omehow Thomas Brinkmann always slips through the cracks. Despite his name being thoroughly respected among his peers, Brinkmann opted out of the Kompakt family before it became big, instead choosing to focus on his own label and productions. Sure, he drops in on the minimal techno scene once in a while (2004’s Tour De Traum being a prime example), but like artists such as Herbert and Matmos, one can only imagine that Brinkmann doesn’t sit down and churn out faceless 12” after faceless 12” for one reason: it’s boring for him.
Remember, Brinkmann is the guy that once remixed classic Richie Hawtin and Mike Ink material by playing the records on a turntable outfitted with two tone arms (one for each channel). You can understand perhaps why he’s beyond “the scene.” That’s why last year’s Lucky Hands came as such a shock. A thoroughly mediocre affair (“Drops” excepted), the record was a rare step down into the morass of lifeless album-length techno. Sure, anyone who’s into techno and listening only to full-lengths is missing the point completely, but we’ve come to expect better from the Max Ernst head.
The other major release from the Brinkmann camp last year, however, was anything but lifeless. TBA’s Annulé (which was partly co-produced by Brinkmann) was a dark and unpredictable beast. Credit that to the driving force behind the project, Natalie Beridze, whose wide-ranging ear moved the album easily between a variety of dance genres.
The TBA Empty project sees Brinkmann coming on full-time as a collaborator. Its first album, Stupid Rotation is a collection of previously released vinyl material, as well as some new tracks recorded specifically for the CD. The duo’s first 12”, Special Rotation 1, is represented most lovingly by “33 Pharell.” It’s a stunner, whose sonic pleasures are myriad, but the ever-shifting bass drum, stuttering cymbal, deep synth pads, and Beridze’s throaty voice make up some of the reason why it remains the highlight of the duo’s partnership.
“Kit Landing” from Special Rotation 2 borrows a synth setting from “33” for its wind-swept tumbleweed stomp. Beridze once again checks in on vocal duties (she doesn’t do it nearly often enough throughout, though), providing a strong counterpoint to the wheeling bass line.
“Brain Is Gone” follows it up, quickening the pace and providing an outline sketch of what minimal techno would sound like if it embraced rawness in its programming. “Linsey” takes it one step further by sampling recent tracks from the Field and Nathan Fake and adding them to an already boisterous bedding.
I hesitate to claim that what TBA Empty is doing is a sort of garage rock techno, but the fact that Stupid Rotation sounds dirtier and more interesting than the sterile confections of most house producers working today is undeniable. Brinkmann and Beridze take perfect compositions and figure out how to throw tiny flecks of mud on top (bass drums that react differently on each hit, snare drums half-full of marbles, vocals that sound beamed in from a hole made in the studio wall). While it doesn’t always work, it never sounds less than exciting.