si-cut.db: Offices at Night

Listeners pining for the halcyon Chain Reaction era of deep dub-techno are hereby directed to this latest release from si-cut.db (Douglas Benford, who partners with Ben Edwards in Tennis and last year collaborated with Stephan Mathieu on Reciprocess + / vs. vol. 2). As in his other projects, Benford's dub leanings are heavily on display throughout the seventy-minute Offices at Night but that it could easily have been issued by Chain Reaction is no criticism, especially in light of the label's currently inactive status. In fact, the disc is the first of three volumes, with the respective second and third 'versions' of the originals by other artists (Stephan Mathieu, Mapstation, Tu m', Sogar, Mitchell Akiyama) and Benford himself to be made available later in 2004 as free downloadable mp3s from the fällt site. While it'll be especially interesting to hear how Benford remixes himself in volume three, one might ask for what reason? Perhaps it's because the first volume's tracks were completed in 2001, which prompts the question as to why they're only being released now.

Regardless, Offices at Night is a superb ten-track excursion into textured dub-techno. Its photographic cover image literalizes the title by depicting night-time office illuminations, an appropriate metaphor for the music's faint melodic wisps that suggest fleetingly-glimpsed nocturnal figures. The title track especially is stripped so that only the merest hint of melody remains, a move entirely in keeping with dub's principle of reduction; beats are also skeletal at best, as rhythmic propulsion comes from the bass lines. “Slavic,” a stunning example of spatial texture and the piece most directly evocative of the Chain Reaction sound, opens with a wavering, slightly blurry chordal sequence accompanied by faint whirrs, fiery crackles, and billowing hiss until a mid-tempo bass drum pulse appears alongside dubby echo and whistling flickers. The song's melodic theme haunts the background, but more as a vestigial trace.

While Benford hews to a consistent sonic template throughout, some tracks have a jauntier feel whereas others are more meditative reveries. “Constance” constructs a densely layered array, in this case composed of snuffling cloud textures, percussive clatter, and a burbling bass, but alongside it echoing chordal showers shoot past as the track works up some steamroller propulsion. The lurching rhythm in “Pass Out,” on the other hand, turns languid when an emergent hi-hat pattern transforms it into a mellower groove. The eleven-minute “Assistance,” anchored and propelled by minimal bass lines and deepened by clanging, criss-crossing chords, occupies the opposite end of the spectrum. Benford here fashions a darker, more ghostly mood, an impression strengthened as the instruments drop away nears its end. “Voluptuous Midnight ” similarly floats suspendedly with incessant swirls and clicks throughout yet seems rather static; after the first three minutes, one wishes Benford had added beats to energize and propel it forward. But such observations amount to minor caveats when the overall result exudes such craft. Offices at Night offers as satisfying a portrait of post-Chain Reaction minimal techno-dub as might be found in 2004.

September 2004