In an interview with Bill Kouligas from the not so distant past, the head of PAN re-iterated his ambitions in establishing a family of artists around the core of the label, each bring a distinct sound to PAN with an emphasis on the innovative. If there were one member of this family that could be considered its patriarch next to Bill, it would have to be Lee Gamble. Koch, his third full-length outing on the label re-iterates this sentiment as Gamble walks another evolutionary step along his artistic path with PAN in tow. Traits of the same artist that created Dutch Tvashar Plumes and Diversions are still present and accounted for, as heavy sub-bass parts accompanied by busy rhythm sections call in the start of the album. This is short lived however and the album soon reveals the producer’s focus has turned away from the narrative of dance music’s history that made up the last two LPs. The press release too confirms this with the suggestion that where the last two albums introspect Lee Gamble’s past, Koch goes on to predict his future.
Gamble’s future negates any sense of his environment as the album ignores the past in the pursuit of only its own temporary existence. Long delays and sustained sounds make up the fundamental parts of the LP in a similar way to the ambient recordings of the past. The compositions on Koch intersect each other, the next taking the baton where the previous left off, and they tend to languish in the beauty of their own being, much like a flâneur admiring his likeness in the image of a grubby shop window. There is no sense of urgency as propelled by the magnanimous kick and when these dance rituals are highlighted, they are clouded in formless layers of incredible textural charm. On Frame Drag these layers create a still ocean on which the listener floats atop an inflatable bed, while Gillsman glitches away among the off-centre pads of the digital realm. These elements never over-shadow other parts however as Lee still manages to retain his less-is more approach throughout Koch with a minimal arrangement for the most part. This lends itself to some exquisite dynamic variations that keeps the listener tuned in and I wonder if there is not a little cross-pollination occurring amongst the artists at PAN. I couldn’t help drawing the conclusion that Valerio Tricoli’s Miseri Lares might have had an influence on Lee’s work for this album, at least at the planning stages of the LP. There is a sense of drama similar to that of Tricoli’s work, although in a very different aesthetic.
For those who seek it, there are still the dance-floor focussed iterations in tracks like Hmix and Cuadata, but although they might offer the instant gratification of a beat I feel there is much more waiting for the listener past these simple percussive arrangements. Koch is masterful in the way it combines sounds to abandon any free-association with their origins or their objectives. Vortex City Spiral was the track that really highlighted this aspect of the producer’s ability for me and as a result the stand-out track of the album. It has the initial appearance of a Musique Concréte amalgamation, but it soon is quite evident that the sampler was put aside in favour of a synthesizer as the sounds themselves hint at origins of familiar rhythm-focussed territory. It offers a refreshing approach from the somewhat stale associations we’ve had with synthesized sounds and their predilection to the familiar.
The individual compositions apart, what Koch puts into effect very well, is the singular narrative that these very different pieces bring together when combined. The listener is continuously aware of a story unfolding as the album progresses through what the press release calls,” disparate spaces, locations, and mental states.” These contrasting origins are very noticeable throughout the album. Head Model adopts a bass-line ripped from the domain of a progressive house track and re-establishes it in an environment swathed in layers of modulating synths and foggy pads. 6EQUJ5-7 is a grime-like track that seems to come under the influence of an identity crisis as the beat-driven focus falls way to unfamiliar territory as it tries to come to terms with what it wants to be. This is the crux of this album and more significantly Lee Gamble’s re-defining nature. There’s an ever-present contrast between the practical design of a beat-driven electronic track and the artistic pursuit within a compositional framework and their sounds in Koch.
At times it borders on the self-indulgent, but it never quite slips fully into the free form, leaving a little space for the listener to fill the void in the minimal environments created by Gamble. The listener would be hard-pressed to draw comparisons to anything other than Gamble’s own biography. It is a unique approach to the artist’s own voice and to anything in the current discourse of electronic music. Koch is a splendid exercise in the possibilities of the future and a completely fresh take on music in a dance idiom for a generation that have fallen out of favour with its functional pursuits, and if it doesn’t necessarily predict the future it should at least influence it for a few a people.