Byetone’s first solo release was the May installment of the 20” to 2000 series on Raster Noton in 1999. His minimalist aesthetic was translated into twenty minutes of static, sine tones and rhythmic clicks that were extremely austere. It was followed by a similarly stark production for Bine Music in 2003.
Structural reductions continue to occupy Bender on his new album, but his method has changed dramatically. Noise and depth now play an integral role. He’s broken with the hermetic, clinical laboratory aesthetic and begun to allow something of the real world in: not just environmental noise, but layers of tone with sounds that sometimes resemble real instruments and make reference to rock and other music. In parallel with label mate Alva Noto’s recent work, Bender plunges deeply into an immersive, textured world on the fantastically titled Death of a Typographer.
Solid bass and tight percussion pin down weighty textures with the precision of an entomologist on the album’s eight variations. Could it be that each track infected Bender, keeping him from his graphic design work — earworms that made it impossible to for him to concentrate? Maybe this album is his surrender; the designer in him supplanted by the musician.
Death of a Typographer is informed more by his work with laptop group Signal than his earlier solo work — ‘Grand Style’ is driven by Bretschneider funkiness and the degraded remains of reggae tropes. In other places Bender takes obvious cues from rock and pop. On ‘Straight’, his flattened percussion is draped with lush synths, while the truncated ‘Black is Black’ surprises with a Bender-esque drilling rhythm holding up a warm bassline and a synth melody that sound almost new wave. ‘Capture This (I)’ drones Phill Niblock style into ‘Capture This (II)’ where swooping Fennesz-like guitar drone/feedback affirm the rock intentions.
The one oddly weak point is the intro/outro bookending. Environmental sound recordings frame the album: the intro – a person’s footsteps walking into a club where ‘Plastic Star’ is being played; the outro – the sounds of someone, probably the artist, stepping outside to smoke. They are distracting and intrusive. But interesting. They fit thematically with Bender’s new inclinations to let the world in, and also hook in to the grand rock music tradition of staged-drama intro/outros from Pink Floyd to David Bowie to Kraftwerk.
For fans of Signal and Alva Noto’s recent work, Death of a Typographer is a fascinating insight into developments at Raster Noton HQ.