Over the course of its career—which has included three full-lengths and numerous EPs thus far—Emptyset […]
Over the course of its career—which has included three full-lengths and numerous EPs thus far—Emptyset has repeatedly raised the question of just how far minimal techno can be abstracted before it becomes something else entirely. The interest of the Bristolian duo in exploring sonic space and specificity—which has been apparent since the outfit dropped its first, self-titled album of dense, layered techno in 2009—was solidified on its most recent album, Medium, an LP constructed using source material from and elements composed entirely within a rural mansion in Cotswolds, England. Earlier this year, the pair offered up the Material EP, which explored the sonic environments of a decommissioned nuclear power plant, an underground concrete testing bunker, and a 22-mile medieval mine. Recur operates within this framework, although it eschews an overt focus on particular locations. Instead, it seems to be thematizing something much closer to the pure sonic dynamics of sound itself. As the press release states, Recur “examines the central themes of time, structure, and recursion, through the analysis of scale and the interaction of both formal and fractured sonics.”
This kind of mission statement suggests a highly clinical approach, and in many ways, it’s possible to see the LP as playing out a dynamic tension between, on the one hand, the duo’s clear affinity for punishing, mind-numbing sonic frequencies, and its more academic impulses on the other. Recur opens on a disarmingly spare note with “Origin,” a track that builds up over a series of increasingly hypnotic mechanical oscillations, which have been interspersed with eerie silences. The track establishes both a deep sense of foreboding and a clear interest in dynamic sonic architectures, and these two threads aptly characterize the record as a whole. “Disperse” offers crunched and destroyed dub-techno, and its cyclic, lurching, barely intact rhythm complements ominous glitches and metallic clattering. One quickly becomes savvy to the structural similarities of many of Recur‘s tracks—there is a certain rigidity to the way motifs are sampled and repeated, either decaying or intensifying as they are compressed, mutated, or further fleshed out.
Further highlights include the rich drone of “Lens,” in which hypnotic waves of sound intersect with immersive low end and higher-pitched tones, resulting in something almost serene. “Limit” strays the closest to outright techno on the album with its heavy kicks and shuddering compression, even if the rhythm is oddly lopsided. There’s little denying that Emptyset has a highly developed conceptual framework for its music, and while Recur explores similar territory as the group’s last few releases, there’s a sense that with this album, the duo has further distilled its interest in the interplay between noise, music, and silence. With a healthy willingness to let silence intersect with extreme sonic frequencies, on Recur, Emptyset finds itself pushing both ideas and sonics to their respective limits. However, this commitment to extremity also means that for all of the album’s conceptual nuance, its unrelentingly clinical approach can leave the listener cold.