[21 February 2011]
It’s the ultimate testament to a release’s quality when buzz can gather around it despite next to no information about its availability. In the age of voluntary sharing, listeners often need to qualify new data with the dialogue surrounding its arrival on the market—who it’s by, what their back story is, what the author’s intentions were, the circumstances of its production, its critical relevance to surrounding scenes, just for starters. Traversable Wormhole arrived appropriately as if out of a time warp with a series of 12”s, the first five of which are collected here. The songs began dropping into DJ sets and podcasts as speculation began to rise. But the fact that the austere tracks were eventually claimed as the intellectual property of veteran techno producer Adam X is almost secondary to the fact that there was something very special about these tracks.
It’s hard to venture what travelling through a (traversable) wormhole would sound like, but chances are everything would be extremely accelerated. This is not the case here, despite Adam X’s conceptual rigor in giving tracks time travel-y names like “Tachyon”, “Superluminal”, and “Relativistic Time Dilation”. The sounds on Vol. 01-05 more resemble a black hole, where sound is simultaneously created as it is being extinguished. In addition, Traversable Wormhole’s music is one where little, if any, light can escape. The dominant sound heard on any given Traversable Wormhole piece is a giant bass vacuum, a vastly compressed and spaciously reverberated wall of non-tonal noise, shuttled along by the propulsive rhythm of techno. So whereby the instrumentation and variation is unequivocally minimalist, the room tone drone is a big sound.
Rather than line up the singles in alphabetic order, Adam X has chopped them down and rearranged them to make a continuous, consistently engaging DJ mix. Thankfully, little of the comprehensive intensity of the original is affected by the editorial cuts. Only one track here even falls under the six-minute mark. These are hovering movements and each bouncing tick, stirring bleep, and industrial sputter sounds like it is floating about in zero gravity.
Though the tracks are pretty aesthetically consistent, the added details allow the individual tracks to stand out. On “Superluminal”, the intercom receives sporadic bursts of mumbling singing while the backbeat is drowned and distant, like it’s coming from the other side of the ship. Amidst all the gaseous atmospheric drone elsewhere, the buzzing sine waves of “Transducer” are like sharp piercing punctures of light providing crisp passage through the murk. The slightly carnivelesque melody on “Where 2D meets 3D” is played like a scratchy memory, as if were transmitted from the radio on board the space station from Solaris. The spooky voices at the beginning of “Traversing the Asteroid Belt” make it a kind of slowed, surreal, darkcore, techstep without the Y2K panic momentum.
The vibe is akin to Adam X’s more industrial work (I swear “Relativistic Time Dilation” even steals one of its main machinal noises from Nine Inch Nails’ “Reptile”) but with aeration everywhere. The music’s relation to dub, though, does not run as deep as one might think. The spatial dynamics may have not been possible without it, but there’s hardly any room for dub’s elasticity when the air is so loud and thick.
After a period of lowercase exhaustion in the late naughts, mnml seems to be coming back in favor again with high profile releases by Modern Love and Sandwell District. Consider Traversable Wormhole among those imbuing the scene with a new vitality.