Portable: Cycling
Background Records

Alan Abrahams' (aka Portable) techno grooves are indelibly enhanced by exotic flavourings that come naturally, given his upbringing in post-apartheid South Africa, specifically the impoverished Cape Town township Bonteheuwel. A London resident since 1997, Abahams' bike rides throughout the city's neighbourhoods inspired the titular choice for this full-length. Cycling marries traditional elements with modern electronics, resulting in a recording of exquisite detail that also moves—a compelling fusion of intricate African rhythms with Berlin house-techno styles. Portable typically infuses tracks with a subtle 4/4 pulse whose hypnotic repetition induces associations with ritual drumming styles. He uses samples of traditional African percussion and vocals but radically processes them so that their natural qualities recede, and, by looping the sometimes fragmentary samples, the materials are displaced further from their origins. Of the eight pieces, only one, “Everywhere And Nowhere At Once,” is downtempo, specifically a dramatic dirge-like meditation whose interweaving elements generate a sombre, understated pulsation. It's a masterful soundscape swathed in glitchy textures and dubby echoes. The uptempo tracks build layer by layer, with the techno rhythm a stabilizing nucleus around which samples constellate. In the opener “Counter Source,” the ambient beginnings and groans of Leo Fernandes' bowed double bass morph into a thrumming percussive pattern that's processed almost beyond recognition. Abrahams gradually adds hi-hat patterns, swinging percussion, and whistling accents to marvelous effect. “Commuter” features waves of reverberant surges and tactile electronics that appear alongside a cricket-like percussive pattern. As elements ping-pong across one another like flickering fireflies, guitar samples add gossamer textures to the dense sound field. The finest piece might be “I Dream You Dream Of Me,” an irresistible marriage of Berlin techno and African rhythms. Abrahams merges looping samples of African voices and percussion with techno rhythms and house-inflected percussion. Ultimately the music transcends a separable connection to either source style and instead realizes a fusion where one can no longer be extricated from the other; it's this quality of seamlessness which most distinguishes Cycling as a unique and innovative accomplishment.

April 2004