Kangding Ray Kangding RayOr
There is a Kangding Ray before and after “Pruitt Igoe”, his single from 2010. Before, David Letellier was discordant element in the Raster-Noton sound: while the rest of the family opted for a sober formalism and the purest digital abstraction with occasional rhythmic escapes towards a cold kind of techno (in other words, the albums from 2008 by Byetone, “Death Of A Typographer”, Alva Noto’s “Unitxt”, and Frank Bretschneider’s “Rhythm”, which were the logical progression from Pan Sonic and the Sähkö school), the Frenchman manufactured melodies like someone handing out candy to kids. His electronica was distantly related to the pop of Morr Music and even more to IDM of bright textures and conventional harmonic progressions. There was a lot of digital treatment, pulsating tones and a high level of hi-tech, as there’s supposed to be on anything released by the label, but compared to Ryoji Ikeda (who could be something like a nemesis), Kangding Ray always sounded sweet, educated. That’s the way it was on “Stabil” (2006), a landmark in the most complex sounding branch of indietronica, and even more so on “Automne Fold” (2008), a record which even featured strings and which Letellier made great use of his voice. Too much sugar for a label that had always been more about vitriol, even when Ryuichi Sakamoto peeked around the corner.
But “Pruitt Igoe” was something else. Conceptually, the 12” was a comment on urban decadence and the excesses committed by people in the name of progress and civilisation: four pieces (including remixes) about the construction and destruction of the Pruitt Igoe urban project between the fifties and the seventies, on the outskirts of Saint Louis. Aesthetically, it was a controlled storm of cutting textures and techno beats outlined with asymmetric forms and lines like a Japanese Katana. It didn’t sound like Kangding Ray at all, as the friendliness of the previous releases was hidden in the venom and oppression. That’s why there’s a before and after, as “Or” sustains the aesthetic of bent lines and crooked rhythmic architecture during the hour this album lasts. There’s no trace of his voice (there is one though, a female one, on “Monster”, but it’s there to create tension rather than calmness), it’s not as easy to listen to as his other records, the tracks are full of the aforementioned twists towards post-industrial techno and nuclear-sounding ambient. And now, without ceasing to be a complex and extremely technical producer like on his earlier releases, Kangding Ray feels much more connected to the label he’s part of (he never recorded anything for any other label), and it shows.
The same balance between form and concept of the 12” extends therefore to “Or”. On “Athem” there already is movement of beats and echoes, “Mojave” shares the substantial liquidity and restless spirit of the music of Monolake. On “Odd Sympathy”, dub gives an extra dimension to the dry techno, and the new version of “Pruitt Igoe” sounds slower and with stretched vocals, but also more unstable, like an explosive substance transported manually over a rocky path. At that point, the ambient comes in ( “Or”, as if it were an Arovane track; “Mirrors” is pure isolationism, the breaks don’t return until “En Armaryllis Jour” and “Leavalia Scheme”, where some venomous guitars appear as well). You can hear that on several moments on “Or” he got help from his new, unexpected and crucial ally, Ben Frost. And the concept is also an evolution of “Pruitt Igoe”: “Or” is French for “gold”, the only material of which the value never goes down, and the music is a defeatist, perplexed impression of this world in crisis, financially and with regards to values, where consumption is religion and, even so, economies are in decline because of the malfunctioning of certain powers. Kangding Ray wants to convince us that a different world is possible (we just need to start it, he could start by not charging 16 euros for the CD), and that’s why this album, which starts as a rocky road, ends up something hopeful in the form of “La Belle”, a cinematic crescendo that condenses the two moods on “Or”, the abrupt techno and the irrespirable ambient, as if Byetone was relieved from his metal soul. Quite an album.