I’m listening again to the most recent release from Berlin-based techno duo Cassegrain. The three-track EP, Blood Distributed as Pure Colour, Cassegrain’s fifth release with Munich label Prologue, already received considerable and much deserved attention in the DJ charts before its official release in early July. The first time I heard it, I was blown away by the precision and palpable aggressivity of especially the first two tracks. The driving staccato rhythms that constitute the foundations of these two tracks, the first of which bears the EP’s title track and the second named after a type of shape-shifting supernatural being from Japanese folklore, the Yokai, reminded me immediately of the work of Rrose, where gradually shifting phases, slow-motion flanging, and subtle use of delay turn a geometrically determined lattice of rhythms into some kind of pulsing, undulating being. In their recent interview with Dub Monitor, the pair noted a particular connection to the work of Rrose, and this recent work certainly deserves to be placed in the same high category of excellent techno in which this reviewer has so vociferously placed Rrose.
While the similarities are marked, these new tracks from Cassegrain stand apart from Rrose’s sound in their combination of gestural musical elements with the hard-edged, geometric abstraction that forms the rhythmic basis of this variety of techno. In considering how to describe Cassegrain’s sound, I keep coming back to the same visual metaphor. Perhaps under the influence of the EP’s title, I imagine a rudimentary machine for producing automatic art in a radial pattern. The handle of a paint brush is affixed to the axle of an electric motor on its side so that the paintbrush is parallel to the ground. As the motor turns at a steady speed, the paint brush rotates rapidly with the bristles oriented toward the outside of the circle. The whole contraption sits atop a large canvas. Above the spinning paint brush is a tube through which the artists can drip or stream paint onto the handle. The paint runs along the handle to the bristles and then and splatters radially onto the canvas. This automatic painting machine allows the artists to apply, on the one hand, a steady stream of color/sound, which creates the fundamental fractalic pattern/rhythm, and, on the other, flourishes of color that land as bold gestures of sound across the canvas and the foundational pattern.
When I first listened to the title track, I immediately imagined Jordan Eagles’s blood art (it’s actually made using cow’s blood). I was floored by the energy and by the vivid surface and deep texture of the music. When Yokai began, I exclaimed “no way” to myself as Cassegrain took all the elements that stood out in the first track to a new level of controlled ferocity that just keeps on going. You think it can’t get more intense, but then it does. These two tracks are designed dancefloor-ready and will make people want to know what they are hearing.
The EP rounds out with a significant change of pace in Hexagon Fifteen, a comparatively more subdued affair built from a hypnotic arrangement of deep thudding and mid-range metallic-sounding percussion in what, I think, is a combination of 6/4 and 8/4 patterns. It’s a fine experiment in layered rhythmic patterns with serious overtones of the percussion traditions of northern Africa.
I recommend this EP highly, and after having had time to appreciate these tracks in their explosiveness and intricate exquisiteness, I look forward to the upcoming full album with Prologue.