Forma: Off / On
Spectrum Spools

It's tempting to draw parallels between Tangerine Dream (the model responsible for Phaedra, Ricochet, et al.) and Forma, especially when both are trios whose sounds are almost totally synthesizer-generated and who share a preference for the kind of analog synthesis that's associated with the ‘70s. But differences outnumber similarities: Forma hails from Brooklyn, not Germany, and obviously generates its material using considerably more advanced gear than Edgar Froese and company during his trio's glory days. Most critically, Forma embraces a more direct and focused attack in its pieces and furthermore generally opts for concise track lengths over twenty-minute epics. Forma mates Mark Dwinell, Sophie Lam, and George Bennett also eschew evocative titles for the more functional “Forma286b,” “Forma278,” and so on. That they're gearheads and fetishists of a kind is suggested by the detailed listing of keyboards and drum machines that accompanies the release (in total: Moog LP, Moog Prodigy, Roland SH-1000, Roland RS-09, Oberheim SEM, Yamaha CS-15, Korg Lambda, Akai AX73, DSI Tetra, DSI Mopho, Crumar DS-2, Roland TR-707, Roland TR-606, Alesis HR-16B).

Recorded at The Schoolhouse in Bushwick, Off/On, the outfit's sophomore album, presents a classic sound that's hypnotic, motorik, and locomotive wherein whooshing synthesizer arpeggios, live drum machine patterns, and chiming melodies merge into aggressive set-pieces aburst with hyperactivity—consider the breathless throwdowns “Forma286b” and “Forma293” two examples of many. Driven by a cycling synth pattern and a simple, Kraftwerk-styled pulse, “Off” immediately brings the Forma universe into clear focus. Propulsive and multi-layered, the tune stomps forcefully, its myriad synth patterns interlacing and blending into a pulsating mass.

In keeping with the song-styled track lengths, Forma's pieces seem more through-composed than improvs composed on the fly—which isn't to suggest that spontaneity is absent. “Forma306c,” for example, leaves ample room for inspiration even if base patterns repeat without dramatic alteration throughout the piece. The drum programming detail aside, “Forma278” exudes an epic, dystopic quality reminiscent of kosmische musik, while the album's longest piece, “Mécanique,” takes the listener on a dizzying tour through the galaxy for eleven minutes whose sun-blinded radiance will leave him/her mesmerized when it ends. That the piece is so incredible suggests that perhaps Forma should in the future concentrate as much if not more on long-form travelogues than short pieces.

January 2013