Minimal techno has always been about stripping things down to their essence. Now, with Cadenza's Split Composition series, the opposite approach comes into play: building a new sound, and a new tradition, from the beats up.
Each edition will consist of four sides of vinyl broken out into several skeletal rhythm tracks and a handful of supplementary parts: ambient fantasias, shimmering drones, treated vocals, electro-acoustic collages.
The series is a riff on the old idea of "DJ tools" offering stripped-down tracks meant to be mixed in performance. But the Split Composition series vastly expands upon that idea, both in terms of format and the music itself. Drawing not only from techno but also from jazz, musique concrete, and 20th Century composition, the individual elements of every Split Composition release are also meant to stand on their own. In addition to being tools, they work as tangible traces of the artist's creative process - minimalist sketches of a lone idea or a single mood.
While their primary purpose is to bring a sense of creativity and a spirit of play back to the DJ booth - supplying DJs with the raw materials to create dynamic mixes that don't play by the rules of the season's anthems - the Split Composition series is also a challenge to producers to step outside their comfort zones, playing with timbre, texture and melody in new ways.
And for listeners who aren't DJs - or perhaps are DJs only in the sense that they craft endless playlists in their media player of choice - the Split Composition series offers a new way for listeners to approach electronic music. Split Composition invites listeners to play, shuffle, and rearrange; it invites them to remix the music not only on their turntables, but in their minds.
If the DJ mix is famously described as a journey, the Split Composition series is the map of the back roads and hidden vistas, a map that yields a new route every time you unfold it.
The first record in the series comes, appropriately enough, from Luciano (aka Lucien Nicolet and Lucien N Luciano), an artist who needs no introduction, and the originator of the Split Composition concept - an idea that stems from his uncompromising, experimental approach to DJing as well as from his many collaborative projects, including Sense Club and Narodniki.
The A side and B side both find Luciano in prime form as he crafts two subtle, snaking percussive workouts. He's up to all his old tricks: topsy-turvy syncopations, relentless polyrhythms, sci-fi effects and unearthly treatments galore. Running 10 and 12 minutes, respectively, both tracks are a DJ's dream, offering endless possibilities for layering, interleaving, building up and breaking down. The B-side in particular channels all the darkness of Luciano's recent productions for Cadenza, sucking out the shadows so that only the structure - hard, angular, like an architecture of anxiety - remains.
The C side offers five short interludes, running between two and five minutes apiece. They range from a lilting vocal track, strangely reminiscent of Eraserhead's Elevator Song, to innerspace explorations via FM synthesis to an unsettling duet for organ and air-raid siren. It's Cadenza's deepest foray into the dark side - so far.
The D side, meanwhile, is something else altogether. The color of an oilslick, the 15-minute track is a slow explosion of tone that evokes horns, strings, and bells, constantly morphing around an unstable synthetic center. As slow and weightless as a sleeper's breath, it makes the perfect close to a record designed to mix seamlessly into the ether.