by Darren Bergstein w/ additional reviews by Jason Olariu

Specializing in “synthetic microscopic sound designs and minimalist compositional aesthetics”, Taylor Deupree’s 12k label, founded in 1997, has quietly become of the most significant electronic music concerns in the US. In 2000, Deupree and collaborator Richard Chartier launched the sublabel Line to focus on “ultraminimal, conceptual soundworks that explore the relationship between sound, silence and spatial metaphors.” Packaging reflects this approach — slim-line boxes then digipaks (Line releases come in sleeves) splashed with ergonomic designs evincing stark, diagrammatical habitats. And to experience the recordings’ full dynamic range, headphones aren’t required; they’re essential.

Taylor Deupree’s own releases on 12k have found him developing and refining his methods by redirecting the listener’s attention to the gray zone of treble, hiss and tone. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, as Deupree’s recordings here reveal nanosystems bristling with life, even if the sounds they make arise tentatively from the undergrowth. With Occur, textures and their very components are disseminated, altering the motive nature of ‘music’ to a series of discrete, select events. All of the untitled pieces, though structured enough to exist as independent works, are part and parcel with one another, connections made by planned interactions between ware hard, soft and wet (the sprig of ubiqware?). Such ’ware posits the following: EKG tones that monitor the stirring morning impulses of single cell organisms in deep underwater abyssals; twigtips wafting from the eddies of small, burgeoning dustdevils; the low-groomed approach of wooferbeasts suddenly caught in pinprick rains. Fantastic stuff; the proper dosage is to absorb once and repeat as necessary. Deupree changes tactics completely on the follow-up, Stil. While the marginal brushstrokes are still painstakingly rendered, the hues are denser, more repetitive — petite, austere still-lifes. Suggesting Geir Jennsen (Biosphere) in its isolationist minimalism, the perpetual cycling fuzz of “Snow/Sand” creates a barren yet enveloping landscape intermittently broken by droplets of heavy-water particles; “Recur” is a hushed chorale for stymied ‘birdcalls’, disc-skip ticktocks and residual hum; and on the title track, the interspatial afterglow of a thousand fluorescent lightbulbs flicker in a muted cacophony of ghost-ambiences. Galvanizing in all respects, Deupree’s modes of corporeal stasis fairly rattles its own Cage.

Allowing the parameters of microsound room for expansion as well as contraction, September 19, 1998 et al., allows New York artist Kenneth Kirschner the time to digitally nip and tuck a myriad array of acousmatic elements, owing more of a stylistic debt to progenitors such as Robert Ashley than to Kirschner’s aesthetic peers. While the source material raids from the usual basket of noisemakers — piano, soft synths, even mp3s — the composer’s directives ballast all three tracks: sound is cultivated like bonsai, pruned back to grow and flourish. The title piece shapes grains of varying percussives, commencing from subtle taps to post-industrial clicks and clangs, staggered around an uncorrupted piano figure; the software-driven “September 27, 2002” is a nebula of glitch and static, obscured by huge swaths of drone, with the end result not falling too far from ‘mentor’ Deupree’s extended works of the same ilk. (JO)

Doron Sadja kickstarts the 12k digipak releases with the excellent and adroitly-named A Piece of String, A Sunset. Specters of rhythm (not beats) announce themselves in the space of five gradually unfolding, unsignified mosaics that, subsequently, divulge low-level fan throb, showers of scored tin, radar blips, mutating morse code, the unhurried buzzing of drone insects looking for the hive. Below these extremely detailed, meticulously crafted earrhythmias repeats a metronome that sounds like atomic engines in distress, their peals symptoms of data approaching critical mass. Those unchecked sounds dissolve into more ‘naturalized’ rhythmic confines along the ‘microtechno’ gridlines of tracks two and four, though bursts of sizzling data and flattened, smudged tones are reminders you’re trapped within a luxurious hi-fi zone. Here is a matrix, reloaded, of terse textures and electrostatic surfaces. France’s Sogar (ex-pat German Jürgen Heckel) resolves his lattice-like constructs into far more tangible knots of rhythm than Sadja. Apikal Blend, the follow-up to his previous 12k mobile module Basal, is built upon beds of elongated, softened notes, pitched-out and ‘strummed’ atmospheres, and other unrecognizable bits of spackled minutiae. On “Üi Spalt”, Heckel dispenses with momentum for a more exploratory sojourn into the wherefores of flecking, gaseous plasma and the patterns that reform in their residual wake. “Com 3.6” blankets those re-energized bytes in a womb of tactile (battery)heartthrob and starlight crush, ably illustrating that the compelling strange attractors of Apikal Blend smack of both honey and vinegar.

Over the course of the polymorphously lovely Folding, and the Tea, Christopher Willits joins the ranks of fellow laptopists Oren Ambarchi and Christian Fennesz cementing the cyborg relationship between guitar and granularism. Enthralled with the regenerative software that makes tracks such as “Lichen” and “Poa” the aural equivalent of rug-weaving in Photoshop, Willits’ music is all about soft haiku and pensive sparkle until the subdued thunderoars of “Scrims” trade clicks for cool clamor. His panoply of sounds aren’t extraordinarily variable — all originate out of similar interlocking string/data patterns, but the dexterity of the macramé on hand displays a remarkable grace that renders such considerations moot. Compositionally unique among his peers, Willits keenly grasps the geometry of his muse and his music; curious to see what other sound choices he’ll further extract from his iToolsbox.

When Pauline Oliveros initiated her concepts of ‘deep listening’, never was an axiom more descriptive of the sound-sculpturists recording on Line. Label co-proprietor Richard Chartier, whose Series release initialized the sublabel, charts the barest of entities on his contributions. The second most recent, Of Surfaces, is, simply, just that: literalized dust, the sound of particle litter blown across the tabletop, the tiny end-bursts of gnats diving into still water. Two Locations are a pair of long works designed for sound installation and gallery ambience, and are of a ‘louder’ denomination than the previous disc, consisting of soothing background oscillations and extraordinarily minimal, almost Eno-esque striations. Only by increasing your volume output can the wow and flutter of these fragile, whispery motes become discernible. Yet, this is not music of amplitude modulation — played at ‘normal’ levels, outside intrusions are in fact encouraged into this tiniest of settings. If experienced in a sensory deprivation tank (headphone usage being the closest approximation), those external ambiences removed, the nuances of the sounds become isolated, magnified — but that would remove their pure mysteriousness and innate charm, no?

Immaculate in conception, the subcutaneous tones that abound on Clean are motion-suspended to the point of obsessiveness. Split in three parts, each authored by different artists whose only direction were digital interpretations of the title word, the quantized results, like the sounds, fluctuate in quality. Canada’s Duul_Drv indulges the sobs of muffled propellers and liquid dribbles, nesting crickets and foghorn lightbeams, and dense shoals of endgroove residue floating on an opaque laketop — by far, the boldest of the batch. Japan’s Nibo makes the staggered sineposts and corroded drones of his Canadian doppelganger sound positively titanic by comparison; somewhat dull and stillborn. The UK’s Vend strikes an even more restrained pose consisting of random, almost undetectable quips of trashed data whose positioning smack of arbitrariness. Though not without its moments, Clean is one of the less striking items in the catalog.

Bernhard Günter has built his reputation inaugurating these sonic idioms, both independently and as owner/curator of lowercase imprint Trente Oiseaux. Note that patience is a virtue when absorbing the double-disc set Monochrome Rust/Differential. Like his previous Line release Monochrome White/Polychrome w/Neon Nails, the mannerisms and field densities of these near-inaudible, microscopic sounds develop on an almost subatomic level. These works demand a reorientation and recalibration of listening; they challenge by their very nature, in that you’re commanded to pay close, focused attention. Indeed monochrome, yet driven by a singleminded, linear inertia, fibrillating in virtual honeycombs of silence, Günter inverts the traditional morays of sound, music, and sound as music. In these contexts, describing such sounds invites the creation of new phraseology; music becomes parenthetical, sounds the analogue of commas and semi-colons, ‘silence’ becomes its own ‘musical’ component, breaking up the sound instead of sound breaking up the silence. Bold and confrontational in all respects, Günter’s creations proffer the antonym to ambient.

Throughout his continuing tenure with Goem, plus records for Staalplaat and Chartier’s [work with the] Intransitive label, Roel Meelkop has worked his muse through numerous experimental dialects. To Be Announced attacks the Line paradigm more viscerally than many of the label’s other nematocists, a forty-minute reappraisal of industrialism turned back into itself. As with the CD cover’s image, resembling a supernova’s photo-negative, Meelkop’s construct begins with trawls of innocuous buzzes and expired puffs of air; the buzzing suddenly vanishes, the rushing air duels with a cadre of successive tiny ‘happenings’, and then it all ‘ceases’. When these circumstantial sounds resume, doors slam, generators throb, and we are thrust deeply into the compositional fulcrum holding the work together: episodes of relative silence abruptly invaded by mini metal machine musics, noises chafing like rusting steel, and the incessant whine of mosquitoes, while Meelkop opens up the areas of vacuum between tool and die, massaging out of their vast resonant spaces cavernous drones left by the wake of great passing airships. Not many soundscapes leave much aftertaste — in heralding the idea of a ‘post-anti-industrialism”, Meelkop might very well have turned twenty years of brutish posturing right on its (pin) head.

Skoltz_Kolgen’s Hyalin takes the phrase ‘tonal color’ literally. The duo of Dominique Skoltz and Herman Kolgen created a single hour-long piece from “sound transparencies generated by visual opacity”, what they call ‘translucid’ and part of their “sound object and photo series.” While this process of creation may be mysterious, the end product is regretfully anything but. A dual sinewave, each set at a different pitch, cycles for almost the duration of the piece, with little to no variation besides volume. What little other sounds are introduced are bits of the original waves, shortened and plugged into the static tone at brief intervals — otherwise, there remains little or no constant to the progressing sound fabric. Focusing on the painful high-end of the hearing spectrum, Hyalin, which could have been a brilliant ambient/minimalist document, unfortunately offers nothing to the casual listener other than stultification, followed by an eternal bout with the 60 cycle hum of tinnitus. (JO)

Craftily enough, Steinbrüchel culled the entirety of Circa from the sounds of rain, which was later ‘played’ at the Zeit= sound exhibition in Zurich in 2001. It’s to the composer’s credit that he disdains from wringing the obvious metaphors from his sound sources. Containing tracks exactly six minutes in length, Circa magnificently transforms a multitude of organica into a fertile garden in vivid miniature. Difficult to imagine that the thick droning atmospheres of track four are transfigured from the same meteorological phenomenon. Perplexing how the reverbed, chime-like heartbeats of track seven don’t even as much hint they originate from the properties of falling water. Downright baffling that the subdued feedback and footstep vibrations of chigger mites on track ten share the same characteristics as a torrential downburst. What is perfectly clear is that Steinbrüchel understands the parameters, limitations and expectations of his sculpting tools, and that a dedicated grasp of those devices will always betray the work of others too blinded by software-dazzle to get at the heart of their machines.

Consequently, and without paying much attention to detail, the wayward pedestrian new to Miki Yui’s music may take much of Silence Resounding as New Age environmental tweeness. While that may not be an entirely incorrect proclamation (take “Smoke”, which amplifies the white noise of precipitation into a sea looming with electrostatic charges), Yui uses a familiar palette of sounds that have a knack for simultaneously pacifying and agitating those who wish to absorb it. Ergo, squealing shortwave fallout gets trampled beneath feedback on “Small Fish”, while birds chirp and squawk below the rumbles of distant thunder and preening synthesized ectograms on “D. Rain”. Silence Resounding is something of a darkhorse; eclectic in the narrative of its patterns, it is at times a frustrating, confounding listen yet, in the most pragmatic sense, keeps in Line with the label’s diminuitive ambitions.
Taylor Deupree