There is a new breed of electronic production where light refuses to shine. This is a dark and brooding new legion of electronic producers, experimenting with elements of industrial, noise, drone, and dark ambient with the ghostly, hardwired frame of techno. Examples are everywhere. After over a decade of harsh noise walls and ventolin drones, Dominick Fernow’s Prurient is beginning to incorporate a sense of tectonic rhythm into his sweltering compositions, stimulated by the politically charged industrial 4/4 of his recent Vatican Shadow project. For years Ren Schofield has been tinkering with various noise projects (God Willing, Gang Wizard), until being picked up by experimental label Spectrum Spools under the alias Container, where Schofield can be found stripping minimal techno down to new levels piercing intensity; mastering utterly cold and bleak techno-scapes. Further down the line is the illustrious Andy Stott, who delivers a thumbing, noise and drone injected club-parody to the masses.
Though nobody is taking this new dark extreme of techno further than Emptyset. Slowly escalating from glitchy, atmospheric techno on early EPs, to a slightly noisier self-titled debut, to a heavily experimental and unforgiving second LP, and finally to completely stripped drone and noise (that barely passes for techno) on subsequent EPs. Emptyset’s maddening evolutionary descent is completely ideal for his new sound, like a serial killer’s inevitable plunge into madness, or the shadowy evil alter-ego of a comic book hero, who are almost always the most interesting characters, whether we’d like to admit it or not. The Bristol duo’s latest EP seems to act as the sequel to their previous EP Medium; a grim and remorseless extension of Emptyset’s downfall into insanity. They take great lengths to insure this collapse is documented in a unique way throughout Material, which consists of three site-specific installation pieces recorded in various locations throughout the UK, giving each track a unique sense of sorrow and deconstruction.
The opening piece, “Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station - Snowdonia, Wales 17.12.12”, was (literally) recorded inside a decommissioned nuclear power station in Snowdania, Wales. The piece opens with an ominous industrial haze, exposing thick over-polluted drones colliding off the power station’s metallic walls like metal on metal. Halfway through, ferocious slams of bass shake the vast space of the station, guided by low tones of ethereal sadness. Guided by waves of fuzzy electronic distortion, Material’s second installation piece, “Ambika P3 - London, England 12.12.12”, was recorded inside an empty concrete testing bunker below the streets of central London. Washes of rusty metallic poles and throbbing noise-drenched bellows fill the vast, concrete space like a dreary industrial hell. Steamy air evaporates the obscure, swollen machine cries to a smooth transition with Material’s final installation piece, “Chislehurst Mine - Kent, England 02.11.12”. Recorded in a 22 mile medieval-age mine tunneled into the earth beneath Kent, England, short bursts of whirling metallic decay fill the century old mine in brutal waves of gaseous pollution. Each of these guttural stabs slowly disintegrates into the cloudy atmosphere above, disappearing into the air like the ghostly, mournful sirens of a lost civilization.
Maybe this darker and noisier extreme of techno is meant to be a parody of traditional dance and club music. Or maybe it’s meant to question rhythm and melody in general. Whatever it maybe, in Emptyset’s case it’s something different. These twisted thrusts, mangled slices, and distorted wounds heard throughout Material give the EP a loose, hangnail impression rhythm and melody. Most importantly, the aggressive noise, buried sine wives, deceased drones, and apocalyptic reverb that floats off the end of these sinister sounds analyze the relationship between sound and space. There is nothing affecting these sounds but the organic and natural sound of their surroundings; be it a nuclear power station, concrete testing bunker, or a vast mine. This is sound art that transcends programs and traditional recording, providing a sonic narrative of sound vs. architecture. Emptyset seem to be in the same mindset as great experimentalists such as John Cage, Antoine Beuger, and Taku Sugimoto, focusing on exploration of the physical traits of sound with heavy emphasis on location and environment. While it certainly isn’t modern classical per se, Material is bold and innovate in its own way, exploring the vast circumference sound in a way few in techno have before.