In a fascinating piece published in The Wire recently, producer Mark Fell explored the idea of open systems in the creation of electronic music versus closed systems, comparing Thomas Dolby’s “ideal synthesiser” – that is one that could theoretically create any sound his mind could conceive – against Phuture’s accidental creation of the acid house sound whilst experimenting with a Roland TB-303. For Fell, producers who use these open systems inevitably find themselves constructing sytems with “an inbuilt closedness”, something that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Fell concludes, “let’s not assume that technical limits equate to creative limits”.
This idea of closed systems is one that permeates TM404, this eponymous new album from Andreas Tilliander’s latest project. Limiting himself to nine pieces of classic Roland equipment – an MC-202 MicroComposer, four TB-303 bassline synthesisers, and four drum machines in the form of two 606s, a 707 and an 808 – Tilliander constructs a suite of polyrhythmic tracks recorded in one take each with no post-arrangement, going so far as to restrict himself to only one of the two wave forms on the 303, with track titles that read like catalogue numbers.
The closest contemporary comparison that could be to drawn to Tilliander’s work as TM404 would be the recent releases from the Acid Test label, but although these records are undeniably deeper than “classic” acid tracks, they still very much beholden to the genre’s past. Tilliander however puts his machines to work in very different ways. Largely avoiding the temptation to drive his 303s into the “squelch” that typifies acid, his music has more in common with the alchemical techno of Morphosis or Rhythm & Sound’s muggy yet weightless dub; opening track “303/303/303/606” sees its elements bounced around in the auditory equivalent of a particle accelerator as basslines bounce around in a hermetically sealed vacuum, whilst the urgency of “303/303/303/303/606” is the result of only the merest hint of percussion, governed by chaotic forces in the hardware simmering to the surface.
Although much of TM404 takes a fairly scientific approach, it also does a surprisingly good job of creating warm, organic sounds. “202/303/303/303/606/606” is underpinned by a thick, winding bassline wrapped in an organic melody that sounds like a vintage harmonium; almost North African in character, its arcane clacking sounds are audibly obscured by a rising desert heat. “202/303/303/303/808” is similarly temperature ravaged, its circuitry crackling like bone dry kindling taking light. Like 2562’s recent Air Jordan EP, its arid sounds place you outside the western world into more temperate climes.
Much like Fell’s Sensate Focus productions, which themselves utilise a similarly severe set of criteria, the results of TM404 are for the most part characterised by an uncanny textural uniformity. But while Fell’s work is a sterile, computer-based simulation of house music’s tropes, TM404 is an impressionistic take on dub techno – thick, woozy, and a far cry from his earliest explorations at the microscopic end of minimal house as Mokira. But TM404 is most certainly not a techno album; only the sixth track, “202/202/303/303/606” has anything approaching a beat you could mix, and even then its kick drums and hi-hats are engulfed deep within a molasses soup of monolithic waveforms. TM404‘s density certainly requires patience, but those willing willing to sink themselves into its closed system will likely find themselves surprised that such a simple collection of hardware could yield such rich and turbulent results.