“…yes, I had been following so many different threads, and I found that the time had come to draw them together — to construct a synthesis. […] During the long time I have been alive, surrounded by the barbarity of history, over and above terrors and laughter — two obsessions have occurred, which I will not deny as I have a vivid sense of them. On one hand, concerning form, there is a concubinage with repetition and cycles; on the other hand, looking at content and meaning, a highly developed and quasi-permanent flirtation with story and narration.”
– Luc Ferrari, I Was Running in So Many Different Directions
In an effort to narrate Rashad Becker’s storied tenure as mastering engineer at Berlin’s Dubplates & Mastering, let’s fictionalize his engineering work as similar to the work of the notional species he fictionalizes in his solo music. Becker has been the final ear on a primary constellation of experimental and electronic music, a resonant ecology of sound that he has inevitably shaped. The chimeric ensemble formed from within Becker’s notional species is a composite force made from the spectral ideals placed on to this musical ecosystem — arranged in a manner requiring, as computer musician Robert Henke refers to it, a mastering guru’s secret knowledge. After all, it is often music requiring secret knowledge that informs our human species’ rarefied, traditional music — from the refined exclusivity of Yayue and Gagaku court ensembles, to the obscure mathematics informing the work of Henry Flynt and Catherine Christer Hennix’s Time-Court Mirage.
Whether or not Becker’s notional species’ spectral idealism is also evident in his mastering work, he has described his mastering process as analytical in tracing the lines of intention prominent within any music that comes across his desk, a process where that intention’s velocity is judged and qualified according to his personal feeling how of it should be achieved. Although Becker asserts that his mastering efforts are “very much apart from taste,” perhaps they aren’t apart from the tastes that inform this speculative species’s traditional music: their highly pressurized ecosystem, their suffocating attention to detail, their “concubinage with reputation and cycles” and “quasi-permanent flirtation” with narrative dynamics. Their chants, their dances. This assessment is pure speculation, as is this notional species’ traditional music.
In his reading of Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I, Birkut so accurately described Becker’s relationship to technical craft as one that “bolsters the strength of the music as opposed to justifies it.” Even more so on Vol. II, Becker’s notional species optimizes the affective potential of a speculative traditional music through his own relentless anthropological study of the human musical project. By again fictionalizing this music into a ritualistic space simultaneously away from and toward human music, we’re given an idealized space, a nearly sacred one that’s informed and edified by Becker’s technical studies in a near-renaissance fashion. On record, this is audible through the music’s general ritualistic tone, recalling futuristic court room musics and regal, alien imagery. To achieve this, Becker clarifies the obsessive timbre of synthesis into oblong, shiny forms that recall bowed surfaces, microtonal drones, the tapping of small hand drums synchronizing as a filtered, insectoid Gagaku. Becker reaches a refined aesthetic that values tonal fixation, illusory gestures, and non-linear movement through motioning toward synthetic ritual, reminiscent of the work of Romanian avant-garde composer Iancu Dumitrescu and “Music Room”-style fetishisms.
Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. II’s tracklist is divided into two main motifs, “Themes” and “Chants/Dances.” The record opens with the relatively tame thematic entrance of bells before descending into ghostly, heaving convulsions on “Themes V.” As the turbulence clears, the raucous “Themes VI” showcases the more grotesque manipulations of Becker’s modular timbres expressed at their most spectacularly ornate. The works’ circular composition helps spatialize the record’s ecstatic intensity, establishing chamber-like scenes, trance-inducing atmospheres. On “Themes VII,” a rhythmic bounce gives velocity to wavering tones, arming them wildly into malevolent shapes — turned sharply, horn-like — as if to suggest a grand entrance with brass fanfare.
The sheer audacity of the many of the pieces’ tonality — their synthetic bending and warped structure — extend their durations into a Boethian timescale. Within this time, Becker’s obsessive designs reflexively demand near-constant revisiting. Tones start-and-stop in overlay, interrupting each other’s measure as textures trail off over subtle rhythmic undertones and tabla cadences. “Chants/Dances V” ramps up time, as a barely melodic chant evolves into a slow dance — a sort of death-stomp that encircles a grieving core in its bass downbeat. Similarly, “Chants/Dances VIII” stumbles into a frenetic, waltz-like step as extended techniques frame its modulations. Here, there is an unrivaled attention to synthesized detail, with each synthetic component as visible as an instrument in a chamber ensemble. It demands careful attention to parse through their blurry unison.
Becker’s produced a complex intensity with Vol. II, achieving the profound ecstasy found in the cathartic practices and sublime frequencies of humanity’s far-flung traditional music. His speculative agenda approaches this anthropology by holding up a mirror to human music, fictionalizing it and this notional species together as abstract players in the innately abstract realm of sound and music. Their convergence takes a firm stance against an essence of sound, placing sound’s stewardship in the shadowy hands of its notional players, its manipulators — those whom however real are its representatives.
“These marks, this progression, this accumulation of memory fabricated a sort of narration, which I needed and which gave, even to completely voluntary abstraction, a concrete attachment to social, political, and sentimental life…I could thus represent images, send them out and pull them back, I could articulate the language of noises. I could make an entertainment/performance from darkness.”
— Luc Ferrari, I Was Running in So Many Different Directions