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Cassegrain
Centres Of Distraction Albert Freeman , December 17th, 2014 11:02

While Prologue is undeniably an influential label, when their artist roster is examined in greater detail it becomes clear that they are more responsible for coalescing a certain sound and scene than for themselves creating it. Their biggest label names – Donato Dozzy, Mike Parker, Brendon Moeller, Milton Bradley – were all active prior to their association with the label, and the cadre of Italian producers who rose to note with the imprint likewise has deeper roots. It is actually quite rare that they made much in the way of major independent discoveries, but when Cassegrain appeared nearly out of nowhere in 2011, even early on it had the appearance of something special. A lone, formative release on Kevin Gorman's subterranean Microwave label was the only thing that preceded it, and while many viewed the Prologue debut of the duo as simply another of the label's dependably deep, downcast transmissions, there were those few that correctly picked Cassegrain as a project with an unusual future.

It turns out the few were the ones that had it. By their third release, the pair had pushed beyond dancefloor constraints into something that, in sonic texture, still made a good fit for the label but in most other aspects blew far past it. Out went dependable techno meters and tempo; the damaged psychedelic atmospheres took precendence, at all times threatening to overtake and derail the techno elements that provided their foundation. If Voices from the Lake's intense and sublime sound made a perfect fusion of the two sides, Cassegrain took in the fragmented mental state achieved by going further over the edge past the tipping point, with all the risks that entailed. The kind of bracing experimentation going on in the duo's work was never intended to gain mass appeal, but it did turn heads as they were picked up by Killekill, M_Rec LTD and Modal Analysis and earned collaborations with Tin Man. Naturally, their expansive ideas find best footing in album format, and Centres Of Distraction is the outstanding result that culminates their telling trail of twelves into an immersive statement of weight and accomplishment.

Like Basic Channel before them, the entire album comes swathed in an unremitting hiss most audible at its quiet points but present throughout, and also like their legendary forbears, the music has little concern for conventional ideas of utility on dancefloors, preferring to delve deeply into constructions of pure sound. Based deeply in dub, they abandon the minimalism of more conventional dub techno to pursue thickly layered sonic tapestries, occasionally also abandoning techno time signatures in favor of tripping, shifting delays. This approach is familiar from much kosmische synthesiser music, but their interpretation is far more modern in conception and essentially based around percussive, repeating rhythms rather than melody and texture.

At times, they deftly combine these morphing sequences with techno elements; 'Scythian' is striking in both its adherence to a rigid techno pulse and its pulsing, throbbing sonic architecture that pays little heed conventional ideas of dancefloor movement. If the notion of layering rigid sequencer and delay structures over ultra-stripped drums can be traced to Krautrock and has been frequently channeled in electronic music, tracks like 'Empress Cut In Segments', with its tamboura-like Eastern tonal ideas, show uncommon sophistication in joining these concepts with striking acuity of purpose. This isn't to say Centres Of Distraction falls short on pounding techno; over half of the album is certainly composed of it, but there are details throughout that throw the balance toward psychedelia, whether it's the detuned arcs of synthesiser in 'Arcane', the odd, zapping keyboard interjections of 'Resilin', or the repeating waves of hiss and small delay bleep patterns that rush to the front in opener 'A Study Of Splashes'.

Rather than make a slow start, a short ambient intro immediately leads into four of the hardest, straightest tracks on the album, each densely detailed and murky with delay but featuring familiar elements, before things drop off into a netherworld never quite to return to the same place. Placed at album centre, 'New Hexagon' and 'Glasshouse' are the most experimental, an ordering decision that may be the album's most conventional attribute but leads smoothly into a trio of stranger techno pieces until tapering to the textural closing track. Typically for both Cassegrain and their label, the journey from one end to the other is dark, and claustrophobic, with little time given to breathe, but rather than drowning in liquid flux, the explosions of abrasive elements and rhythmic shifts jar the listener out of submerged reverie and into sharper-edged and more dangerous territory. Many electronic records may seek to emulate the intensity and psychology of a psychedelic trip; few grasp the uncomfortable side of the experience quite so well as this.

Building on ample evidence provided by previous EPs and their bracing live performances, the duo has crafted in a late masterwork of this particular school, even in the face of increasing creative overcrowding. Centres Of Distraction is very much in keeping with the zeitgeist of experimental techno, but it easily surpasses most of its contemporaries in clarity and depth of execution. The pendulum swings of stylistic popularity and focus may already be moving on, as demonstrated by newer outcroppings of noise, kosmiche, and industrial that are now merging their way into dance music, but that is immaterial in the analysis of this particular streak of creativity. Cassegrain may go down as an odd footnote next to more famous peers whose music broadly falls into similar stylistic territory, but they have accomplished the rare feat of creating their own interpretation of that style, and this album is the most formidable, complete expression of their ideas yet and a work that rewards intent listening, hopefully and deservedly for years to come.

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