It seems the German electronic music label Raster-Noton is sometimes as recognizable for its pitch-perfect album graphics as its boundless take on experimental electronic music. With a ream of superb releases already in 2009, as well as an impressive roster last year, the label appears to be at a creative apogee. SND’s Atavism, the second album for the U.K. duo on the label, delivers more of what we’ve come to expect from Raster-Noton.
Atavism sounds like what happens to music when machines take over. The first track is an icy 28 seconds of metronomic beeps, the noise of an idling data processor. It’s an eerie precursor to the alienation and glitchy dissonance to come. But Atavism is organically minded, and structured with the same building blocks (i.e. Roland hand claps) of techno.
According to Raster-Noton, Atavism is “both an allusion to the origins of a type and the genesis of something new.” Hence, the album is centered on a nostalgic itch for the dance floor, as seen and interpreted through the eyes of a computer. The second track is the example of that collusion. Arrhythmic synth jabs jaunt along, twisting and turning until a reassuring handclap grounds the song in structure.
Like some fellow Raster-Noton releases, Atavism is spacious and at times quiet. SDN strip down the elements to their barest form, so that the tracks are devoid of excess. The fourth track is a rollicking, shifty drumbeat that jumps along with equally unpredictable shimmering synths. It’s not until track 11 that inscrutable machine distortion throws all into disarray.
SND is Mark Fell and Mat Steel, two Sheffield-based studio directors and digital audio and video artists. They have been making experimental electronic music for nearly 10 years, along the way remixing for Ryuichi Sakamoto and touring with Autechre. Atavism is the duo’s fourth album and the first full length in seven years.
It’s on the fringes of popular electronic music where artists are making the most future-driven stabs something we’ve never heard. Atavism is such an album, and it’s as ambitious as it is difficult to define. This music has a tendency to occupy the mind, so don’t expect to be able to do much more than listen.