, December 2nd, 2011 11:27
At the opening night of the Short Circuit Festival at the London Roundhouse earlier this year, the star attraction was Raster Noton boss Alva Noto's collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto. An elegant set of piano and electronics followed that inspired a standing ovation, after which most of the audience unfortunately departed, leaving Byetone to play to the nearly empty, cavernous room. Yet his sparse electronics, like techno stripped down for maintenance, suited this most functional-yet-elegant of places perfectly.
When it came to Byetone track 'Plastic Star' a gigantic monochrome screen behind him showed numerals counted ever and inexorably upwards... 1... 13... 37... 84... 126... People in the seated venue began rocking on their chairs, crazed as if desperate to dance but unwilling to go the hog in this vast space. Suddenly, with a bang, the sound cut. Strangely, it provided a crescendo that, when you listen to 'Plastic Star' on record, never arrives. Much portent is to be found in this denied gratification, a very European form of sangfroid. The title of the album on which it featured, Death Of A Typographer, likewise suggested some kind of intellectual musical life of tailored shirts, granite and steel - an archness that, while not entirely humourless, nevertheless felt very (and enjoyably) severe.
Symeta, its follow up and part of a terrific couple of months for Raster-Noton that has also seen releases from Alva Noto and Vladislav Delay, is a more attacking, almost defiantly rougher affair. This is no bad thing. 'Topas' begins with a sharp, pressured click of static, as if bleeding from the edges of some high-pressure chamber, before a build that runs the abstract power electronics of Pansonic through a transformer and sets them forth upon the dancefloor.
If Death Of A Typographer was sleek and minimalist, then Symeta is souped-up, with flaming carburetors and the stink of oily piston sweat. 'T-E-L-E-L-G-R-A-M' has wobbleboard electronic threat, 'Neushchee' the beat of a heart that pushes chemicals not blood.
If there's a criticism to be made of Symeta, it's that it doesn't necessary hold together particularly well as an album. The flow and structure within tracks in fact serves to differentiate between them, giving the overall a jagged feel. Nevertheless, this brusqueness does serve to highlight the power of the individual pieces, and highlights the definite progression at play here, with the record becoming more garrulous and abrupt as it goes on.
Indeed, this awakening of what you might call a punk rock element rears its gloriously ugly head in a violent one-two at the close of the album. 'Helix' starts with a rattle like a firing pin on the base of dud machinegun bullets, before a digihonk and beat propels the track forward in a frustrated circle for five minutes. Nevertheless, there is an odd digital swing within the acid wash, which makes it an ideal precursor to the best and brashest track here, 'Black Peace'.
So you want gratification? 'Black Peace' has that, alright, with one of the most exhilarating drops you're likely to come across for a while. It begins with the panicked urgency of a Cylon Raider hopping on the spot, desperate for a pee, before a nasty snare and bass kicks in, making the whole... Well, bizarrely enough, you can sing Toni Basil's 1982 hit 'Mickey' over the top, complete with Wayne's World handclaps. That drop, when it comes, is gurning and gung-ho, leaving raving legs spinning exultantly above a massive void. It's simply one of the most viscerally enjoyable tracks of 2011.
As 'Plastic Star' demonstrated, Byetone is a master draughtsman when it comes to creating blueprints of sound. On Symeta, his production line grinds into action, and commences delivery.