such a way as to allow the diner to sample each one on its own terms. It's a very hard thing to pull off and all too often the effect is little more than eating a crumbled piece of well cooked pastry with some artfully prepared cheese and cream on the side. NHK's approach to techno seems to be attempting something similar and where it works, say on Ch.6 where some depth is achieved through interesting use of delay and reverb the results are intriguing, affording the listener an elemental experience of bass music that is usually obscured by studio and compositional trickery.

However where it fails the results are like listening to unmixed demo tracks or someone sound-checking their equipment. All of the shorter pieces here fall into that category leaving me to wonder why given the emphasis on drilling down to the nuts and bolts of techno music the artists haven't allowed the ingredients they're working with on these pieces the time to shine through. It's all over far too quickly to get engaged with a series of finely modulated snares and glitchy kicks. And you certainly wouldn't want to try dancing to it! Unsurprisingly the best piece on offer here Ch.8 is also the longest at nearly eight minutes. Here multi-layered drones and feedback sweeps compete with bursts of static and swarming clicks and scrapes. There's a greater use of dynamics to generate a sense of space and volume recalling some of the most abrasive moments of Emptyset.

The extreme minimalism and near obsessive audio microscopy of Program fits with the aesthetic of Richard Chartier's Line imprint. I'm less convinced that the familiar materials of techno music stand up to the sort of examination they are given by NHK.

Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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