Attack’s dance music theory guru Oliver Curry breaks down this mid-tempo slice of electro-tinged techno to explain some of the key elements of its composition and production.
The Breakdown is a series in which we deconstruct well-known tracks, showing what makes them so effective. Unlike our Passing Notes series, the emphasis isn’t on practical tips. We’re not trying to show you how to copy these tracks, but simply examining them to find out what makes them so special.
This time around we’re looking at Gesaffelstein’s ‘Viol’ – a subtle, understated piece of slow-mo techno released on the French producer’s Conspiracy Pt. 2 EP back in 2011.
Tempo and Polyrhythm
At just 109 beats per minute, ‘Viol’ is significantly slower than the vast majority of techno tracks. Although much of Gesaffelstein’s output slots into the more common 120-130 bpm range, he’s also explored tempos below 120 bpm in a number of other tracks, most notably ‘Belgium’ (also 109 bpm), ‘OPR’ (101 bpm) and ‘The Lack Of Hope’ (116 bpm).
One of the most interesting effects of slower tempos is the way the interplay between elements becomes more pronounced. When each drum hit and synth note has more space to breathe, the subtlety of rhythmic interaction becomes even more important than at higher tempos.
Let’s begin by examining the polyrhythmic interaction between the bassline, the four-to-the-floor kick and the simple snare pattern. We can hear that the bassline would be in a different time signature to the drums if it weren’t for the first and last notes. The way this rhythm contrasts with the drum track creates the track’s distinctive driving feel:
The kick and snare hits are shown here in red and green respectively, the bassline in blue. Apart from the first and last notes, the bassline lands on every three quarter beats, whereas the kick and snare land on every beat:
By adding the kick and snare to the mix, we can hear how two very simple and basic parts complement each other to form a new rhythm:
We explained the concept of polyrhythms more comprehensively in a Passing Notes feature last year.
Next, let’s take a look at the track’s structure…