The techno project that is Rrose has always been characterized by focused and relentless exploration of the sonic possibilities that arise within a rigid matrix of musical parameters or restraints. Every release has worked with a uniquely consistent sonic palette and has sounded like a new permutation, a new variation on a theme or musical concept that is almost crystalline in its clarity. As the producer’s body of work has grown, I’ve been struck, intrigued, and completely drawn in by the obsessive character of the music–by its laser-sharp commitment to what always sounds to me like an artist trying to work something out, to completely work through the possibilities of a concept. On the one hand dazzlingly ornamented and sonically rich, while on the other bound within a mathematically austere structure, Rrose’s project has always reminded me of the Baroque, and specifically of Bach’s similarly exhaustive exploration of musical variations. Given some of this producer’s previous work under different aliases, the musical connection to the Baroque is perhaps not a coincidence nor a product of transference on my part. Eating the Other, the upcoming three-track release from EAUX, is immediately recognizable as a continuation of the Rrose project but manages to surprise with its sheer excellence. It might be the most definitive statement of this concept that the producer has created to date. From the seething and vaporous first track to its unrelentingly swirling last, Eating the Other will take Rrose’s devotees into compelling new dimensions of his idiosyncratic sonic universe and provide new or casual listeners with a comprehensive introduction to the project.
Rrose is more than a techno alias. She is a persona, a performance–the integrity of which the producer tries to maintain through anonymity and mystery. The name comes from Rrose Selavy, the alter ego in drag of conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp. Pronounced in French as “Eros c’est la vie” [eros is life], the pseudonym reflected Duchamp’s abiding interest in laying bare the predominance and complications of libidinal desire in our lives. Rrose, the techno producer, is in dialogue with Duchamp’s work in ways that go deeper than the name. Duchamp made his name in the international art scene with Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, one of the most striking works displayed at the Armory show in NYC in 1913, the first show to bring the new art of Europe to an American audience. Depicting a human form in motion fractured and overwhelmed by an obsessive and captivatingly rhythmic geometry, the painting was a landmark work in the formation of the modernist vernacular that later artists refined into hard-edged minimal abstraction and op-art. With its fractalic geometry Rrose’s work has always struck me as a sonic form of hard-edged abstraction that often verges on the purely hypnotic surface play of shapes and colors that characterizes op-art. Like op-art, Rrose’s productions are pure sonic joy for the ears, though more in the aesthetic realm of the sublime than the beautiful, but at the same time, the deep emotional and conceptual experiences that sound so readily evokes for the listener allows Rrose’s audial geometry to extend beyond mere scintillating surface appearances and hook deep into the psyche and the soul.
Despite his clear virtuosity with the visual medium, Duchamp was already in the process of leaving behind purely visual art in 1913. He began to create works that begin with visual cues but are completed in the mind of the viewer: conceptual art. While perhaps most famous for conceptual art that challenged the production of artistic value itself, most famously Fountain, Duchamp’s conceptual art primarily explored the predominance of eros in our inner lives and sublimated in all of our affairs, from the introspective, to the interpersonal, to the social. From The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23) to his seductive and disturbing installation Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage . . . (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . . ) (1946-1966), Duchamp provides us with material to consider how eros drives us to life, eros drives us to death, eros drives us to seek connection and also to reject connection in order better to connect with the self, and then to reject the self in order to better connect with the other. It’s all very complicated. Rrose’s Eating the Other is right there, allowing us to peer with unblinking clarity on an obsessive mixture of allure and menace, unfulfilling repetition and satisfying resolution, restraint and orgasmic release. In a conversation we once had, the producer talked about visiting the The Philadelphia Museum of Art and peering into Duchamp’s last piece, Étant donnés, which is installed there. I couldn’t help but feel that I was looking through Duchamp’s portal as I listened to this new release. Rrose’s music might seem at first a cerebral affair. Rrose eschews all of the conventional sexual elements that embody electronic dance music and produces instead a deeper and more shadowed exploration of the corners of the erotic through negation of the superficially sexual. She produces a level of throbbing and tireless obsessiveness–an uncompromising geometry of desire–of the erotic subject in the matrix of desire between life and death.
The title of the release brings the listener immediately into the conceptual realm of the multivalent, convoluted, and twisted-up and tangled erotic, evoking at once devouring of all kinds, from the hungrily sexual to the simply biological to the cannibalistically homicidal. Three rows of identical barbed fish hooks on the cover echo this multifaceted erotic: hooking up, getting hooked, stuck by a barb that you can’t get out, getting caught, attachment, casting about for something, pain. Then there are the three track titles: Ammonia, Mirror, Pentagons. Ammonia–a crucial substance in biological processes of production and decay–among other things created in the muscles during long-term exertion, expelled from the body in sweat; also a critical link in the nitrogen cycle, a by-product of animalian rot that once released back into the world becomes a vital building block, a compound that interconnects processes of life and death. Mirror–a reflection on self as other, on other as self, ever closer, forever on the other side. Pentagons–the geometric shape of ritual magic, used to summon and bind another entity to one’s will or to keep them at bay.
Ammonia is a roiling, fuming interplay of evaporating sounds. Perhaps working with some kind of variation on the Shepard Tone, Rrose creates an eight-minute atmosphere of seething, vaporous sounds, nested inside one another, that seem to rise out of a solid material foundation of bass and percussion and to trail into some kind of transcendent substance high in the air. Dropped at just the right place for a well-lathered and enthusiastic group on the dance floor, this track could take everyone into a new dimension of experience. Mirror comes on with a more substantial and driving kick drum, then takes its patient time to build up the network of slowly flanging synths that characterize Rrose’s unique sound. As a quick-driving high-hat comes in, everything seems to drop into formation and to settle down around two slightly out of phase, slowly-flanging tones. From there the track patiently settles into a wash of throbbing, warbling, and flanging drones. It’s quite a sublime sonic tapestry. Pentagons jumps right into a steadily rising interplay of kick drum, rim shots, clave sounds, and short synth beeps that by the second minute has formed into some kind of rotating double, triple, quadruple helix of sound. New sounds keep getting added to the spinning, rising column of sound. A break in the kick drum at about the midway allows the enthralling collection of high-end spinning sounds to achieve escape velocity. When the low end thrusts back in, the whole track leaves the atmosphere, escapes the terrestrial gravity well, and recedes into the etheric beyond. Rrose at Rrose’s best.