Architectural, ‘Metropolitan Opera’

Posted by on May 17, 2017


Architectural Records, 1.27.17

Architectural constructs minimal techno tracks asserting the traditional European sound. Releases like last year’s Elastic Layouts and Architectural 07 are competent dub and Detroit constructions, but Metropolitan Opera lifts producer Juan Rico’s imagination to another plane. Its seven tracks are distilled and attuned sound collages, more in the freeform vein of Murcof and Evan Caminiti than fellow European DJs Oscar Mulero and Mikkel Metal. For Metropolitan Opera Rico expands his usual sonic comfort zone to encompass a broad new palette, producing a complex and cultivated effort well worth repeated listening.

However, the album didn’t come out of nowhere. Opera‘s seeds were apparent as early as 2014’s Secret Chapter in ambient explorations like “Midnight #1” and “Moonlight Adagio” acting as sonic rinses amid more customary techno tracks like “The Forest Roars.” The ambient intervals continued on 2015’s Amour, as on “Delicatezza,” where Rico fuses an ambient pad with a pulsing, blippy beat, or “Amour,” where he explores the dreamy minutiae of gradual knob adjustments across the ten minute track. Architectural tested the waters with both albums before diving into Opera‘s deep end, which required a different creative approach. “The first thing I did was dust off my old Roland JV-2080,” he says, speaking of the sample-based synth module from the nineties. “It may seem simple, but it has incredible sounds.” Rico married the module’s symphonic sounds with his modular synthesizer’s electronic timbres to achieve Opera‘s sound. Recording and mixing was also performed in real time, which made Rico feel like he was scoring a movie.

The record does have a cinematic aura. Opera begins inside the city’s arteries: its transportation system. The hum inside some claustrophobic future vehicle, whether subway shuttle or bullet train, provides mechanical solace against the pre-industrial world’s faraway howl and establishes the album’s focal point. The second track develops a stringed theme set against a light storm, from which skittering jazz brushes emerge. These elements are subsumed in a synthesizer blip, a distinctly modern instrument, in a section that can be read as an accelerated sprint through music — borne from nature and accelerated by urbanity. That each section envelops the other suggests antagonistic genres fighting for dominance, the very story of music in the 20th century. The album swells on track three though, a blurred chorus rising from a moist loop. The track reaffirms the classical symphonies fighting for relevance in a city already vibrant with life. This uncertainty returns on the fourth track with a lamenting swirl of strings buffeted against the synthesized soup like a dingy in a torrent.

Strings shift across track five and six, just hanging on at first, in a battle of classical instruments that they, by their screaming, seem to be losing. On track six strings dominate, but by now the album’s title seems elegiac rather than reverent. The classical form becomes slowly swallowed in the city’s ever-shifting tastes and fashions, yet as a foundational force it is never vestigial, a homebase and a foil to the city’s ever-evolving modernism. Opera ends on what sounds like a park scene, the thrum of bass-heavy noise picked up from the windscreen. Cars whiz by on the highway, reminding us of the swarming metropolis even during a brief moment of tranquility. The album is a bit of a time capsule, created almost two years ago. “I visited New York in May 2015. Right after coming back, I left everything I was doing and locked myself in the studio for about two months,” Rico recalls. “Even though I was happy with the result, I shelved it and worked on other projects. I wasn’t sure if it was the right time to release it or if I wasn’t ready.” Last September, Rico listened to the session again and felt it was the perfect moment to release it. Opera became available to the public just after this year’s Cubismo (both released on Rico’s Architectural Records) even though it is the earlier creation.

Cubismo contains Berlin techno paired with a three-part ambient series titled “Lost in Buenos Aires.” This trio represents Metropolitan Opera‘s softer side, its simplified, unencumbered counterpart. The “Buenos Aires” tracks are bright and carefree, whereas Metropolitan Opera’s entirety is somber and contemplative. “Buenos Aires” seems weightless despite technology; Metropolitan Opera‘s is anchored and indebted to it. “Buenos Aires” invokes the freedom of getting lost and letting the day guide the way, and the tracks feature little variation or instrumentation, as if nature’s expansive energy were merely there for humans to observe and capture, as we have done with distant planets. On the other hand, Opera concerns itself with the dense sound created from within the world’s cramped urban spaces, its music just another noise produced around the city’s unrelenting din. The city’s concrete brutalist forms provide acoustic structures around which musical flowers can grow, making Architectural’s nom de plume more relevant than ever.

Metropolitan Opera and Cubismo are available now on Architectural Records. Since then, Architectural has released the Heaven Can Wait 12″ on Ellum Audio. He hopes another EP for the NON series label will be hitting stores before summertime.