Bit-Tuner - A Bit of Light [-ous - 2015]Bit-Tuner's "A Bit of Light" represents a currently very 'hip' sound, pairing booming trap 808s and hip hop flavored beats with vintage soundtrack electro synth, bright saw waves and lush pads.
Bit-Tuner's synth oriented approach has a lot more strong melody and bold emotion than most bass music, which often takes its intimidating, unemotional tone from gangster rap. He's kept the head nodding, syncopated bass bumps of modern rap music, but has a penchant for bright, crisp and clean waveforms, particularly saw waves. Barring the drum machines, every sound found on this album is taken straight from an 80's soundtrack.
Throwback 80's style music is constantly being rebranded and reintroduced, recently referred to as 'vapor wave' quite frequently. It begins to irritate me if I see the same musical styles presented as new time and time again, but I can appreciate the vibrant color and bold melodicism of many of these classic synth timbres. Vintage sequencing was rhythmically rigid, clumsy and lacking dynamism in a way that has since been remedied by digital gear.
With such a back to basics hardware approach, all we get are straight 8th and quarter notes, each note played at the same volume, punctuated with the same tone. The textures are fat and clear, but there isn't much of an ambient soundspace for them to occur in. There isn't any panning, and the total number of sound layers is small. The way the gear is used is competent, but unimaginative. As a result, roughly half of the tracks are too clearly triggered and simplistic.
Thankfully, the drums consistently sound absolutely delicious. Their sound isn't as strictly 'retro' as that of the synthesizers. A slight swing is used to augment most of the beats on this album, which creates an infectious gravity. While undeniably and irresistably 'hardware' in their direct, clean power, they are tastefully filtered, deep and and augmented with low end in a way which had never been done in the 80's.
The compositions are generally well conceived, their greatest strength being the the sense of togetherness and nostalgia beneath the immediately gripping rhythm. This is certainly party music, social music, music that is equally 'indie' as it is hip hop, made to bridge audiences. Perhaps, indeed, too much catering is being done, but the emotion is certainly genuine. The integration of tension-building soundtrack ostinati with repetitive '3 note stab' type melodies as found in heavily loop-oriented hip hop feels natural. Each track dwells on a few chords for its duration, instantly striking its colors. This album does not require patience.
Bit-Tuner breaks completely out of retro mode for a couple notable exceptions, those being the odd timing of broken beat tracks like "Twin Crystal" and "Engine", taking cues from footwork and drum and bass with oddly syncopated volleys. Polyrhythmic beat juggling was simply not possible in the era where most of these timbres originated. This album is far groovier for it. The sparking electric glow of the grainy electro bass texture in these songs is psychedelic and transporting. It hints at a darker flavor I would have liked to explore more.
The album demonstrates pleasing variety over the course of 16 songs, but doesn't necessarily flow as a whole as much as it could. While none of the songs are noticably weak, there is a full stop between each of the pieces, and the beginnings are often undramatic, not obviously related to the previous. The songs could be played in any random order and achieve the same effect. I have a hunch the album was created more for DJ mixing than playing as a whole. For being a clear fan of Berlin School ambient, it's surprising Bit-Tuner didn't conceive of some kind of larger momentum to the record, or of the idea of creating longer than bite sized tracks. If these kind of dramatic synths are to be used, I think it's only right that some kind of longform narrative be allowed to form, as per Klaus Schulze.
Bit-Tuner has a lot of talent, and I enjoyed this album. He has a particular knack for direct, kinetic 808 sub bass pulses, thick, fat kicks and strong drops. The blatantly vintage 80's style synth work which accompanies the beats is not near as successful, at times sounding heavy handed and lacking in dimension, at other times brightly emotive. The productions on the album range from clunky average electro to fluently jaw-dropping psychedelic broken beat ("Engine"). Bit-Tuner clearly has the ability and the ideas, though this album comes off as a collection of unrelated tracks for playing live. It could have used some tightening and re-organizing, possibly a couple songs omitted. His music seems limited by his formulaic over-directness, and I would love to hear something more focused and through composed from him.Josh Landry