The resurgence of modular synthesizers is both wonderful and terrible. Sure you can finally find new logic banks, dual VCA's, LFO's and oscillators that won't cost you a mint on eBay, but it has also put these wonderful, expressive, peculiar tools into the hands of many uncreative souls who waste the potential — and my time when searching Youtube clips — on solely creating 4/4 ambient techno; it's like owning a helicopter and towing it to work. Further, many folks have terrific skills when it comes to "bending" electronics, but they tweak their Speak & Spell to sing an 8-bit version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (true story)?
Fortunately, you will never have this lackluster let-down with Switzerland-based Jason Kahn (analog synthesizer, radio, mixing board), Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday-electronics) and Günter Müller (iPods, electronics). Together as MKM or alone, they have plunged into the bottomless crevices of sonic possibility only possible with unconventional ideas and instruments. Los Angeleans Casey Anderson and Mark Trayle further augment the trio on Five Lines with equally innovative approaches to electronics, "objects" and guitar.
During the forty-minute work, the listener is presented with layers of wide extremes that cross, stunt one another, merge and ignite. For the first several minutes, the group explores myriad frequencies best classified as "electrical static": think white noise from a TV station off the air, a bug zapper, amplifier hum, AM radio fuzz and squeals from something accidentally plugged into the wrong socket. That looks kind of random on paper, but the method of floating and swelling employed by the quintet turns this bag of detritus into thoughtful suspense. On the low end, something drags like fingertips on a coffee table while (presumably) Trayle gently rattles muted strings to produce an eerie harp-like effect. Percussive sine waves blip and sputter like popcorn over a tone that slowly ascends and agitates the rest of the players into an erupting apex. Just past the ten-minute mark, an unaccompanied haunting wash descends the tonal hill. A dull metal bowl cuts through the ruckus of synthetic freak-out bubbles while background explosions become foreground and a faint din of pop song quickly spins past your left ear.
The aesthetic carries on this way through the loose chapter breaks, though the palette continues to morph, over and over (the complexity of strata, counterpoint and overall production is only appreciated with headphones). Near halfway, the focus is silence interspersed with punches of electromagnetic sound smeared with an echoing layer of bleeps and a deep, filtered pulse. Solar flares fall on hisses and bustling whirrs, a glitching melody begins to climax — and this is about the point where adjectives and other words won't do justice to Five Lines. I will just say that this group runs the (amazing, gorgeous, technically brilliant) gamut of what can be done with sounds that are usually avoided / edited out of most music.
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