In 1996, Richie Hawtin, then of Windsor, was among a handful of techno producers attempting to resize the global dance party to fit inside listeners' heads. Wolfgang Voigt was at it in Cologne, while Berliners Mark Ernestus and Mortitz von Oswald were throwing dirt on the music's formulaic 4/4 beat with their wide-ranging Basic Channel productions, finding new rhythms and sounds by reducing pitch and creating space for their increasingly languorous effects-laced tracks.
Hawtin's approach, however, was more skeletal. Concept 1 — released on his own Plus 8 label via a series of 12-inch vinyl records over a 12-month period and then later collected on a single CD — showed how deep mental techno could go without losing its physical kick. The tracks appeared to have been freeze-dried and de-humidified, stripped of all extraneous fat and color. They resembled gray and brittle blank canvases, "sketched" with unexpected hi-hats on top, gurgles and pops in the midrange, and an ever-present subsonic boom at the bottom. Titles used futuristic numerical jargon that revealed nothing if not the music's anonymity. What did "5:00 v. 1" or "24:00 v. 2" mean in 1996? Yet, the music on the Concept 1 series stood heads apart from nearly everything else being made 11 years ago. And it still does today, which is no doubt why a re-mastered version has just been released by Hawtin's now Berlin-based Minus imprint.
The limited double-pack CD includes Concept 1/Variations, Cologne-based producer Thomas Brinkmann's inspired re-interpretation of Hawtin's series, using a customized turntable he developed with two tone arms. The effect is to open up the sound even more and then fill in the gaps with overlooked and accidental sonic information found on the original recordings. What was dry becomes wet here; what appeared buried in the rubble is now free to shimmer and sway. And the audio mutations are enhanced even more, thanks to Stefan Betke (aka Pole), the famed Berlin studio engineer who did all the remastering.
Walter Wasacz writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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