Rashad Becker is best known as a master of mastering engineering at Berlin’s Dubplates & Mastering. Over his 15+ year career at D&M, Becker has mastered over 1600 albums for an impressive list of experimental artists that includes many KFJC favorites. In 2013, Becker released (and mastered) the first album of his own, “Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. 1,” a collection of compositions for the modular synthesizer (and other electronic instruments and software). This 2016 release is the second volume of this project, and it is extraordinary.
As on the first volume, the album’s tracks are divided into “themes” (T1-4) and “dances,” (T5-8) each running under five minutes. The tracks have the duration and structure of songs, in contrast to much of the current work coming from artists working with this medium, which usually inspires words like “soundtrack”, or “soundscape,” or something else apart from traditional musical forms. It’s a pleasant surprise to hear these instruments used to create a very focused statement. This is not to say that these works resemble any songs we’ve heard before: they’re composed from strange sounds, arranged in encrypted time signatures. At times, the sounds have character of something familiar, like a bell (T1), gong, or a human voice (T7, T8). But even when the sounds have a electronic, wormy quality, there’s a expressive feel that gives them warmth, like they were produced, maybe not necessarily by a human, but some sort of living, breathing species. As you might expect from an engineer, there is an incredible attention to details of the sound, from the smallest changes in dynamics, to rhythm, to sequencing, that I can only begin to wrap my head around. The more I listen, the more it pulls me in – is this the music of the future?