AM/PM: The Ends I & II

AM/PM: Also

Swiss producer Radovan Scasascia issues mesmerizing music under the AM/PM guise on his own Dreck label. Though an occasional techno or shuffle pulse surfaces, calling it 'dance' music is almost grotesque. Call it, more precisely, an immaculate 'electronic listening music' that inhabits an expansive sphere between beat-based tracks and textured soundscaping. It's hardly ambient—AM/PM's sound design is so sumptuous, it's never aural wallpaper—but it's hardly rhythm-centered either, with beats occupying a secondary tier within the multi-layered arrangements of gleaming patterns and machine pulses. The Ends I & II and Also provide ample opportunities to luxuriate in the lush detail of Scasascia's music.

Collecting two vinyl releases onto a full-length CD album, The Ends I & II features ten intricately woven pieces literally built from the final notes, fades, and hiss of existing recordings. In keeping with the 'dying' character of its expiring sounds, the material exudes a distinguishing phantom quality. At the same time, Scasascia breathes life into the material by never letting it merely repeat but instead subtly modulating it—adding a layer here, a new sound there. Moods shift from ponderous to meditative as dissonant, staccato tones puncture dense masses of clicks and hiss. In the ruminative opener, warm soul-inflected exhalations rise over a base incrementally constructed from the punctuating broil of scattered pings. Doused by cymbal splashes, number four sounds built from jazz samples with tiny fragments of acoustic bass, muted trumpet smears, and piano populating the glitch-laden landscape while, in “The End (12),” vibes ping and a voice intones the mantra “ends” over a dense mechano-haze of clicks and clanks. Surprisingly, the liveliest track arrives last, with “The End (1)” presenting a steely, serpentine propulsion that resurrects the glorious Basic Channel-Chain Reaction sound of the ‘90s.

Not surprisingly, there's no drop in quality on the Also EP with the almost twelve-minute “No Matter Whether,” in particular, an absolute marvel of sound design. With the thread of a wavering drone as a nucleus, abrupt minor-key blasts loudly pierce the darkness like horns from faraway trains, and then gradually accumulate into an ominous mass. The effect is so captivating, the dawning of a swaying pulse barely registers, until everything suddenly drops out halfway through, leaving the pulse to start again unaccompanied, now more brightly. In “Tar In Between,” bright synth stabs, billowing hiss, and the steely groan of fingers sliding across a fretboard merge into disarming clusters while in “Even As We Here,” spacey tones swell, move in and out of focus, and intersect at right angles alongside an insistent, plodding pulse. Techno? Microhouse? Electronica? Conventional classifications fall short at conveying AM/PM's exquisite sound.

January 2006