nsi., Sync

[Non Standard Productions]


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“Korg, EML, Roland, Eventide, Doepfer, MFB, Apple.” Sound gurus Max Loderbauer and Tobias Freund may have composed the pieces that comprise Sync, their latest nsi. album, but the conspicuous credit they give on the back cover to some of the most lauded names in electronics makes me think coordinated might be the better verb. Indeed, the names of these “pieces for drummachine and sequencer” are all written in a code that corresponds to the specific hardware used to create them, metal boxes ranging from the canonical (the Korg MS-20) to the idiosyncratic (the Make Noise MATHS). And while nsi.’s genius is the obvious spark that got this gear on its grind, and while these bleeps and bloops will sound familiar to anyone who’s been following their collaboration, Sync doesn’t feel like the group’s next logical step so much as a blatant restatement of purpose: these are nsi.’s machines, and this is everything they can do.

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Their range is undeniably impressive. From downtrodden stutterings and twitches of aggression to surprisingly supple etudes that under less stringent conditions might have developed into club jams for Freund’s solo project tobias., these 24 fleeting interactions are a testament to the myriad possibilities a sharp producer can derived from very little. They also hammer home how much personality actual circuitry can exude. As the heirloom clicks of a veritable synth museum wheeze through a blanket of weirdly beautiful hiss and hum, a kind of creaky simulacrum of minimal techno emerges, sometimes maintaining a regular pulse and sometimes stripped of any sort of rhythmic center. If you played T++ or Alva Noto for a bunch of sentient pre-MIDI synths and asked them to imitate what they just heard, Sync very well might be the result. Loderbauer and Freund are nothing if not thorough in squeezing all the juice out of their gear: they’ve covered their bases so well that it’s honestly hard to imagine how they could have created a 25th track.

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Whether they’ve been too thorough, however, depends entirely on how much their concept grabs you. By about halfway through, you may start having a hard time differentiating what you’re hearing now from what you heard ten minutes ago, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder whether nsi. is still proving its point or just trying to make you drool over sick hardware. I think this album works best when you ignore any inherent vanity in the project and approach it instead as a kind of analog spa treatment: I pop on my headphones, shut my eyes, and let myself get poked and prodded for a quick fifty minutes. Because for all of its formalism and exactitude (and utter nerdiness), Sync has a curious warmth you may find yourself being drawn back to.

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