Mute founder Daniel Miller and Depeche Mode affiliate Gareth Jones have been working on and off as Sunroof for almost 25 years, and their debut album’s eventual arrival is a stubbornly low-stakes affair. Electronic Music Improvisations Vol. 1 is packed with modular synthesis, arrangements that ebb and flow as they please, and tracks that fade in and out to hint at the lengthy performances that bore them.
1.1 – 7.5.19 opens the record with a slow-paced synth motif and incessant buzzing which gradually evolves from monophony into a heavy drone. Most of the rhythm comes from distorted thumps, a contrast with other pieces that are much more focused on syncopation and momentum.
1.6 – 7.5.19, which presumably came from the same session, twins abrasive LFOs with a one-note ostinato reminiscent of frantic morse code. The breakdown which occurs halfway through reduces the track to distorted swoops and sickly humming, before the rapid synth arrangement reintroduces itself and brings it to a close.
Modular synthesis’ enduring popularity rests on the notion that, despite being a bit retro and fiddly, it can still produce wonderfully unique sounds. Compelling evidence of this can be found on 1.5 – 9.7.19, where a combination of sequencing, phaser and flanger creates a fascinating glassy effect that runs constantly through the track without losing any of its mystique.
Sunroof’s stated aim was to push beyond the confines of an indulgent jam, and the track that best achieves this is the odyssean 1.4 – 18.6.19. It opens with a sparkling synth lead buttressed by choppy bleeps and bloops before succumbing to spacey effects and a different filtered motif that adds a whole new angle to the track, as waves of bass wash over impassively.
Electronic Music Improvisations Vol. 1 does what it says on the tin, but transcends curio status through Miller and Jones’ unique musicality and verve.