Alex and Daniel Buess of 16-17 free jazz / noise reputation stretched out their musical tree in 1998 with this side project referred to as Cortex. Over a decade of live performances and yet only now have they decided to drop an EP on us through the fantastic Praxis label. Alex Buess’ inclusion in the group Ice with Justin Broadrick amongst others appears to have rubbed off on Cortex but unlike the dated Ice collaboration, Vacuum Theory is cemented in the much more electronic and heavily processed times of now.
The Machinic Phylum throws down the gauntlet with a brutally sluggish pace as each hammer drop crushes the surface bit by bit, scraping away until all the textures are in plain sight. This sets a solid precedence as Usu explodes in your ears with digital noise loops that unexpectedly strip away to reveal a simple kick snare pattern and stark bass slide not dissimilar to the barren reverb drenched drums sounds of the industrial 80’s and 90’s. Mutabor rounds out the record with a frantic pace rhythm arrangement that rolls out across a number of bars before increasing the layers with various electronic sounds. Layers get exchanged and dropped like so for the remainder of the track with the cymbal hits keeping as the only constant, eventually building up to a static incline that finishes ever so abruptly.
Vacuum Theory is in tune with what is going on in the jarring side of electronic music today and considering the Buess’ illustrious career spanning multiple projects, it’s great that this studio EP doesn’t sound as dated as one would assume. Some of the sounds do draw similarities with their earlier electronic side projects, but the digital, noise fuelled mayhem touches everything in a way that ties it together well and without an exhaustive running time.