Oliver Ho made his name as a high-BPM club connoisseur thanks to a stream of releases in the late 1990s and early 2000s that burnished his reputation worldwide for creative production techniques and intense techno workouts. Since 2006, however, the London-based DJ has slowed his pace from the sweaty speeds of the 135+ range to a more modest (and notably uncluttered) 130-or-so BPM as Raudive. The discography had also remained uncluttered – a proper full-length is only just now appearing in the form of Chamber Music, out on Stefan Goldmann and Finn Johannsen’s convention-challenging boutique label, Macro.
The title isn’t altogether misleading. This sounds like the music of Berghain’s friends and, to riff on Goethe’s take, one rational DJ conversing with classical music. The common thread that weaves its way in and out of the songs on Chamber Music is the strained, drawn-out sounds of the organic elements, the way actual instruments are manipulated to sound nothing like themselves. I couldn’t tell if the low pained drone on “Over” sounded more like a viola or a cello; when you read the notes, it turns out that it was an overblown saxophone instead. And not for the first time – the sax appears on the creepy “Cone,” as well as on the distant “Tul.” Strings appear about as often and in equally indeterminable forms.
The instrument-created drones (as opposed to the vocal ones) evoke less a European vibe than an Eastern one, which might be dubious in description until you hear “Paper” and think immediately of the tambura or a detuned zheng. These drones, it should be added, go well with the creative low-end bits and percussion tips. “Is it Dark in Here” rides warped finger snaps, a bass drum, and maybe two snares as a choir channels pure Dark Age terror, one of the most interesting of the album’s nine songs. Elsewhere, vocals are either clipped or drenched in effects, but not beyond recognition. A quick scat is part of the beat on “Cone” and the words are mostly discernible on “X-Rays.” The point is, beyond a deep bass line, you never know what effect Ho is going to try next.
Affection for the many shades of darkness that permeate the minimal end of electronic music is what ultimately unites these songs – and the Raudive aesthetic – on Chamber Music, which turns out to be less a musical idea than a spatial one. Despite plenty of negative space in these songs, the emptiness often feels claustrophobic or insular. Appropriately, this is music that can work well in the vast expanses of a club setting (which it surely did during the record release party at Panorama Bar on Oct. 2), at least as well as nestled at home in the comfort of your headphones.