Review Summary: Tentenko VI: SuperconductorTentenko is an ex-idol freelance artist who runs her own label and has released an extensive range of experimental pop and techno EPs. This review is part of an ongoing series dedicated to exploring her discography. For a point of reference and orientation to her discography as a whole, please see the first instalment in the series, the review for Good Bye, Good Girl.
Just when Tentenko no Seimei Daiyakushin
left us hanging in the depths of lofi synth-dub purgatory, our One True Queen Tentenko decided to switch things up by dropping her a DJ mix as a one-hour one-track album. She named this Conduct of Human Beings
for some unfathomable reason that will provisionally be addressed in the Easter Eggs section of this series, many instalments down the line - but more to the point, this one is straight-up excellent! Every instalment of Tentenko’s discography so far has zeroed in on one very specific style, but this mix’s extended runtime forces her to show her hand and come out with a more fleshed out sound palette, each idea developed to a further extent. Ironically, the transitions between this mix’s individual sections is more erratic than the sequencing on her regular fair, but she seems to thrive on the choppiness and lands a series of invigorating grooves in the interim. If there was any doubt over whether Tentenko could walk the walk as a rightful Queen of Techno, this mix puts it to rest; some of it is a headwarp, some of it is furiously danceable and some of it is flat-out nasty. A threefold success, then.
At this point I’d normally pull up examples from different parts of the mix, but its one-track format deprives anyone who hasn’t already listened attentively of the opportunity to filter out all the weak tracks and to dive straight into the worthwhile parts. As such, a full-on listening guide is more in order; no-one’s a fan of track-by-tracks but since “Conduct of Human Beings” is a one-stop trip, I don’t see any harm in a little chronological unpacking for day-trippers put off by the chunky runtime. However, before we get into that, here’s a surprise hot take from Sputnik’s local hero Dewinged
For the record, our friend Johnny here invited me to partake in the works of Tentenko one cold morning, just a few days ago. What he didn’t know is that I was battling an admirable hungover in front of my work computer. The setting couldn’t have been worse, so I barely endured 30 minutes of it. Second time was the charm. Fastened my seatbelt and enjoyed the techno rollercoaster of Conduct of Human Beings in all its noisy splendour. Tentenko’s craft is a trip through the intranet of a pachinko slot machine, connecting with the security system of a porn shop in Akihabara to then filter through the sound system of a small and dark rave club in the back alleys of Shibuya. Pure Japanese techno madness.
Looks like Dewi’s Tentechno trip hit lift-off, although the hangover point might be this mix’s Achilles heel. This point had escaped my consideration but is very important: whatever you do, do not
go into this one in anything close to that state. Great sadness lies in wait for those who ignore this. Anyway, the vague shape of “Conduct of Human Beings” goes as follows:
0:00:00 - 0:00:10: Silence. Intriguing.
0:00:10 - 0:02:41: A synth overture. No beats just yet; Tentenko warms things up melodically. By the end of this section Conduct of Human Beings
is already the most polished, accessible part in her discography thus far (excluding “Good Bye, Good Girl.”)
0:02:41 - 0:08:37: Those tentative synth leads disappear and give way to an ambient glitch section that doesn’t really go anywhere for a while, besides getting incrementally noisier. It is nonetheless entertaining. I am entertained. Towards the end of this section a skittery wasps’ nest impersonation of heavily phased synth tonage emerges with shrill menace, amping up something akin to tension.
0:08:37 - 0:09:55: A stable beat emerges. Tentenko drives things forwards with offbeat cowbell for a few bars, switches things over to the high-hat and then reintroduces the cowbell with double-time cymbal and toms filling out the rest of the mix. A melodic synth ostinati is teased on the periphery, but the percussion holds the floor.
0:09:55 - 0:11:41: Four-to-the-floor takes over and everything else drops out. A shadow of a growling bassline creeps in underneath. A man’s voice is sampled. He is not speaking English or Japanese. Possibly a horrible dialect of French. Tentenko adds shakers to her beat, the bass is toned up and some exciting
distorted wet-toned synths make themselves known. Where were they hiding this whole time?
0:11:41 - 0:15:02: The song abruptly snaps into a house (?) piece. Tentenko does not seem to be entirely on board with house, so the beat starts destabilising. As someone also not entirely on board with house, I approve. Various noisey excitements appear and disappear, but not in a derailing manner - the song at this point is set to build momentum, and its ebb and flow has a clear sense of direction now. Tentenko milks the instability of her arrangement and dynamics nicely; we seem to be along for the ride at this point.
0:15:02 - 0:17:02: Synth solo! An delicious new tone enters the fray. The other parts of the mix quieten down to make space for it, the beat stopping and starting every few bars. This new synth is modulated and robust but also coy; Tentenko doesn’t make it too prominent and avoids giving it too sharp a tone, so this section feels like one glorious tease. It holds the floor and glitches around. It eventually drifts out undramatically and Tentenko leaves her beat and lilting house hook to burn themselves out
0:17:02 - 0:18:14: The beat shifts, a new bassline moves in and everything else drops out. This piece has already reinvented itself four or five times but is somehow managing to preserve an ongoing groove; given that this is Tentenko’s first full unveiling of her techno arsenal, I hope we can give her early props for the standard to which she mixes and steers this beast of a track.
0:18:14 - 0:23:20: HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT? The track’s thick groove is cut out by a disturbing glitch tone: nails on chalkboard a’ la distorted synth. The horror synth sticks around a while as Tentenko brings the beat back at a slower bpm. Order is gradually restored, but she teases elements of instability with that same synth and an uneasy steel pan shimmer half-buried in the mix. The track marches on, but we are on our toes even when it winds down to the bass and four-to-the-floor. Especially
then. The song pulls itself together out of nowhere, slipping back into its groove for a while until it sneakily augments its tempo until the bassline abandons ship. We find ourselves alone with off-kilter snare mischief, a spiralling low-octave synthbass hook with a eighth-note tremolo filter, and little else.
0:23:20 - 0:27:02: The tremolo synthbass holds the track together with its thick tone. This is good, since the beat seems to be doing its own thing for the time being. We’ll leave it be. Two minutes pass and the beat very stubbornly stabilises. Some otherworldly cross between a yawn and an orgasm noise drops as a one-off at around 0:25:20, but things carry on unperturbed (that one can go straight onto the Easter Egg list). The now-stable beat and the cyclical bassline do not seem to communicating with one another, regardless of the extent to which they are looping. Perhaps this section of the track represents an awkward impasse between the two.
0:27:02 - 0:27:32: The beat abruptly gives up and the synthbass disappears; the fun seems to be over from its perspective. A new, more aggressive and heavily phased beat materialises.
0:27:32 - 0:30:16: The song unexpectedly, but decisively hits its stride! Our new beat snaps into focus (no more phase) and a driving bassline sets in. The whole thing would be lean and almost menacing if Tentenko hadn’t introduced a whimsical melody on a low-res synth; this sounds so out of place it might as well be a sample. Perhaps it is a sample. It’s grating, but fun. Eventually this melody gives up and glitches itself to death. I am a fan of this.
0:30:16 - 0:35:38: In the most abrupt shift of gear so far, the track turns itself inside out within the space of four bars and reemerges as an interim evolution of the beat we had just gotten totally used to. Tentenko is at the top of her game here and has no qualms taking such liberties. The general sound palette is preserved, but the bass has become even more distorted and insistent; an unintelligible vocal sample flits around and the distortion tones are modulated. Things are getting outright nasty. The song builds intensity and milks its groove for all it’s worth. We’re out of the ‘interesting mix’ woods and into outright banger territory by now. The whole thing would be irresistible as hell if it weren’t for a digitalised phone ringtone (or similar) that punctuates things as a deliberate offset. Has this girl been reading her Brecht? She is techno queen right now, regardless.
0:35:38 - 0:38:56: All good things come to an end, and so the track eventually transitions into a new beat, a cleaner funk bassline and walls of reverby synth pads rather than distortion. Is this Tentenko’s idea of a comedown? If so, why is it dropping at the two-third mark? This section is trippy as hell, but the bass groove carries its weight. The reverb becomes noisey and a little grating, but if you’ve been through Dokusai
, you’ll survive this.
0:38:56 - 0:43:06: The beat hiccoughs itself to death by means of reverse effect and the game is up for the trippy section. Tentenko is swift to replace it with what I can only describe as a mangled parody of a rock song. Guitar-esque synth leads play blues rock melodies over a sawn-off, thudding beat that evokes the feeling of a nervous tremor. This section is bizarre and hilarious but it’s as exciting and danceable as anything we’ve heard in the last 20 minutes. Things cool down, our pseudo-guitars start a neverending upwards climb as Tentenko gives them a steady rhythm and gently modulates their pitch. Funk keys play absent-mindedly until Tentenko loses patience and randomly drops a machine-gun noise attack at 0:42:17. Everything else continues unperturbed. The pitch modulation becomes noticeably more extreme. There are so many levels of self-sabotage going on here, it’s hard to keep track.
0:43:06 - 0:44:08: Seems like Tentenko finally ran out of ideas for that last section. Everything drops out aside from the tremolo-phasing noise track, and the bpm shifts - or maybe it stays the same and just the bpm of the tremolo filter shifts, but I don’t think even Tentenko is that edgy. This section would ordinarily be termed a ‘pause for breath’, but that noise sound is the stuff tinnitus nightmares are made of, so let’s not get carried away…
0:44:08 - 0:47:01: A new beat, a new bassline, and a respite from the noise. We’re in deep subwoofer territory here, and I hope you like your handclaps to be of the stern and overbearing variety. After a short while the noise kicks back in, pairing brutally with those handclaps. Tentenko lets it blast on for a while before tempering it into something a little less piercing and a little more substantial. She really
loves that glitch; the tremolo rhythm of this track completely dominates the track for a good while. It’s catchy but also intensely apocalyptic; I’m not sure how much fun is to be had at this point but it’s ultra engaging all the same.
0:47:01 - 0:48:27: As before, but the glitch’s rhythm is no longer tremolo eighths. It is more complex and more catchy. Tentenko appears to be speaking to us in morse code. Easter eggs.
0:48:27 - 0:52:36: The last section’s cryptic artillery fire fades away and we enter another trippy section. Skittery beats at odds with themselves, a highly understated drone and a disorienting mesh of vocal samples are the order of the day here. Lovely. A compressed, churning sound in the background is our only reminder that the track has the potential to go somewhere; for the most part, this feels like a period of relief after the hellishness of the past four minutes.
0:52:36 - 0:54:50: Things mellow out further and we are left with one cycling vocal tone, a one-note mantra if you will. It’s outright relaxing for a short while (a first), but the previous section’s trippiness soon reasserts itself, albeit at a lower intensity.
0:54:50 - 0:58:15: Things unwind completely. It’s eerie, peaceful, and a little uncomfortable. An English spoken word narration undercuts a reverb-laden vocal sample and a slowly swooping synth tone, both of which gradually disintegrate. This section of the track functions as a decompression chamber, gradually easing the listener out of Tentenko’s pocket universe and back into the real world?
0:58:15 - 1:00:02: No, not the real world - that spoken word sample carries on and is overlaid against different versions of itself, all playing from a different point. An ominous synth pad chimes in as if to say “it’s not over yet.” One by one, the voices fall off. I believe they were talking about the conduct of human beings.
1:00:02 - 1:00:13: Silence. Intriguing.
And there you have it. Wow. Zing. One of the great things about this discography is that each release is as unpredictable in quality as it is in style; although Tentenko improved as a musician over time, her penchant for lofi production and quickfire songwriting mean that any one of her releases could be anything from an unexpected blast to a complete disaster. Conduct of Human Beings
comes out of nowhere as a solid example of the former, an early high watermark for Tentenko that delivers some of her most infectious, ambitious snippets to date over an accommodating length. Recommended listening.