Switched on – Aārp – Propaganda (InFiné)

What’s the story?

Aārp is an intriguing figure. Having started out as a viola player in an orchestra, the producer – whose real name is elusive – found his head turned by electronic music, specifically the likes of Squarepusher, Amon Tobin and Oneohtrix Point Never. His love of classical and exploratory electronic music spills over into a full length record for InFiné, his first album Propaganda.

With a title like that it is no surprise to report a political slant to Aārp’s thinking. It is a response to the tragedy of a young festival-goer in Nantes who drowned following a police altercation – and specifically a response to how that tragedy was reported and spun by the press. Aārp was inspired to create a series of tracks, each given the title of an important quote from world news that was treated in a similar way.

What’s the music like?

While it sounds like he is working with a heavy subtext, it is great to report that Aārp does not get too weighed down by his subject matter. In fact the opposite is true, as Propaganda has moments of light and shade, seriousness and humour. It is a restless piece of work, full of riffs that never quite stay still but go really well with his beat making. Nothing is off the table here and there is a lot of excellent work by instinct.

Ca fuit de partout sets the tone with a descending motif that has a quirky edge, which Condamnez-vous les violences? runs with, the riffs becoming more oblique. The Axis of Evil is a thrilling ride, glitchy beats preceded by a blast of rich organ chords. Meanwhile on The Herbicide That Gets To The Root Of The Problem, riffs flit across the stereo picture like birds not quite settling, the music hyperactive and uneasy.

Not all Aārp’s writing is as packed with events as the opening trio. His descending motif gets a different perspective in the more introspective Less than 1% of Patients Become Addicted, while darkness descends with the low threat of Nada es gratis en esta vida, a short but heavily loaded track.

Some of his soundscapes are really impressive – try the breadth of vision from I Prefer a Liberal Dictator to Democratic Government Lacking Liberalism, or Les malheureux sont les puissances de la Terre, which moves from what sounds like electronic steelpans to pinball-style beats and shimmering chords.

Does it all work?

As an album, yes – because Aārp has a distinctive style that constantly asks questions of its surroundings. The duration might be relatively short but a lot happens in 35 minutes! The bursts of hyperactivity might also be a bit too much for some, with a short attention span meaning some of the ideas don’t get developed as fully as they might, but the album follows a compelling path which rewards repeated listening.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Aarp has a fresh approach to electronic music that works rather well, and although the topics covered by Propaganda are pretty weighty, the responses to them offer blasts of fresh air.

Listen

Buy

Switched on – Bruce Brubaker & Max Cooper – Glassforms (Infiné Music)

What’s the story?

The music of the so-called ‘minimalists’, led by Philip Glass and Steve Reich, has always provided a strong link between classical and electronic music, and has naturally inspired a number of artists positioned at that junction.

Reinterpretations of Glass and Reich have varied considerably though, from those who like to perform the music straight with no added frills to those who have added drum tracks and remixed them beyond almost all recognition. In that sense the music has been an inspiration, but it has on occasion proved difficult to get the balance right.

Pianist Bruce Brubaker and scientist / electronic music producer Max Cooper have teamed up for their own reinterpretation of the music of Philip Glass, approaching it with a view to adding subtle enhancements rather than radically changing its essence. Cooper has developed his own system for musical expression with Alexander Randon, taking live feeds from the piano to drive his own systems.

What’s the music like?

Brubaker performs well-known Glass piano pieces such as Mad Rush, Two Pages and Metamorphosis 2 with great sensitivity, to which Cooper adds the expressive studio touches and atmospherics. That may seem like straightforward solution, but both performers have to be careful to avoid over-egging what Glass has already done.

The pair link the originals with improvised music of their own. This is through a series of five preludes where Brubaker channels the spirit of Glass but brings in external influences from the likes of Liszt and Bach to galvanizing effect.

There are so many notes in the busy keyboard pieces such as Mad Rush that to do too much would not work – but here the judgement of both performers is right on the money. The piano parts are essentially the same, but Cooper cleverly highlights elements of the busy lines with his own spotlit textures, putting shards of white noise on the top of the likes of Mad Rush and opening out the sound with long bass notes, taking us from intimate beginnings to cinematic, big-venue textures. He does this without compromising the solitary world of a piece like Metamorphosis 2, and each one makes an unexpectedly weighty emotional impact.

While the reinterpretations of pieces like Tirol Concerto are excellent, Brubaker and Cooper’s interpretation of Two Pages is outstanding. It is ideally paced, the tracer lights of the keyboard operating over great waves of synthesizer pads, the chords shifting simply but with a devastatingly effective emotional payoff. So far each listen to this particular track has left a tear in the eye!

Does it all work?

Yes. It is immediately clear that Brubaker and Cooper hold the music of Glass in the utmost respect, but also that they know how to bring it forward and point it towards a slightly more club-orientated audience. There are no beats at any point, but the electronic sounds and textures bring them much closer – and Glass’s own rhythmic impetus is enough in any case. Each track is carefully woven and lovingly produced, and sounds great on headphones.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Glass and Reich have had some excellent remix treatment in the last 25 years or so, but Bruce Brubaker and Max Cooper have really raised the game with this album, which is both wholly complimentary to Glass but offers something new in its own right. It is a really fine  achievement.

Listen

Buy