FORMA bursts to life with each interlocking element fully in place, as though we've skipped the development and gone straight for the climax. This feeling probably has something to do with the Brooklyn synthesizer trio's unique writing and recording process. Mark Dwinell, Sophie Lam, and George Bennett tracked their LP debut in the Summer/Fall of 2010 at Bushwick DIY venue The Schoolhouse; they sourced the material on FORMA from sprawling improvisations, some up to fifteen or twenty minutes in length, and recorded live to stereo with no overdubs. Each of the album's ten tracks sounds like a meticulously constructed and preconceived arrangement, but is in fact the natural culmination of these fibrous electronic explorations, workshopped in the live setting-- a snapshot of a broader idea that extends in both directions, past what the ear can hear.
Just as one shapes a vase with movements of the hands around a spinning centre of clay, Forma nuance these core ideas with touches of texture and rhythm, shifts in dynamic and timbre. Their pared-back motorik pulses bow low to their Kosmische predecessors from the '70s, and the warm, propulsive synthwork of Cluster and Harmonia looms particularly large. The beautiful "FORMA 230," similar to Cluster's "Fotschi Tong," is built upon a foundation of soft, throbbing drones, with a stream of melodies and arpeggios coursing through the negative space. The track is delicate and light, as though it were floating within its own self-contained bubble of sound. Likewise, on "FORMA 235," an intricate melodic counterpoint soars higher and higher, larger and larger, on the back of Bennett's constantly evolving drum patterns. While the influence of Krautrock is never far from the surface, Forma's compositions are much more tightly focused, recalling minimal synth. Their collection of analog electronics may square with the spacious '70s vibe, but the whole is always harnessed to the punch of an '80s drum machine. As Dwinell calls it, Forma's is a process of "alchemy": searching for inspiration, but also innovation, at the crossroads between the two musical lineages.
The decision to open the album with "FORMA 237A" and to close with "FORMA 237B", taken from the same session, is key. Each vignette seems to materialize from nowhere, only to ebb away to make way for the next. Bookended by these bridging tracks, they become part of a single, continuous idea -- itself composed of multiple parts. Ultimately, FORMA seems to capture only a brief, 35-minute moment of a sound life that seems endless and infinite, stretching upwards and outwards into the boundless terrain of space-- the one their ancestors explored, before them.
FORMA is out May 16th on Spectrum Spools