Vault Review: Surgeon – Balance LP
One of the main figureheads in British techno, Tony Surgeon, has produced a large catalog of great music throughout the years. That catalog includes one album using his own name in collaboration with Andrew Read, 6 EPs with Regis as British Murder Boys, and seven albums and large number of singles and remixes as Surgeon. Many consider “Balance”, Tony Surgeon’s 1998 album released on Tresor, his best, and understandably so. “Balance” negotiates between the many facets of techno music – the hard, the soft and everything in between – and creates an ambiguous world in which all participating parties have an equal opportunity.
On the first half of the album, Surgeon micromanages the balance, creating the balance between the hard and soft within the same track. Surgeon creates this balance by positioning both harder elements within softer backdrops, and softer elements against harder soundscapes. “The Heath” starts with a pounding machine beat, but in the movement of the track, Surgeon subtly shifts the tone, removing some of the harsher elements of the track and adding a muted synth line shortly after the one-minute mark. Later in the track, Surgeon removes the synth line and brings back the percussion and then eventually unites the two, with both the softer synth elements and the harder percussion creating an ambiguous mood right at the end of the track. The following track, “Pnuma”, takes a more abstract approach to discovering the potential for ambiguity in techno by placing the heavily effected roar of a puma against arpeggiating synth organs. In both cases, Tony Surgeon goes to the end of the hard sounds to add something soft and to the end of the soft sounds to add something hard, allowing the listener’s experience to reside somewhere in the middle.
Stream: Surgeon – The Heath (Tresor)
On the second half of the album, Surgeon macromanages the balance, exploring the balance between hard and soft on a greater scale, using the album format to allow him to explore the relationship between adjacent tracks. Surgeon positions the hardest tracks of the album, “Set One”, “Set Two”, and “Box” against two of the softer pieces, the ambient “Dialogue” and “Dinah’s Dream”. The three great pounding techno pieces put the listener in a situation where they can expect either a reprieve from the pounding or they can anticipate even more techno. However, if Surgeon continued with the techno, the balance would be shifted towards the harder side. So, in order to achieve the balance, Surgeon ends the album with two ambient pieces, allowing the album’s ambiguity to exist on a structural level.
Stream: Surgeon – Set Two (Tresor)
When we reflect on “Balance”, we ask why we need ambiguity in techno. It seems that Surgeon suggests that we may not necessarily need ambiguity, but that ambiguity exists within techno already. Because techno serves as a part of our lives, it inherits its ambiguity from our lives. Techno, just like our lives, has a variety of moods, tempos, sounds, directions, and passions. Sometimes these parts of our lives seem to contradict each other, and a major part of developing as a person is learning either to find a way to find common ground between the two forces, or to recognize that this pull between two forces is a part of being human. “Balance” demonstrates through techno music that all of the elements of our lives can work together in an ambiguous unity.