Posted on Sep 1st 2011 01:33 am
Unearthed Music 2011
06 Tracks. 46mins08secs
Hailing from Minneapolis, Ostracon is the latest electronics and drums duo to have surfaced. Following on in the footsteps of Burnt Friedman & Jaki Leibezeit or Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid, to name but two, electronic musician John Keston, best known as one half of Keston & Westdal, and drummer Graham O’Brien have teamed up for a rather curious, and excellent, first record.
While O’Brien sticks to traditional drums, Keston’s approach is somewhat quirkier. Instead of relying on keyboards, he uses custom-made programs and hand manipulated light controllers to transform video signals into sound structures. As iconoclastic a process as it may be, the resulting music is quite fascinating. Drifting between experimental progressive jazz, playful electronica and cinematic ambient, Unauthorized Modifications surprises by its overall fluidity and expressive forms.
The album opens with a fairly linear drum pattern into which is woven a busy bass motif, but as the drum pattern progressively becomes less regular, Keston adds more colourful textures and sounds, which he places on interlocking layers, some funky, others dreamy. Whilst this doesn’t quite serve as template for the rest of the album, the pair’s approach remains pretty close to this all the way through. It is the particular tone given to each track which gives the album its intrinsic diversity. Photon Coercion, Particle Agent and Entropy Procedure evolve at a much slower pace, and appear as three different evolutions of a same concept. All three start with only a handful of sonic touches and, for the latter, a minimal beat, but as O’Brien increases the pace, Keston adds more intricate layers of atmospheric sounds. On Photon Coercion and Particle Agent, he places distinctly smooth progressive ambient textures sharply in contrast to O’Brien’s increasingly vibrant and manic drumming, injecting only occasional heavier tones on the former, or sounds utterly bent out of shape on the latter, while the pair appear to work much more toward a common goal on Entropy Procedure, as Keston reflects the nuances set by O’Brien.
The symbiosis between drums and electronics becomes even more obvious on the sprawling Dwarf Plutocracy. Here, O’Brien opts for a more restrained approach as he slowly assembles a steady groove which Keston fills with deconstructed motifs, glimmering bleeps and dreamy soundscapes. Once again, the flow is constantly adjusted, at times shrinking into delicate miniature clusters of sounds, at others swelling up around much more vivid sonics. Unlike on the three previous tracks though, there is no massive shift in the structural density of the piece, allowing it to develop into a more hypnotic offering, before the pair slip into a much more subtle and restrained mode for Telemetry Implant.
This album can initially sound quite linear and lacking variety, but it rapidly reveal a much more complex overall structure. John Keston and Graham O’Brien make the most of the strong contrast between artificial sounds and visceral drum sequences to create an exquisite and rather playful collection.