Mika Vainio and Franck Vigroux are two of the more reliable representatives of the still growing electronic music subculture that prefers raw physicality of sound to the supposedly more 'emotive' melodic approach (newer arrivals like Emptyset deserve an honorable mention here as well). However, the unerring physicality of their approach is intense and concentrated enough that it is capable of harvesting an unexpected variety of emotional responses, often upstaging those more traditional purveryors of ambient electronics who had this as their pre-meditated intention. At once immense and microscopic (certain of the jarring crackling sounds give me the feeling that they are the 'sound' of neurons firing), this music is never fully divorced from a sense of organic flux and rarely the 'cold', non-respiratory monster that its adversaries want it to be. This is something I felt during my first introduction to Vainio's work - the leadoff track from Pan Sonic's Kulma, which translated into English as "Slaughterhouse" - and which I certainly feel in the new partnership between he and Vigroux.
Mika Vainio and Frank Vigroux are definitely kindred spirits in the realm of full-spectrum sound, but not to the point where they are indistinguishable in their creative approaches. So a collaborative record between the two (Peau Froide, Leger Soleil) seemed like a good bet for doubling the power of their output rather than halving it, and it is indeed effective: bringing to mind both the fiercest and most sublime of Pan Sonic's work while also keeping their gaze fixed on the future, Vainio and Vigroux deliver an emotionally and tonally varied work that capably distances them from lesser exponents of noise-sculpting and drone-cultivating techniques.In doing so, there's a sense of defiant mischief to their work that is reflected perfectly by the cover chosen for this album: semi-domesticated Japanese deer (most likely in the city of Nara) that are famous for, among other things, lying down and basking in the sun in the middle of busy traffic lanes, and simply taking full advantage of the spiritually-based local prohibition on harming them.
There is a lot here that you would not expect based on the stereotypical view of what these artists' work should sound like: tracks like "Memoire" use aleatory bell sounds to complement the familiar methodical hisses and pulses, while "Souffles" delivers a refreshing take on the "loud / soft" dynamic by interspersing moments of spastic, dramatized violence with stretches of purposeful, patient silence. Some of the strongest pieces on the record share this dynamic sensibility: "Ravages", switches out the silences for haunting aurora-like tones, while the slowly unfolding tones of "Man" give off a sense of beautiful efflorescence. When all is said and done, this collaboration both gives hardcore listeners what they want - e.g. liberating bass thrusts and concrete crunch - but also introduces them to things they didn't know they wanted.
It’s one of the great ironies of the contemporary music scene that the most incisive electronic music comes from those who confessed to an initial indifference, if not total aversion, to it. Kangding Ray is among that number, having already claimed in his 2014 Quietus interview that “I barely acknowledged the boom of techno culture,” while admitting that he moved to the techno epicenter of Berlin for reasons completely unrelated to the fertility of that particular subculture within urban Germany. Perhaps this obliviousness to being ‘at the heart of it all’ helps to give the man’s music its unique nuances, but then again maybe those unique nuances would exist irrespective of where he found himself.
The press material for Kangding Ray’s latest offering, Cory Arcane, is accompanied by a short story about a restless and individualistic psychonaut and her unorthodox rise to fame. This record ostensibly dedicated to the "Cory Arcane" character experiments with a vivacious new palette of sounds and affective resonances, and it's quickly evident that this is one of the more ambitious entries in the Kangding Ray catalog, showing a marked evolution towards a more aggressive kind of sonic fusion than what could be found on his debut Stabil (as fresh as that particular record still seems).
Kangding Ray's records typically succeed not because they take a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach to musical diversity, but because they are well timed and well thought out studies in contrasting elements. For example, the painterly arpeggios and frosty melodic build of the opening "Acto" cross-fade with a natural ease into "Dark Barker," a harder tune typified by unyielding metallic staccato and filtered textures. This ability to leap with ease from one end of the spectrum to the other becomes most effective when Ray mixes familiarity with the element of surprise: at certain key points in this engrossing program, he pulls the rug out from the listener in a way that maybe references the transgressive mischievousness of the character around which the "Cory…" story is built. In a way, it's not only the quintessential K.R. record but also the quintessential Raster-Noton release, given that label's lengthy track record of massaging listeners' basilar membranes with immaculately produced mixes of industrial austerity and techno rapture. Ray's take on this aesthetic brings us an excellent set of mid-tempo tracks that, though they may be meticulously planned to the smallest cellular detail, still speak to personal freedom and uninhibition.