The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Positive Centre
In Silent Series Albert Freeman , November 17th, 2014 11:00

Like most of the producers on the Our Circula Sound label and a good deal of the techno coming from Berlin at present time, Postive Centre, in both name and sound, skirts murky depths with shadowy, greyscale music and similar imagery. Mike Jefford is another UK-to-Berlin transplant, like labelmates Shifted, Sigha, Blue Hour, Emptyset, and quite a few others, but his music holds more in common with one of the more illustrious recent English transplants, Samuel Kerridge, whose crushingly textured industrial techno hybrids have exploded to heavy notice on the rebooted Downwards label. Placed together with obvious forebears like Demdike Stare and the recent Andy Stott and Claro Intelecto, the slowed-down tempos of these artists and their integration of UK dance ideas from other idioms have created a new and highly hybridised sound that found even more fans than adherents in spite of its sonically adventurous nature. It exists as music of the margins that takes from many areas to combine into something that is not yet precisely defined.

Again in common with a good bit of the OCS roster, Jefford's music is very heavily invested in texture and sound design, something that is nearly a given in contemporary techno but a particular obsession for the label. It is this aspect that most distinguishes Positive Centre from the above-mentioned names and a few other close followers of his polyglot sonic idea. Given the various ingredients – noise, ambient music, industrial, techno, drum & bass, and bass music – a personal balance for each of the artists could be expected to arise. Jefford arrives at this with ease: his outspoken admiration for electroacoustic composers like the Pierre Schaeffer-founded Groupe de Recherches Musicales, Pierre Henry, and Iannis Xenakis comes through notably in his work, which possesses a clarity of sonic intent that suggests the ideas pioneered by these names. It's not at all lacking in the dirt, power, and cavernous reveberation-drenched sounds of his peers, but there is an exercise of restraint and emphasis on complex textural arrangements that places him on one extreme end of this developing spectrum.

The complexity, depth, and various influences being developed by this short list of artists have found their most fully-developed statements in a relative handful of albums that explore the varying facets while tying the sound together with overarching sound processing. Positive Centre's In Silent Series is one of the best yet. It's comparatively modest in length at 52 minutes, and confines itself to strictly heads-down sound exploration, shorn of humanistic touches like Claro Intelecto's melodicism or the unexpected, wrenchingly effective vocals of Stott's last album; likewise, the overt drum & bass leanings of Demdike Stare are equally absent. Such comparatively spare structures would imply spaciousness, and that is indeed what we get on the more stripped of the album's pieces, which are carefully deployed as mood setters to remind the listener that the bruising, slow-motion techno ideas going on around them are a piece of the puzzle but not its entirety. The penultimate track 'The Circled Rib' works especially powerfully in this manner, with ultra-clean sub bass pulsations and blasts underlying minutely-tweaked drum hits, slow feedback arcs, and careful applications of dub effects. At nearly 10 minutes, closer 'Old Father Sun Strider' is another exercise in restraint where the endless reverb tails and microscopic manipulations of effects lead into an ominous ending that creates an effect both unsettling and uniquely immersive.

Together with the opener, the ambient ideas are most clearly displayed in these three pieces, with the remainder ratcheting up a deliberately-paced rhythmic pressure. After an extended beatless intro, 'Ashes In Exhalation' rolls out pounding 4/4 kicks and buzzsaw 16th-note percussion against hats so effects-laden and distant as to be nearly unrecognisable, with the entire track unfolding seemingly in slow motion and more focused on the all-encompassing synthetic haze than any kind of forward movement. 'Out Was The Old In' taken at a higher tempo could be utilitarian techno and bears recognisable influence from the work of Mike Parker, but there's an extra two or three layers of synthesiser elements and heavy, hanging textures as well as a tripping feeling to the rhythm that suggests double-time and remains vague throughout. UK rhythmic concerns surface very noticeably in 'Handed By Symmetry', which takes a step back in the heaviness to focus on dramatic effects manipulation and the distantly rattling processed drum breaks.

When the time-stretched sudden blast of a rave hoover hits midway through 'Back To Steaming', repeated after a long break of reverb-heavy silence and continuing regularly in the second half, is when the oppressive but delicately-constructed atmospherics of the album grip the listener by the throat. Even at the tempo he is working at this menacing combination of straightforward techno ideas and brain-warping effects and sonic treatments is a potent brew and one quite a bit more carefully concocted than most of his peers. 'Become The Surface' takes a large step back to examine the possibilities of repeated basslines placed in echo chambers, supported by more of the omnipresent hanging curtain-wall of indistinct ambience, while 'Stand Down Be Better' builds up to a crescendo via percussion, increasingly intense, reverb-corroded strings and croaks of intense bass, but by its own halfway point is consumed by the atmospheric tendencies and implodes into tidal washes of bass rumbles and thunderous builds of metallic, synthetic texture.      

It's rare for music this bleak and physical to be quite so nuanced as Positive Centre manages, and rather than inspiring the sort of apocalyptic head-banging Kerridge does in his heaviest moments. He leans towards introspection with faint, surprising flashes of beauty coming out of the din of his humming machinery and malfunctioning circuits. Each twist upwards on the volume knob brings with it not only increasing visceral impact but also increasing awareness of the dense, micro-detailed arrangements. For a record that mostly functions as a conventionally-sequenced techno album with a straightforward narrative, In Silent Series is remarkably convincing both for its insistence on integrating esoteric ideas into techno and for its success in doing so while maintaining dancefloor utility. Necessarily narrower in scope and more focused in execution than the more sprawling statements in the UK-to-Berlin liaison now developing, his combination of purism, detail-oriented focus, and dense atmospheres that hover between outwardly endless and crushingly inward-looking identifies a welcome and distinct voice in a developing area not yet overcrowded with talent.