Curator's notes: Brett Naucke, Midwaste, and Auscultation

 Tone Madison presents the Chicago synth experimenter on Feb. 18 at Art In.

Brett Naucke's music makes a great case for how electronic musicians can explore the esoteric textures and temperamental sonics of modular synthesizers while also laying a foundation of melody. In the Chicago artist’s best work, including his 2016 album Executable Dreamtime, the evolving timbre of the synths has a way of driving the compositions onward, and vice versa. Naucke, who has released music on esteemed electronic labels like Spectrum Spools and Umor Rex, will be headlining Tone Madison's next curated show on Saturday, February 18 at Art In. His set here will center around new compositions for modular synth, some of which will be on his upcoming album, The Mansion.

I love electronic music that lets you zone out and get lost, but that’s not what Naucke’s music is about. He uses a lot of synth tones that would lend themselves well to ambient, float-away pieces, but his compositional approach is too alert and restrained for that. Take the track “AV Terrarium,” from another 2016 release, Pitch Documents. The piece builds from a flickering, almost mallett-like figure. As Naucke layers in more phrases and a bit of noisy atmosphere, there’s also a sense of continually paring back, re-arranging each component’s relationship to the others. I wouldn’t mind hearing this track stretch and billow on for 20 minutes; it’s just that the whole point of it is to explore an idea that’s at once more concise and more complex. The track winds up in about three and a half minutes, having slyly worked its way into a form that feels quite different from how it started, but still very much in harmony with that initial phrase.

While Pitch Documents listens like a (welcome) collection of experiments, Executable Dreamtime has more of a cohesive arc. Each track centers around the manipulation of a single synth patch, so each composition kind of brings one instrumetal voice into conversation with itself. The album’s longest track, “The Space Between Twins,” takes its time building up melodic layers, and as gentle as it seems as first, Naucke also works a lot of subtle tension into the piece—driving the composition along decisively even as it takes on a meditative aspect.

The two opening acts at this show also tend to play with that border between deliberate structure and sonic oblivion. Auscultation is the more ambient-leaning project of Madison producer Golden Donna, aka Tone Madison contributor Joel Shanahan. Midwaste, the Madison duo of Epiphany Compton and Spencer Bible, landed on our top 20 Madison records of 2016 list for their release As Relayed. That record, like their live performances, uses Compton’s masterfully wrangled tape samples and Bible’s delay-coated guitar swells to create scratchy, eerie, long-form, immersive soundscapes.

Don’t forget the other curated shows we’ve got coming up this spring:

March 9: GateSound: The Terminal Orchestra, knowsthetime, Noxroy. Gates of Heaven, 7 p.m., all ages, $8.

March 19: Sun Speak, Tony Barba, Mahr. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 7 p.m., all ages, $8.

April 18: Jon Mueller, Jason Kahn, Sheba. Arts + Literature Laboratory, 8 p.m., all ages, $8.

May 18: GateSound: High Plains + Anjou, Alej Perez. Gates of Heaven, 7 p.m., all ages, $8.