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Freeform - Condensed

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Artist: Freeform

Album: Condensed

Label: Nonplace

Review date: Dec. 7, 2003

The hedgerows of intertwined beats and blips that came to represent IDM (to me, anyway) seemed to be a natural consequence of the dancefloor functionality of techno and the computer worship that went with it. Like their cousins in math rock bands of the ’90s (whose musical skills passed their compositional ones), it seemed as though hundreds of souls stranded with only a laptop for company became overly enamored with the technical capacity to weave strands of rhythm into increasingly baroque patterns. In short, a lot more fun to make than to listen to.

None of this has much to do with Simon Pyke, who records under the name Freeform. His most recent album, Human on the Skam label, successfully varies the rhythmic element (in part by introducing some replicated/mutated Fourth World patterns) and delves into some sparingly placed, but still fetching melodies. Burnt Friedman is another guy who has a proven track record of upending proven techno verities. His ventures into dub have been well considered and executed. So there is a great deal of logic behind Friedman releasing Condensed on his Nonplace label. The title is apt, Friedman selected tracks from the range of Pyke's career, editing and condensing (get it?) them into an album that is equal parts compilation and mix.

It would be a reach to claim that Freeform is not of it's time. The opening selection, "Ect", with its pinprick beats and faint wash of melody, sounds very much in the Artificial Intelligence vein. As the album progresses, you can place Freeform into a historical and musical continuum that, frankly, makes Pyke's early work sound technically proficient but not very memorable. And this is with the benefit of Friedman's helpful editorial hand. But beginning with the sideways lurch of "Foil", it begins to appear like something's up. For one thing, over time Pyke began to experiment with tempos and rhythms that are slightly out of the techno norm. Secondly, countervailing melodic touches begin to assert themselves. The simple melodic curtain that marked "Ect" is replaced by more specific, repetitive elements that interact really well with the percolating rhythms. Friedman cleverly places "Spandoe" as the fourth track in the mix. The rhythm bubbles along on synthetic vibraphones, thumb pianos and a tingling electronic ping. The track is a noticeable change of pace on the CD and in the mix. “Cautious Persuit" follows with an electronic replication of Sly and Robbie's Taxi rhythm and faux steel drums matched by a fluttery melody. At this point, Friedman's guiding hand makes itself most visible by chopping up the smooth flow of the tracks to emphasize the level of inventiveness that Pyke's beat maneuvering had achieved. "Sopping Wet" and "Munchogram" match a deft melodic touch with the direct simplicity of head-nodding beats.

The latter half of this thirteen track CDs is chockfull of other bits of goodness from the serpentine Middle Eastern melodies of "Phu Qouc" to the bobbing pace of "Lijiang". Burnt Friedman is as effective an advocate of Simon Pyke's work as he is a presenter of it. Condensed is a good place to start if you are interested in Freeform and a nice catch up tool if you have enjoyed any of the most recent recordings.

By Bruce Adams

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