UMFANG - RIVEN Music Album Reviews

The Discwoman co-founder’s keen understanding of space and dynamics makes just a few overlapping rhythms and melodies feel unexpectedly expansive.

Emma Burgess-Olson—the New York producer best known as UMFANG—has often emphasized the self-imposed limitations on her work. When she designs artwork for her albums and flyers, she often limits herself to the rudimentary tools pre-installed on her computer, rather than using something more powerful, like Photoshop. As she’s become one of New York’s most respected producers of both techno tracks and more obtuse experiments, she’s often forced herself to make music under similar constraints.
Most of UMFANG’s 2017 album Symbolic Use of Light, for example, was made with a single drum machine that she bought off a friend for $50. She pitched up basslines from the device to make piercing lead melodies, finding a surprising lushness in her stripped-down setup. Even when she isn’t explicitly making records with a single piece of gear, her work is marked by stylistic restraint. Though she shirks ornamentation and excess, there’s a sort of sleight of hand embedded in her process. If she didn’t tell you, you might not notice that she’s working with such a limited palette. Her keen understanding of space and dynamics makes just a few overlapping rhythms and melodies feel unexpectedly expansive.

Burgess-Olson hasn’t explained the specifics of the creation of RIVEN, the first release on her new label Thanks for Enlightening Me, but its eight tracks evince a similar philosophy. None are especially busy; it’s rare to hear more than a few layers of instrumentation going at once. Often, she’ll zero in on just a sound or two, letting them loop and mutate, and figuring out what feelings present themselves in the meditative repetition. “Rubber” is built around a single, spare synth phrase that echoes delicately as a percussive bass part thrums in the far distance. The song doesn’t change much after its oozy intro, but had she given in to the temptation to add more, its fragile beauty could have easily been shattered.

This discipline isn’t necessarily a surprising approach for a producer schooled on techno, a genre that’s often austere by design. What makes RIVEN special is how diverse it manages to be, even with its relatively sparse parts. The record opens with an ambient yawn called “Flare,” which quickly gives way to prismatic keygen funk (“Glass Escalator”), dubby refractions (“2 Body Beat”), overcast techno (“Riven”), slowly unfolding kosmische (“Rubber”), and even ghostly approximations of grime instrumentals (“Baby Blue”). The tracks can be long and elliptical, but they don’t settle into a mood for longer than a song or two, which gives the record an ecstatic energy despite its low-key arrangements.

UMFANG has shown this kind of range before, dipping into skeletal experimentation on records like Riffs and more straightforward floor-fillers on albums like OK, but she’s never tried out this many different sounds on one record. In that way, RIVEN feels like a testing ground for new ideas and forms that she wants to bring into the fold of the broader UMFANG project. Yet the relative minimalism of each piece lends the record a comforting uniformity. It’s like opening a sketchbook and seeing still lifes of all sorts of objects, each rendered in the same style: simple, stark, and elegant.


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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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UMFANG - RIVEN Music Album Reviews UMFANG - RIVEN Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, April 03, 2020 Rating:

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