When considering the much greater share of the popular musical pie that synthesis and computer-generated sound enjoy as opposed to just a few decades ago, it's often surprising how radical something like Herbie Hancock's Sextant album still sounds - mixing then-alien sonorities with the conversational quality or instrumental reciprocity of small-ensemble jazz. There is a certain horror vacuii that accompanies too much music of an electronics-assisted bent, from the 'braindance' and 'breakcore' scenes to the furthest fringes of psychotronic noise. And yet there are other ways of sidestepping an overloaded approach without simultaneously falling prey to the cliches of ambient music.
Again, a kind of perceptible reciprocity between players is the key, and the clever Arjuna Music debut ambiq from the trio of Max Loderbauer, Claudio Puntin and Samuel Rohrer achieves this while transmitting a very compelling and unanticipated brand of ambiguity. That is to say, their music feels neither organic nor synthetic, neither fully scored nor improvised, neither aggressive nor submissive - in short, it's the type of music that is both enjoyable on its own merits, and enjoyable for the ideas it also seeds in the heads of those listeners who also act as practicioners of music in their own right.
That this type of music has the ear of a supposedly incompatible scene - i.e., the 'minimal techno' scene - is no great shock. Even if the trio's originals lack dancefloor-filling ability, they have quite a bit of shared DNA with Berlin techno when it comes to unleashing unexpected timbres and nurturing a respect for distinct sounds. Local resident DJs Tobias Freund and Ricardo Villalobos both confirm this by pitching in two mesmerizing, focused, and texturally varied remixes of choice album cuts "Tund" and "Toxic Underground." However, here I am already getting ahead of myself, since a full album's worth of quality music precedes this techno-flavored encore presentation.
The main course is as well presented as anything served up since the inauguration of the so-called "post-rock" era and the mid-1990s 'electronica boom' that it shared temporal critical acclaim with. There are familiar elements of modern electronic improv here, like turntable murmur dueling with nimble drum fills, or energetic vibraphone parts orbiting around more subdued ambient drones. The sheer versatility of the trio makes these individual elements seem completely fresh as they dissolve from quasi-gamelan rhythmic pulse ("Tund") into the type of dub-accented downbeat jazz that could be an outtake from a Painkiller session ("Touching the Present," "Loka.") A wide array of modular synth phrases routinely cut into the mix to provide bits of abrasive or humorous commentary on such fluid proceedings, yet neither these nor any other ever step forward to claim a definitive position as 'lead' instrument (even when apparently soloing!) This is not a criticism at all, but simply a sign of how natural, how close to the normal functioning of a healthy and adventurous body, this music feels. Highly recommended for individuals on all points of the soundhead spectrum.