Negative space seems to define Umfang’s latest full length, Symbolic Use Of Light. As if absorbing the utilitarian psychedelia of her artwork, the NY-based producer’s now idiosyncratic sound seems to invite the listener to colour between the rigid lines of her stark electronic music, its muted synthesis and rigorous drum tracks encouraging not just passive consumption but concerted force of imagination.
Across nine tracks of lean yet muscular techno, Emma Olson has crafted, honed and deployed a softly vibrant sound-palette, the parameters of which are defined by self-imposed hardware limitations – one take-tracks often utilising little more than a drum machine and a synthesiser, at times displaying an almost monastic sense of patience and restraint. As a result this LP is Olson’s most cohesive and confident project to date, and finds her operating with a renewed focus following 2015’s sample-oriented and self-confessedly “silly” Ok, for Canadian outpost 1080p.
Resolutely devoid of samples, lead single ‘Weight’ sounds funereal, as if lifted from a morbid dream-sequence, its slowly blossoming filter unfolding like a bud teased into light. The track shows remarkable economy, composed of just two alternating synth patterns, balanced atop a twitchy, compulsive drum track of mere kicks and rim shots – flitting elegantly between notions of movement and stagnation.
‘Pop’ explores similar territory, its minimally-minded funk squirming through the cracks of a rigid solo kick drum, it’s musical range limited to an almost mathematical methodology of simply equational rationalism. It’s clear Olson has worked hard to navigate the boundaries of minimalism within her chosen form, and here she successfully stretches these borders with grace.
By today’s modern standards, Symbolic Use Of Light could easily appear under-produced. But, on the contrary, therein lies the rugged charm of Olson’s sound; it harks back to the raw impulses driving the amateur producers of Detroit and Chicago – the sheer willingness to squeeze as much as possible from an austere set of tools is surely a solid marker of a fine producer. By disregarding the frivolous, ultimately unnecessary micro-details of obsessive production, Symbolic Use Of Light underlines the kinetic and aesthetic genius of electronic dance music.
In reviving this approach, Olson has further solidified the Umfang identity, and marked herself as one of the most distinctive and assured voices in techno. Her second album marks a bold assertion of style and a confident start to the next chapter of her deserved rise through the ranks.