Arandel: In D

If I haven't endorsed everything I've heard from InFiné Music, I've at least always admired the France-based label's desire to push the standard dance genres into adventurous and imaginative territories. The innovative side of the label is again front and center on In D, the debut album by Arandel, an unnamed producer whose identity is being purposefully kept under wraps (so serious is he about doing so that he's gone so far as to play behind a curtain during DJ sets). The producer clearly wants to keep the focus solely on the music, which in this case obviously tips its hat to Terry Riley's seminal In C and does so in more than name only by connecting the dots between 20th-century minimalism and minimal techno. Riley's not the only cultural figure namechecked, as Arandel also follows a set of self-imposed restraints that he calls “sound dogma” in homage to Lars Von Trier and his Dogma 95 film-making credo. In the case of In D's production, Arandel restricted himself to sounds performed and recorded by him alone (analog synth, drum machine, keyboards, double bass, trombone, tenor sax, flute, stylophone, strings, vocals by Fredo Viola), with no MIDI, samples, plug-ins, or digital sounds of any kind allowed.

The fifty-minute tapestry that results straddles dance music and classical-experimental worlds. Each of the nine tracks seems to concentrate on a different style, with explorative meditations rubbing shoulders with brooding techno episodes and, in one case, a fortissimo throwdown where heavy drums pound boombastically. There's also a horn-driven opener, a part that places the listener at the center of a group of gently wailing souls, and another where wordless vocals murmur alongside percussive rattles and shimmering tones. The fourth track (“#7”) follows a classical strings intro with a percolating techno groove whose propulsion gets a boost from the huff'n'puff of a harmonica (melodica?), while the sixth (“#10”) opts for a more exotic exercise in ambient drift with thumb piano, sitar, and piano among the communing instruments. “#3” sounds like the mallet players from Music For Eighteen Musicians jamming with a trombone-heavy brass section on a robust techno groove.

Even though the aforementioned constraint exerts an undeniable influence on the shape of the resultant work, an avowed openness to chance is also present, not to mention a mindset by Arandel that treats the project as a playground where experimentalism and alchemy stand out as guiding principles. All strategizing aside, In D would still be a rewarding listen even if one were totally ignorant of the ideas involved in its propagation.

July 2010