Radian – Drum and Buzz

By Curran Faris

Most musicians shy away from harsh, jarring sounds; sounds that jolt the listener out of complacent listening and either send them running for the eject button or immediately capture their attention. Bursts of static, buzzing circuitry, haywired electronics, white hot cymbals, fragmented beats—this is the sonic world Austria’s Radian have been exploring for over a decade.

Not that Martin Brandlmayr (percussion, vibraphone, sampler), Stefan Németh (guitars, synthesizers) and John Norman (bass) deal in the same audio terrorism of Merzbow or Prurient – it’s quite the opposite. Radian strike a delicate balance between experimental noise, IDM, post-rock and jazz. Over a several email exchanges, percussionist Martin Brandlmayr spoke about the new direction of their latest record, Chimeric, the creative process, and channeling the energy of rock music.

Radian’s 2004 effort, Juxtaposition, was an exercise in restraint. Delicate melodies floated amidst swirling electronics and Brandlmayr’s highly syncopated, skittering brush work. Through a process dubbed “microrecording,” the band also incorporated very quiet, textured sounds, only to amplify and digitally arrange them against the bass, drums and synth. The result is a sound both microscopic and symphonic. Imagine glitch-kings Autechre jamming with Tortoise, while prepared-guitarist Kevin Drumm dissects his instrument in the next room. However, after an extensive touring schedule the band took a five-year hiatus to re-examine their sound.

“After Juxtaposition we played a lot and there was a point to where we came to a dead-end in our live performances,” said Brandlmayr. “You know, our pieces are structured into every little detail, so it’s a very clear choreography every one of us has to execute – especially me. I was starting to think about other things during performances, to not be totally involved in the music. A very bad sign.”

The band’s break also removed any lingering creative tendencies the band had fallen into. Brandlmayr said this disruption of musical routines led to the creation of Chimeric.

“We started to play with chaotic structures, which was totally new [for us],” he said. “Everything was about control and pure construction; every little detail was chosen very carefully and usually it took us very long to find the right spot within and arrangement for every sound. Now we started to improvise in the rehearsal space and recorded sessions.”

Brandlmayr added that the chaos and improvisation resulted in a much louder, electrified sound.

“This time we turned the volumes of the amps up. Stefan was playing a lot of guitar this time. We used wild feedbacks and fully played drums. This was a very exciting new path for us.”

Once the basic material was recorded, the band set to work processing, splicing and arranging the raw sounds, perhaps best summarized by Chimeric’s opener “Git Cut Noise.” A burst of blown out guitar is abruptly silenced, leaving only analogue hum and tape hiss, before a lone floor-tom and shimmering cymbal summons its jagged reoccurrence; a universe of sound spliced into quick snippets. Within moments, the disparate elements begin to lock into a sharp rhythm, full of quick stops and unexpected silence. Out of nowhere, Brandlmayr’s drums, recorded totally in the red, launch the band into a woozy lurch for about five seconds until guitar feedback blots out almost every instrument and the whole pattern begins anew.

What is nearly impossible to articulate on paper is best described by Brandlmayr himself: “You can hear these wild guitars and brutally played drums, but it’s like windows open and close–you just get a short look into it. Blocks of noise, in between silence.”

Radian’s masterful use of space and silence is the audio equivalent of a strip tease; a glimpse is revealed as swiftly as it is obscured. The results are just as engrossing.

“Basically, I’m working with omitting sonic objects. It’s like having a second track running in my head with all sonic objects that don’t appear in the music, that are thought only. This creates a sort of tension that I love. Silences that can be filled again by the imagination of the listener,” Brandlmayr said.

Yet Chimeric isn’t all tension. “Feedbackmikro/City Lights” offers the listener a much-welcomed release, if only for a moment. Eerie synths, atonal harmonics and dark basslines lock into a hushed, infectious drum pattern while a gentle, haunting melody is hammered out on the vibraphone. But chaos is never far away, as Stefan Németh’s heavily distorted synths spew sonic asphalt all over everything. These dynamic and dramatic gestures, said Brandlmayr, were inspired by rock ’n’ roll.

“I think on this album we’ve been dealing with rock energy,” he said. “[It’s] a basic attempt to capture energetic playing, but putting it into a hybrid context.”

Put another way, Radian is dealing with the fundamental essence of rock: energy, dynamics, and sheer volume. Only the trio manages to strip these elements to their very core and re-arrange them in new and surprising ways while maintaining a sound that is utterly and completely musical, even when Radian is at their most cacophonous.

“I believe that a lot of what music makes magic or intense can be analysed and created in a conscious way,” continued Brandlmayr. “On the other hand, a lot can’t be constructed. It’s a matter of the moment and loss of control, just letting things go. But you can analyse the result. That’s what interested me most on the work for this record, to have this sonic ‘photograph’ of a moment and have the opportunity to carefully analyse them, taking them apart and reassemble them in a new way.”

While Radian may be expanding the sonic realm of rock, Brandlmayr is quick to draw the line on comparisons.

“The music deals with rock music, but it’s not at all rock music.”

Don’t miss Radian perform live at the West End on June 11 with Tim Hecker and Didi Bruckmayr.