2016 seems to be a great year for experimental electronic label raster noton. This year marks the label’s 20th anniversary, to which occasion they presented an installation called White Circle back in March, featuring their most prominent acts like alva noto, Frank Bretschneider or byetone and some hypnotic neon flickering lights (of course), but the same month also marks the label’s latest release, namely Japanese experimental producer Kyoka’s latest EP called SH.
Kyoka’s music focuses on mainly digital sounds and manipulations, on fragmented rhythms shattering in and out of form, and often challenging her listeners with the harshness of her sound. Her first release on the German imprint, 2012’s iSH, is best enjoyed inside a huge concrete hall, with its mangled vocals and accelerating beats having the potential to fill the hugest spaces and move the most anxious feet. Kyoka’s next release, Is (Is Superpowered) from 2014, is an unexpected turn to conformity, with beats somehow resembling known forms and accessing a more commonplace type of technoid sound, despite not losing the digital artifacts. Dub influences and clearly discernible vocals come to the forefront showing a more dance happy side to Kyoka’s music.
After listening to SH, it is extremely easy to see why she fits the raster noton roster so well. Her latest release takes to the cold, detached aesthetic that distinguishes the German label and puts it in the forefront. Susurrus, the opener, is like the title suggests a soft murmur interrupted by bouts of silence and reawakened by a deep synthetic bellow which brings the whispered beat back in. The track is impressive in its choreography, managing to perfectly place a very small array of elements in such a way that it truly feels like a story. The low kickdrum continually interacts with the chiming wooden tones, while the smoky, grainy, dust specs dance all around them. There is a clear feeling of incantational rapture, but without any ancient or murky, unidentifiable nuances. Everything is crystal clear is Kyoka’s ritual. The participants seem not to try to access the unknown or unseen, but that they are the unknown and wish the enforce themselves on the palpable. It is more a ritual of incarnation, than of abstraction.
The second and third tracks, Smash/Hush and Hovering, add a layer of movement to the ritualistic atmosphere instilled by the first track. All the particles slowly come to life, become tangible, start to move. The beat of the tracks gets a leading role, while not losing its convoluted nature, twisting and turning at every step of the way. Different track sections are difficult to identify at a first glance due to the very tightly knit nature of all the elements. The songs are mostly beats, there is little melody and no discernible harmony present, but they manage to branch out in so many small ways that monotony never ensues.
Shush, the EP’s closer, again tries on a more subdued tone, closing out the process. The weird, glassy, angular being is now complete and shown in all its glory. As with the first track what is most impressive about this one is its construction, how the different sections combine and perfectly fit together to form this massive, convoluting fractal being. The beats on this EP follow a weird pattern somewhere between ritual drumming and blacksmith hammering combined with electric shocks calling a weird creature into life. They are not comfortable and they are under certain circumstances danceable. But their mythopoeic qualities are hard to overlook.