2012/51 : Silent nights, occult nights

One of the more erratic features of Christmas is silence; a thing that is commonly pledged almost as firmly as it is denied. But as wish and reality continue their seasonal collision course, we are going to take a look on another, more musical -but not necessarily less essential- aspect of the absence of noise. A famous quote by famous piano player Alfred Brendel states that ‘Silence is the basis of music’. Funnily enough, this ‘basis’ seems to be among the latest discoveries in western cultural sound production. Before the classical epoch (around 1800) for instance, soaking all air in as much oscillation as mathematically possible appeared the desired sonic effect (-reminds of something?); but even the great Beethoven, who introduced some major punk vibes into the tight rhythmic corset (or straitjacket) of his time, could not succeed to overcome the people’s lust for lush and constant air saturation. Centuries passed, and Bebop, probably the first truly intelligent popular music in terms of rhythm (at least when it comes to melody), could just as little finish Beethoven’s job as could John Cage’s superimposition of silence above all other musical parameters in his famous piece 4’33’’. In fact, a real implementation of silence into the musical framework only started to appear with the spread of computerized composition (exceptions as always excluded), and while we can only guess if this is due to the architectural approach of stratification that producers necessarily follow (-and silence is truly the basis of any empty MIDI sheet-) or simply accounted for by their smartness, we can highlight studio surgeons the likes of Photek and Droppin Science as the discoverers and tamers of silence with reasonable certainty: people, that would not only point out the break in breakbeat but painstakingly take care of some more fracturing.

In modern times as ours, silence is still scarce, and its secret knowledge only spread among few – which is all the more surprising if one considers the overwhelming sensation of just a tiny touch of this divine ingredient applied into the intro or at the very spot just before the track drops (examples are widespread, Spor’s Stompbox remix should illume the matter sufficiently).  Carefully examining the songs thus treated with a little gripping silence can only lead to one conclusion:

Silence equals suspense.

Having achieved this first glimpse into the mysterious realm of absence, we may now proceed to the recent deeds of one of the living masters in this arcane art: Hybris, whose Occult EP recently equipped us with four more insights into his immaterial play with frequencies’ life and death; and whilst being his first release on Subtitles after his collab with Ulterior Motive on their three-quarter fabulous Versus EP (discussed here), the Prague based producer’s flow of rhythm and deep pushing bass on this one is as strong as ever. But let’s begin our survey of bohemian shadowy intrigues at the beginning of the EP, which starts with the title track Occult. Regular readers of this revue might already have experienced my continuous praise and admonition for close listening, and despite the danger of falling prey to a repetition not half as lovely as the one Hybris conjures within this tune, I must again point out the benefits derived from just a tiny step actively undertaken towards the magnificent melodic complexity of Occult. Otherwise, one might not only miss the steady build-up of the more than manifold percussions and their continuing entanglement with the thick rolling ‘main’ bass movements and drum outline alongside the subtle occasionality of reverberation openings and all that meticulous edits far beyond descriptiveness; no, one might eventually miss out on the small but mighty fractions of silence, which continually allow the tune to close up, energetically reset und re-unfold within a split second – and missing that remarkable detail is as good as neglecting admission into the inner circle of Hybris’ occult bass music brewing.

‘It is a great thing to know the season for funk and the season for silence.’ says Seneca (an ancient Nerofunk engineer); Hybris however exhibits his greatness through synthesizing these seasons by putting them into a rapidly changing interplay, as can be witnessed again on the subsequent Agent, which I personally count among the best tracks of the year and certainly among the finest works since the coining of the term microfunk. The title itself is somewhat misleading, as the suspenseful pads of the intro soon give way to a kind of not particularly murky conversation between thoroughly eloquent yet fluffy basses, mingled with some kind of dispute the drums seem to settle with themselves. Groove is the overall mission of this piece, and that is definitely no secret. But maybe it’s just the common misconception of 007s that keeps one entangled in distinct images of an agent – and who says Bond wasn’t fluffy anyway? So returning to our object of observation -that is silence-, Agent on the one hand follows the above mentioned principle of fractional nothingness; on the other hand, however, the tune engages in another speciality of compositional quiescence: the periodical omission of the big beat on the one in favour of some twisted and utterly unexpected sound. Arguably not silence in its purest form, it is nevertheless the placidity among the low end of frequencies that helps to emphasize the upcoming snare-stroke, as it apparently receives all the charge of the omitted bass drum beat – a main feature when it comes to Agent’s superior flow, and a main clue to our second conclusion:

Silence equals style.

The third item on the EP, The Thing, reunites the Prague Connection and brings forth a tense and pushing anthem that equally dwells on Rido’s 80s-cinematic intro and the duo’s pressing attempts on breeding large scale paranoia vibes; and concerning the amount of interchanging sonic disturbances, we can only consider it successful. Due to its rather unsilent disposition we shall not go deeper into detail here; if you’ve listened to the songs before you will dig this one anyway. The same applies to the concluding tune Those People, with its simpler (-mind you, it’s still Hybris in control-) structure and stratification of rather basic elements very likely the most transparent of the four. The tumbling sub is -however plain- still pretty, and the aggregate flow is definitely amassing; yet the track slightly lacks that special flawlessness that defines the EP’s rest and hence appears a little compound. However, at large the second half of the EP still hugely contributes to our third empirical deduction:

Silence is sexy.

Thus Czech Republic’s finest ninja of production and furnisher of polyrhythm shines some light into the occult sphere of sounds and silence and thereby offers some access to worlds widely unknown that can hardly be overestimated. Yet he offers more than mere crumbs for the searching and sober minds of science, for this EP also speaks of wonders, grooves and all the cryptic things that lie beyond musicological comprehension. But frankly, you don’t ask a magician to reveal his tricks – and especially not when he is revealing so much magic.

Charlie Parker – Moose the Mooche (Dial, 1946) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOoZ6zo8HAQ

John Cage – 4’33’’ (1952) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HypmW4Yd7SY

Danny Breaks – Step Off (Droppin’ Science, 1995) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ll8wmA_RM4

The Quemists – Stompbox (Spor Remix, Ninja Tune, 2007) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPtv-wUIISc

Hybris ft. Rido – Occult EP (Subtitles Music)

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