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John Tejada: Parabolas

img  Tobias Fischer

At some point in his life, John Tejada must have come to the conclusion that his personal path through the deafening world of club music is a quiet one. There is something soothing about the myriads of interviews the Austrian-born and Los-Angeles-based producer has conducted since his career took off with his first 12inches and the founding of his Palette imprint fifteen years ago. Critical questions are rare here and private revelations confined to the realms of techniques and technology, the probably most open-hearted conversation he's ever done a round of gear talk. Instead, the intimacy of Tejada's work is to be found in his music, the studio representing his private temple of confessions – or, as he himself once put it on one of his earliest releases: „The J is silent“. And yet, John Tejada's silence is one that screams so much louder than any sugarcoated, sensation-seeking pr-babble ever could: Only released a month ago, Parabolas is already the album everyone in house and techno is talking about, a work equally revered and reviled for its entirely unironic melodic touch. And while underground record store Hard Wax recommended it as „surprisingly (!) good“, more mainstream-oriented publications have criticised its occasional tendency of using a shimmering surface to hide a lack of depth underneath - the predictable logics of the genre are entirely reversed here.

Generally speaking, the controversy surrounding Parabolas is caused by its open flirtations with the world of pop, the one association typically considered a no-go for „serious“ productions. Although Tejada has already publicly admitted to his interest in the „big p-word“, the term, here, doesn't just refer to the admissal of melody, harmony, contagiousness and romance into the otherwise icy and grey-tinged world of techno. Rather, „pop“, to him, is about moving listener's minds and bodies, their hearts and their feet, their instinct and imagination all at once. Parabolas accordingly draws its energy from juxtaposition, from the constant and almost confrontational simultaneity of hard, industrial beats and sultry, weightless themes. Sensations of sweet- and sexiness on the one hand and an almost clinical concentration and focus on the other are inseparably intertwined here, at times occurring within a single track. Even more than playfully juggling these influences, however, the „pop“ approach of the album is about the way music deals with references, transforming external inspirations into something personal and expressive. Rather than copying the classics or indulging in mere nostalgically-inspired finger exercises, Tejada is openly picking up on the cues provided to him by the likes of Kraftwerk („Subdivided“), Aphex Twin („Unstable Condition“) or Jeff Mills („A Flexible Plan“) and then adding his personal twist to the equation. Discovering these quotes and hints is not just part of the fun here – it is an integral part of the work itself.

At the same time, this very system of immediate gratifications and recognisable references has led some to label Parabolas as a somewhat superficial effort. In reality, the album's hooks are merely a portal into a far deeper and intricately refined world, into a space of minutely planned functionality and surprisingly complex configurations hiding behind emblems of beauty. The fact that so many seem to be missing out on it is, in fact, testimony to Tejada's ability of integrating ambitious and challenging constructs into perfectly accessible arrangements. Many of his themes take on the form of rows – a single one for each track - from which a handful of notes may be omitted or to which additional ones will be added to subtle, yet incisive effect. It is mostly the body, which picks up on these changes first and occasionally, the brain only follows suite, when, as indicated by the album's title, the arrangement has come full circle and returned to starting position. It is a constant play on the idea of repetition and variation Tejada is engaging his audience in here, an entirely convincing test case in the idea that new experiences are by default the result of new compositional approaches.

All of these tendencies materialise on „Hollow Hemispheres“, a just five-minute-long piece operating at the borderline between the worlds of deep house and ambient. Outwardly, Tejada is building the track in a conventional way, with a tranquil and minimal opening gradually being expanded by swelling synth pads, a pearly cosmic bell pattern and a simple two-note bass line. And yet, these developments are framed by a far more subtle and equally captivating process: The extension of an originally just fifteen-second-short and rhythmically straight-forward sequence into an increasingly wilful pattern. On the album's densely atmospheric, dreamy and hypnotic opener „Farther and Fainter“, meanwhile, a similar concept is taken to its extreme: A single, equally spiky and dulcet thematic idea perpetuates throughout the entire arrangement. And yet, not a single bar is ever the same, with Tejada shifting the emphasis of different notes, establishing a just subtly different second theme and tweaking the colour and inner composition of his material. To some, these discrete changes will naturally comes across as too delicate or almost beyond the borders of human perception. But to those capable of appreciating the delicacy of these operations, these seemingly simple concepts will unleash an avalanche of fantastical emotions.

Of course, with their counterpointal structure and methodical variations, these pieces at times seem to reference the models of classical music rather than techno. And yet, what might seem strange with other producers makes perfect sense for a man who has made the quiet path his own – intimate revelations are always within immediate reach here.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: John Tejada
Homepage: Kompakt Records

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