Review: Joel Morgan – Transmute EP

Joel Morgan - Transmute EP

Joel Morgan stakes out a unique space in the landscape of techno with his first release on Detroit label Blank Code. Deep, dark, and spacious, the two original tracks on the Transmute EP mark a notable departure from this producer’s previous work, taking his sound into a realm of experimental atmospherics. Two remixes by Brendon Moeller (one of which is credited to his “Echologist” alias) round out this four-track release, mostly adding some more dance-friendly, characteristically Moeller layers of activity to Morgan’s two cavernous and rather sparse original productions.

From the start of the first track, Adapt, Morgan conjures up a vast sonic space bounded by high vaulted ceilings lying almost beyond perception and by a firmament of pulsing and rolling deep organic rhythms. A reverbed-out bass percussion roll that sounds like a massive wobbling top or a slow roll of thunder ushers in a heartbeat-like kick drum that gradually shifts to sound more like two heartbeats slightly out of phase. This kick drum beat and the wobbling percussion roll constitute the primary motifs throughout the track and are joined by a palette of slow, atmospheric synth swells that populate the high-mid range and up. All of these elements fade in and out with deliberateness and patience, producing a distinctly minimal and atmospheric track that has a great deal of open space, pauses, and breaks and also a significant degree of modulation of the basic repeated elements, creating a constantly intriguing listening experience. Most striking about the track is the way it almost tangibly projects a kind of expansive contemplative space. There’s a great deal of headspace between the track’s deep foundations and the atmospheric synth swells that Morgan applies like brilliant brushstrokes upon the dark backdrop. It gives pause and makes one think in a manner that reminded me of the experience of listening to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Far from any effort at producing accessible club music, this track could nevertheless be an intriguing selection for a DJ exploring deep drone techno or interested in open, atmospheric tracks that lend themselves to mixing. Mostly, it strikes me as a track for listening, thinking, and creative inspiration. Adapt is the gem of this EP — a piece of experimental drone techno that should be received as a standout work in this rarified genre.

Morph, Morgan’s second original track, is built with a similar formula. A deep, minimal percussion foundation is provided by a hesitating kick drum, and atmosphere is created with a palette of slow, low-mid synth swells. At first resting staidly in the pocket of sound that these basic elements create, the track suddenly takes on an attention-grabbing and body-moving dimension when a hard cymbal ride comes in to create a compelling play of lines of rhythm that lend some solid substance to Morgan’s open sonic atmospherics but never venture into the realm of busy-ness for its own sake. Like the first track, Morph is a satisfyingly well-executed work by a producer with unique vision who is willing to take risks and venture into some difficult territory.

With the Moeller remixes of Morph rounding out Morgan’s release of experimental original techno with an element of lightness and danceability, Transmute covers lots of techno ground. Morgan’s two original tracks distinguish the EP as a unique release that fans of serious deep techno should be sure to check out.