Sonic adventurer Sutekh (San Francisco resident and Context Free Media head Seth Horvitz) follows up his previous full-length, 2002's Incest, and a subsequent slew of EPs, collaborations, and remixes with a Bach-inspired full-length called—what else?—On Bach. The album's title is perhaps the only straightforward thing about the project as the nine pieces that make up his fourth full-length release are an unpredictable lot, to say the least. The album's seeds were planted in February 2009 when Sutekh performed at an event called Bach to the Moon at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Appearing amongst classical artists, Horvitz contemplated how he might fashion a Bach-inspired set that would honour the composer but also enable him to integrate his Sutekh sensibility into the material. Horvitz's solution was to treat the composer as an element threaded into the DNA of his Sutekh tracks in such a way that Bach would be omnipresent though not in an overt or obvious way. The concert experience was such a success that Horvitz naturally took matters to the next level and developed the material into a recording. Of course On Bach is nothing so banal as techno-based tracks that incorporate Bach themes or a synthetic re-writing of Bach terrain (think Wendy Carlos's Switched-On Bach); Horvitz is too much of an original and his imagination too off-the-wall for anything so predictable to have resulted.
Some of the pieces (e.g., the spectral soundscape “Let There Be Night”) are more experimental in a manner befitting a recent graduate of the Master's program in Composition and Electronic Music at Mills College in Oakland, CA, where Horvitz studied under such figures as guitarist Fred Frith and the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Roscoe Mitchell. In that regard, “It is Certainly Time” begins as a curdling soundscaping exercise that follows abrupt convulsions with episodes that gradually slow down to the point of near-collapse but ends encircled by the wheeze of a Bach chorale. In “All Men Must Die (For Glenn Gould),” the Canadian pianist's penchant for vocalizing while playing is one of the motifs exploited by Horvitz in his homage to the Bach interpreter (snippets of studio conversation also emerge). Things take a seemingly straight-faced turn in the closing piece, “The Last Hour,” when a church organ drone swells into immense blocks of gleaming sound that gradually seem to morph into liquidy smears as the piece progresses.
Horvitz's music has always evidenced a boundary-pushing sensibility, whether in the music he's produced under the Sutekh name or in partnership with Joshua Kit Clayton in Pigeon Funk. Horvitz hasn't lost his quirky sense of humour either, as the wacky techno of “Repulsion by Slit and Roundabout” confirms when it rolls out Sutekh's trademark springy beats and fidgets manically as it furiously struggles to scratch a hard-to-reach itch. In addition, there's “The Lips of the Foolish Way,” a spastic, bleepy techno number that calls to mind Daniel Bell more than Bach, while traces of familiar Bach themes surface in the staccato melodic patterns that slither through “The Glorious Day has Dawned.” Anyone afeared that Sutekh has gone ‘classical' can relax; Bach serves as an inspirational springboard of sorts for Horvitz to play off of, and On Bach ends up sounding like about 75% Sutekh and 25% Bach, even if it's impossible to separate the two quite so easily.