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Process - Spectra

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Artist: Process

Album: Spectra

Label: Traum

Review date: Nov. 2, 2003

We’ve all noticed, surely, that the current return is to the ’80s, our rewind-trip to the nostalgia of cassettes – save for the fact that now, we do it digital. This retro exceeds electronic music (retrophonia) as it exceeds the fashion and other industries (retrospective). The rewind is ‘cultural’ but on another plane, in North America, nigh ontological, if not political (the (re)rise of the Right, redeployment of violence & war, and so forth). All kinds of symptoms and schemas could be analysed in this fashion through electroclash and other rewinding head-trips that nonetheless infuse these retrocopies with a due process – a kind of retro-feedback, rendering the exceptions to the historical salvaging operation retroactive, a new amplification of old problematics, all the more devastating, yet insanely beautiful through the lens of ‘new’ technologes.

Given this point in electronic music’s history (which is the history of sound & technology as art & as an intersection of two rhythms, if not one of Afrological rhythm & the other ‘Western’ culture), it is a warm experience to hear Process, whose own rewind is not to the ’80s, but the early ‘90s, to a particular Detroit reminiscent of Carl Craig, too sincere to name hints of early Warp, as an aesthetic of sequencing, melodies, and 4/4 stoicism. Insofar as this is a return or rewind, it’s also a skip, as the 10 years of retrophonic return is one within digital history, of the CD, but also of the apogee of wax and MIDI.

Why this skip? Process’ melodies are, if one is to evaluate, superbly crafted, beautiful and perfect, gestating throbbing pulses under sparse percussion, playing abstract jazz rhythms through the steady heartbeat of techno. Read that word again, so different from ‘house’: techno. If today, much of what is ‘minimal techno’ is in fact house music, then Process performs an operation upon techno (that sonic, black art of technology). There is a futurism in techno, AfroFuturism perhaps, but a futurism nonetheless, a nostalgic gesture toward not only the previous art histories of Futurism, but to the past in its relation to a future. A cyberpunk motif, a sci-future, an inventiveness. Such a gesture, of techno, is at once and the same time a prognosis of today’s click-n-micro composers who seek molecular detail and linearity in their track cultivations via a house framework. Glued to their microscopes, what micro-n-cut ‘genres’ often lack is a vision, a sense of the speed and rotation of networks, a direction, a speculation, a prophecy. Not a judgment, or a panopticon, or even a mast, but a sign that something other can be constructed – something that implies not livable habitation (the soul of house, the worship in house), but movement.

That techno has failed to move is its sharpest criticism. Like ’60s Marxists, technoheads self-critiqued the genre, perhaps even to self-stasis & to its detriment, nevermind the barbs of music journalists unclear about how to understand the status of the loop in its encounter with the strings of jazz that thread Detroit’s permutations of tekhne. This other rewind, then, is Process, a return to the concept and the movement of techno (if it moves, or even the return as move). But what is this other, this techno, save for the past? Why is Process reprocessing the past, why this past, and what is this past? – we might ask, etc., as we hear the referents throughout the album (Craig, Detroit, and so on). Why does this album, Spectra (meaning light, but here, we also note all the references to ghosts: spectrology, spectrum, spectral, specter, etc., which means that, at some level, there is a discourse of haunting), recategorise techno in its own image as a somewhat bland hue, lacking in a heterosonology? Simply, this album appears bland; it sounds, overall, monochromatic. Too stylised, too the same, almost too perfect. None of the imperfections of Detroit’s pressings are heard here, the odd volumes, the strange synthesized flights of fancy, the darker strains, the deeper echoes. Like a synthesis of tones, the result is a purity of white lights. The aesthetics of failure, so formalized, are here altogether lost. The grit is missing in this digital reincarnation.

Hail to Process, for attempting a reprocess or salvage operation upon techno, and rendering it, like flash art, perfect and pleasant in its geometry, with triangles for floors and squares for listening. But whereas Richie Hawtin’s return to his Plastikman moniker has marked a change-up in the direction and movement of techno, Process’ Spectra marks only its synthesis to the status of white light: ubiquitous, unnoticeable.

By tobias c. van Veen

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