Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Album Review: Studio 1 - Studio 1

Studio 1
Studio 1
Rating: An ameliorative for slackers.

My life is out of order. Working too much, drinking too much, keeping odd hours, not sleeping or exercising enough, not eating right, beard down to my chest. In short, I have lost focus. One of my goals this year is to get my shit together and halt The Great Thickening of 2008. And I have found a soundtrack in Studio 1, a collection of 12" records by Studio 1, aka techno luminary Wolfgang Voigt, co-founder of Cologne's venerable Kompakt label.

The collection, out of print since the late 90s/early 00s, exudes formalism, rigidity, and discipline through repetition and 4/4 beats, making it ideal for early mornings on the stepmill or evenings in front of the computer. Which is not to say Studio 1 is boring. Quite the opposite: It's hooky and engaging (even tense), it pushes the bounds of minimalism, and subtle shifts layer upon one another so that over time, creases unfold and variance reveals itself.

One of Voigt's preferred modes of expression on Studio 1 is addition by subtraction. On "Red"**, for instance, a little synth bloop (that's the best I got) that at first scans as nothing more than a time-keeping mechanism eventually is subsumed by the rest of the song. You forget it's even there until it's removed entirely, leaving only bass, snare, and hi-hat. When Voigt reintroduces the bloop (you come up with something better) about a minute later, the effect is stunning, focusing your attention like a laser during the last third of the song. "Blue" employs similar methods, but from the opposite direction: drum fills and basslines you hadn't noticed before appear from the ether (check the drum break around 5:00), and effects pop up and repeat in one stereo channel or the other. Elsewhere, the deep bass, the shifts in pitch, and the clicks/glitches of "Rose" congeal into a razor-sharp whole; and the positive bounce of "Silver", with its various permutations of the hi-hat, is the liveliest cut on the album.

The overall effect of Studio 1 is to keep the listener in suspense, waiting for a big payoff that never really happens. Don't confuse "lack of a payoff" with "unrewarding," though. This album's rewards are plentiful given time and patience, or even passivity. In many ways the album can be perceived as ambient in that it "accommodate[s] many levels of listening attention" and is "as ignorable as it is interesting." Your attention ebbs and flows, but never dissipates. Insistent without being demanding, Studio 1 is the rare techno album that's suitable to any imaginable context. Except maybe sleeping.

**Note about due diligence: I'm using the song titles (e.g., "Red", "Yellow") as they appear in my iTunes. However, research indicates some discrepancy with respect to the track listing. The original Studio 1 12" releases were untitled and differentiated by colored vinyl. Kompakt lists six tracks comprising the original Studio 1 pressings and this reissue. The album in my possession, though, includes ten tracks, four of which were previously unreleased. Resident Advisor clarifies things . . . kind of. My decision to use the "colored" song titles, while perhaps not entirely accurate, reflects my experience with this music.

--Brian Herrmann

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