NHK: Program (Line)
The latest from Kouhei Matsunaga and Toshio Munehiro as NHK expands and mutates the aesthetic Matsunaga explored on a series somewhat ironically named Dance Classics for Pan (under his NHK’Koyxen name variation), wherein rhythms and loops and patterns are mangled, deconstructed, and respun into disorienting and broken grooves. True to their usual approach, many of the tracks on Program are quite short, feeling almost like sketches, but it’s perhaps better to view them as pieces and parts of a whole rather than discrete pieces on their own. The tracks don’t really have titles, but are numbered off (though “ch9” is curiously absent)… the pacing and sequencing recalls the more rhythmic (and less spastic) music of Ryoji Ikeda, or the reduced locked grooves of SND on their debut, but with a distinctly restless volatility, feeling as though something might go completely wrong at any moment. “ch2” is built around a head-bobbing groove, but its digital crackle threatens to undo it, always verging on catastrophe but never quite tipping over. There are more sublime tracks as well, like the unusual sigh of “ch4” and its intermittent distorted kick drum punctuation, or the Oval-esque cycles of “ch6” and its dreamy, chopped up pads.
The album oscillates between shorter, drier deconstructions and longer, more fully formed excursions. Each of them exploits Matsunaga’s knack for diced and spliced signals, where snippets of clipping and noise often work as tiny grooves or rhythmic signposts along the way; despite the richness of the palette, most if not all of Program’s nine cuts are non-melodic and avoid most types of traditional hooks or predictability. My personal favorite is the sublime, undulating hum of “ch8,” the longest of the bunch, with layers of loops and patterns that syncopate in and out of each other. By the time it’s run its course, it’s taken on a strangely steady buoyancy in its bright and tiny glitches and distortion, gradually letting more and more noise through to the foreground. Much like other works I’ve heard from NHK, many of these pieces just start and stop — and Program as an album feels comparable. Its sequence is of course deliberate, but just as “ch1” begins with a sputter of beatmaking and feedback, “ch10” lurches in place for a couple minutes before abruptly stopping and ending the album. Fans of the more experimental side of beatmaking and the outer limits of dance music and its permutations ought to check it out; I find NHK to be a kindred spirit among producers and artists such as Ryoji Ikeda, Mark Fell, Gabor Lazar, Errorsmith, or Frank Bretschneider, to name a few.