Andrew Neumann

No Fly Zone
Sublingual / SLR003

Andrew Neumann / synthesisers, sampler

Apart from the impossible-to-ignore fact of its being improvised live, these tracks bear a striking resemblance to all manner of people working in what dance music magazines call “experimental music”. You can hear Alec Empire in his deliberately awkward, punch-drunk solo lines, Techno Animal in his gritty analogue beats and zoviet*france in his more wacked-out moments.

There’s a definite sound associated with Neumann’s primitivist “no overdubs” approach. These tracks have none of the finesses, none of the layered pads and little details which come from hours spent worrying at four seconds of stuff in Cubase. They’re bare, exposed synth solos, for the most part, with nary so much as a bassline or even more than two things going on at once. So, a track like “Anatomy of a Bone Crushing Incident” is essentially made by running the fingers around on the keyboard while tweaking some effects.

That’s going to upset a lot of people who like their electronica rich and highly-crafted, but there’s something punky about this whole disc which denies that impulse anyway. Even something like “Nightbird“, which manages to get a few things happening simultaneously, does so by virtue of a delay effect which is hardly terribly sophisticated. The result is oddly grungy, a collision of high-tech equipment with lo-tech performance values and techniques, a refusal to create the sweeping orchestral mush so typical of the ambient techno this most resembles.

This approach also engenders something else; in order to avoid becoming boring, Neumann has to be very inventive, trying different approaches for different pieces. He only has a few basic techniques — play the keyboard, use the delay, tweak the effects — and so he has to continually come up with things that don’t sound like each other. This yields some very nice results; everything from the predictably floaty “Moon Minus Gravity” to the croaking frog improv of “Batched Bird“.

One oft-puzzled-over problem with this kind of music is that it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do with it. It’s too surprising to be background music, too abrasive for chill-out listening, not bangin’ enough to dance too or tuneful enough to whistle as you walk down the road. What’s more, it doesn’t have the level of high-definition detail of some musics (particularly those which are usually reviewed in musings), which makes them suitable for just sitting down and listening to.

In the end, this is one of those discs like Mouse on Mars’ “Iora Tahiti“, The Orb’s “Little Album” and Alec Empire’s “Les Etoiles des Filles Mortes“. When do we play them? What do we do when we put them on? This writer has no idea, but put them on we do. Somehow they’re ideal wandering-about-the-flat-doing-this-and-that music, music which doesn’t demand your full attention (try wandering around the flat doing this and that to Derek Bailey; doesn’t work) but which rewards it when you do tune in. Oh, and excellent for compilation tapes. Richard Cochrane