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Set Fire to Flames
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Reviewed by: tobias c. van Veen

The darker thuds of minimal techno are often neglected in the galaxy of experimental music—and often for good reason. As the trial-and-error labour of hypothetical MIDI mashing became submerged to increasingly easier computer software, all the fun was removed out of getting that forlorn warehouse sound from a pounding 909 and lonely hi-hat. Software, however, has opened up further vistas if one is willing to stray into programming and patches, and the ever popular—although admittedly difficult—Max/MSP environment provides the framework for projects of both the beat-oriented and experimental type. Neil Wiernik, aka naw, comes from a mixed history in this technological tale of determinism. Wiernik began in the and realms in the early '90s, and from here increasingly meshed field recordings, installation and soundscapes with underground techno. Today he employs various Max/MSP patches to construct interminable tracks of grid-like tub beatings. The varied influences of an experimental music history and techniques are directly audible in this often difficult beatjam. Echoed sounds emerge only to become submerged to sharp, scythe-like percussion and scattered granulation. Sounds often conflict with each other across a track, in a pattern that is often more schizophrenic than it is funky—you will find no basslines here, no traces of a house, although the ghosts of dub techno rear their heads on more than one occasion. The tight and dry aspect of Köln (or "German") techno is eschewed for a business that has more in common with the esoteric complexity of Kim Cascone's dense microscopic collages than the stripped beats of either Plastikman or Mike Ink (both who have been referenced in various reviews of naw). If anything, Wiernik's gibberish owes a debt to the harder moments of San Francisco's Twerk, for the latter's often ear-piercing percussion that is eerily reproduced throughout naw's thud thumpers.

Nine tracks grace the album, of which several are seven to eight minutes long—too long, I might say, for a CD listen. Naw's work is deserving of a 5 minute cut on a 12" for the DJs: stripped of some of its complexity and subject to vinyl mastering, the sheer intensity of a few of these tracks would well complement a techno set. While a relentless 4/4 is a hallmark of the meditative repetition or the brutalic dance ritual, it can also become tiresome and wane its influence through its constant presence. The same complexity of style found in the top-end of naw's tracks is often lacking in the bottom end, and for a listening album, one wishes that naw had set his kicks through the same manic dispersion that defines the top. Wiernik, however, in many ways is a figure in the production of moments and memory in his music than the formal aestheticism of a Brinkmann or the musicality of Villalobos. Aspects of his sounds conjure the drive of techno, the social moments and movements that gave birth to the anarchic and dangerous aspect of a music that registered its affect past a simple musical genre to a regrouping of social bodies in dark warehouses. To engage with naw's beats is to engage with a submerged aspect of techno today: its sadomasochism, its insistence, its immediacy, perhaps even its apocalyptic nihilism—all lost now, as we are reborn in the aughts. The question remains: can naw remix that rebirth for the hazy and violent dawning of the new century?

We might also take a cue from Spain's La Société Anonyme (LSA) in understanding the production of naw's music as hand-in-hand with the curation of his Clonk events and the networking of oft-forgotten musicians trodding the barren wastelands of beat-rejected music. LSA argue for the artist as producer in Parachute 109: "The artist as producer is a generator of narratives of mutual recognition, an inducer of intensified situations of encounter and socialization of experience, and a producer of mediations for their exchange in the public sphere."

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