Switched On – Optometry: After-Image (Palette Recordings)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Optometry is a new collaboration between John Tejada, known as a quality source of largely instrumental techno, and March Adstrum, a guitarist and vocalist of intriguing musical stock – her parents played baroque violin and she toured backstage with a number of their ensembles.

The press release describes how the band focus on themes of life, love and loss, weaving seductively melancholic textures together with synths, drum machines, guitars and bass.

What’s the music like?

The reason for quoting the press release above is that it presents a wholly accurate description of what has the potential to become a very strong musical outfit. Optometry make intriguing and subtly unpredictable music, cool to the touch but with more than a little emotion bubbling beneath the surface.

When it starts, After-Image sets out its stall to become a quality source of sharp edged electronic pop, but as it unfolds there is actually more to it, as Tejada and Adstrum make room for some experimentation and a number original thoughts.

Chameleon struts out confidently, with a strong beat and a vocal of glassy clarity. Technicolor is bathed in bright harmonies, but the experimentation bears fruit in Falling, featuring Mason Bee, which adds an intriguing bit of bossa flavour with sighing strings. Bee reappears on Larger Than Me, a vulnerable song that asks repeatedly, “do you still think about me?” By contrast the closing Cathedral is worth noting, too, a short sound poem that paints an impressionistic picture of sound, with plenty of echo and refraction that brings snatches of vocal and great, wide spaces to the listener’s ears.

Does it all work?

Pretty much. The only criticism to level at Optometry is that on occasion it feels like their ideas could be more fully developed, especially Cathedral which hints at a haunting ambience it would be great to hear more of.

Is it recommended?

Yes. An interesting listen, and evidence of the musical versatility that John Tejada and March Adstrum hold. It’s a grower, too.



Switched On – John Tejada: Sleepwalker (Palette Recordings)


written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

John Tejada’s new album picks up where 2021’s Year Of The Living Dead left off. Sleepwalker was written at the turn of the year, when the status of the pandemic was completely uncertain. Tejada turned to music to express what everyone was feeling, showing at the time more of his continual creativity.

What’s the music like?

John Tejada is such a consistent writer, and Sleepwalker teems with activity, with melodic and rhythmic interest aplenty.

Shattered buzzes like an approaching insect, while Excursion has busy activity with some nice spatial effects, giving different perspectives around the stereo picture. When We Dead Awaken bounces ideas around like pinball but over a broad background, and Whip Hand feels like the components of a machine combining productively, with several rhythms and riffs to latch on to. Isolate is quite playful, a light response to the conditions of the pandemic, with chopped-up riffs. Arguably the pick of the eight is Unafraid, whose combination of calming harmonies, offbeat rhythm and bell-like background are beautifully managed

Does it all work?

Yes. The busy workings of Sleepwalker reflect a creative mind, eager to make new music and press on with positive resolve.

Is it recommended?

Like all of John Tejada’s albums, this one has a great deal going for it, not least the most positive of resolutions to create, inspire and press on. This is techno at its most free flowing and is a subtly inspiring experience.



Switched On: John Tejada – Year Of The Living Dead (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Year Of The Living Dead would seem to be a direct statement on the extended time we have had to spend in lockdown, but for John Tejada it appears to be bearing the fruits of his musical endeavours in that period. For the eight tracks making up his fifth album in a decade on the Kompakt label, Tejada broadened his scope to use unfamiliar electronic instruments, the result being an eight track body of work operating with the reassuring freedom he has always employed.

What’s the music like?

A mixture of comforting keyboard pads and edgy beat workouts. Tejada has always had his own distinct approach, and here we get the familiar parts of his sound – warm chords, intricate rhythms, offbeat loops and rhythmic cells – dressed up with less familiar musical explorations, taking in dub and more direct electro.

Tejada always exhibits consummate control over his music but this never stifles its emotional impact. Darker thoughts are afoot in the steely edged Abbot Of Burton, which puts its foot down after the suntrap that is Spectral Progressions. Meanwhile the opening trio of the album, The Haunting Of Earth, Sheltered and Eidolon, are a familiar presence with their intricate clicks and rhythmic cells.

Does it all work?

Yes. With an open ear and an attention to detail, Tejada never hits a dud – which is something we can reliably say about pretty much all of his considerable output.

Is it recommended?

Yes. A new John Tejada album is always a welcome arrival, and it’s great to see his reluctance to fall back on his laurels and produce replicas of previous albums. His music continues its organic process and repeated hearings reveal just how much there is going on in each track. Recommended for devotees, of which there are many, but also for new visitors.



John Tejada


John Tejada is a well established and highly respected techno musician – but his roots lie in an upbringing full of classical music. Arcana called him on a break from work in his California studio, where he wrote his tenth album Signs Under Test, released on Kompakt this month.

He spoke about the benefits of a musically open family, how that led him to hone his own approach to music, and why he loves the music of Steve Reich. But first, after a quick listen…

Can you remember your first encounter with classical music?

My first memories were from my parents, with my mother being an opera singer and my father a clarinettist and conductor. I would often get dragged around to gigs! One of my first memories was seeing them practice, and that made it very real. I think that probably that programmed me into the routine of how you get up, have breakfast and then practice, and that has stuck with me right through to this day. It was a big influence in what I do now.

There are often moments in your music where you are subtly very inventive, using unusual rhythms and less conventional harmonic patterns. Does that stem from your upbringing do you think?

I suppose it does, but I couldn’t properly explain it. It’s one of the different ways I got to where I am now. My focus is not on getting played out by DJs but it is an enjoyment of listening to what feels interesting. Getting the fuzzy feeling, that’s what I’m after!

What does classical music mean to you?

I wouldn’t say that ‘classical’ music means a great deal to me, as I tend towards the stuff that the more modern composers did, I would go with my mum to see Steve Reich concerts; we’d go to see that stuff together. I don’t actively listen to the classic stuff, but because opera was always on at full blast in the house I got to hear a lot of it. It gave me an interesting perspective on what music is and what it can do. It has stuck with me the whole way through.

The categorisation of what is classical music has always puzzled me. The early works of Stockhausen are classical but today sound like something like that could be released on Torch Records! Looking back, it’s pretty wild what was going on in the 1950s and 1960s compared to what people do today.

Is Steve Reich a big influence on your work?

Absolutely. One of the biggest goose bumps I have ever had was going to see the Music for 18 Musicians live for the first time:

You start to see that live, and you say “Holy shit, it’s real!” It flared up a real love of the music in me. No-one bothered to notice that on my last album The Predicting Machine there is a strong nod to Reich on the fourth track, Winter Skies:

Reich was so revolutionary in the way he showed people could have ideas of just using tape loops. He was a massive influence on digital music today with the loops and the phase experiments – he laid the fundamentals to what people are still doing now. I would love to see Music for 18 Musicians performed on synths, I think that would be really successful.

What would you say classical music – as you listen to it – and techno have in common?

I think a lot of stuff! I really enjoy making those connections. I think classical music – and the music of Reich – refers to looped and non-looped music that is beatless. The question for techno is ‘Can you do that with a beat?’ For me though the fundamentals of techno and drone are laid down without a beat. Terry Riley and Steve Reich discovered that. It is an interesting connection there, but I find a lot of people won’t give it a chance. It’s like eating a vegetable. There are times when I won’t explore because I just don’t know.

What do you know and like at the moment?

I am a big fan of Terry Riley, because he is one of those great composers who cross into other areas. In his album A Rainbow in Curved Air he used music in a way that would give Autechre a run for their money:

I also think early Art of Noise records are really interesting, you have people trying stuff out – because why not? I remember when I was listening to some of this stuff at home, and being nearly asleep but being scared silly at the same time! We had some really interesting radio in the mid-1980s, and I was absorbing some crazy stuff.

I remember one time when one of my friends came round who was writing some particularly experimental stuff. He was playing that new stuff for me, which was a real risk for him playing it at full blast. Mum came in and said, “What are you playing, it’s really interesting – it sounds like…” and then she named three different composers. It wasn’t the standard request to turn it down at all!

Would you like to try writing more classically based music?

I have done some more experimental things on labels like Plug Research, but yes – I do have an idea to do something that is modern classical. We’ll see how that develops!

John Tejada’s new album Signs Under Test is out now on Kompakt – and you can listen to it on the label’s website here. For more about the artist himself, visit his Facebook page