Please Touch, by Rrose

Deconstructed Dance Music / Eaux / June 23, 2023 – Reviewed by Jon Lindblom

Please Touch is the follow-up to 2019’s Hymn to Moisture by Seth Horvitz as his Rrose-moniker. And, like that album, it very much reflects their background in experimental music and techno. Tired of the latter, Horvitz went to the prestigious Mills College to study experimental and electronic music with the ambition of becoming a sound artist – yet eventually found themselves coming back to techno from a different perspective thanks to what they picked up at Mills. In a nutshell, this meant ditching melodic and harmonic elements for their techno tracks, in favour of a focus on texture and psychoacoustics by building their compositions around subtle changes in basic building blocks of sound that interact with each other in ways that produce emergent sonic phenomena.

Horvitz has, accordingly, described their compositional method in terms of putting very basic sounds together, without a predetermined arrangement, and letting them unfold and interact with each other in a very intuitive way throughout the compositional process. Somewhat like a sonic alchemy that utilises the formal possibilities of sound processing made available by music technology to patiently coax formal complexity out of very basic sonic components. As it is said in the description of the album: ‘Rrose’s compositional process, rooted in their studies with West Coast avant garde trailblazers at Mills College, centers on “seed” sounds being fed through elaborate webs of interrelated audio processing. The result is a world where changes in any one element have downstream implications for some or all the others. It’s a rich interdependence that lets the tracks breathe, grow and mutate with uncanny organicism’.

Horvitz indeed has an interest in natural shapes and forms, and eventually realised that the techno format lends itself very well to this kind of skeletal formal experimentation. They have for example said that what once again attracted them to techno was its very basic formal structure – the characteristic techno-pulse – which at the same time may be tweaked and morphed in a plethora of ways through the sort of formal experimentation that they are interested in. This puts Horvitz’s music as Rrose among the deconstructed dance music that I have covered a lot on this website since its inception. Indeed, like other kinds of music in that (post-)genre, it refrains from using the more familiar sonic characteristics of the kind of dance music it draws upon – in favour of instead tweaking them sometimes almost beyond recognition. That was the core methodology in Hymn to Moisture, and it is in Please Touch as well, which certainly is ideal to a formalist such as myself precisely insofar as the experimentation with basic sonic forms sits at its heart.

The tracks on Please Touch may roughly be divided into two groups: one that utilises rhythmic elements and one that consists of pure drones. Out of these two, it is the former that I think is most interesting, insofar as the combination of complex rhythmic structures and synthetic textures really allows Horvitz’s sonic alchemy to truly come to fruition. Techno is for the most part barely detectable in the rhythms, which instead push elsewhere thanks to their multilayered complexity that, as indicated above, refuses to adhere to the standard techno pulse. The synthesised textures are generally rich and deep – with the lower registers being particularly compelling, which makes for a broader and more nuanced sound image on this album than that of its predecessor. The two opening tracks ‘Joy of the Worm’ and ‘Rib Cage’, as well as one of the closing tracks entitled ‘The Illuminating Glass’, best illustrate these formal qualities through their intricate fusions of varied and complex rhythms, deep drones and heavy base that slowly unfold across the duration of the tracks. Constituting a sort of hall of mirrors of warped sonic forms, they are among Rrose’s finest work and thoroughly illustrate the compositional approach outlined above.

Meanwhile, the beatless pieces are also nice and certainly composed with the same kind of care and attention, but on the one hand sound less original in that they basically feel like something you could find for example on an Eleh-album. And, on the other hand, I think that the multidimensional levels of formal sonic complexity are somewhat flattened when the rhythms are taken out of the picture, which also makes these pieces less interesting to me. Yet the overall impression of Please Touch is nevertheless that it is the work of a competent composer who have refined and enriched their compelling take on techno since the release of its predecessor.