Amidst the thick bass that pounded from the speakers during Random Rab’s set at the Aggie Theatre Friday night lay a plethora of bright and varied synth tones, along with the welcome analog timbre of a violin. The DJ’s sound, born in the San Francisco underground, is more than an exercise in rib-rattling bass thumping.
The bass is prominent, to be sure, but leaves plenty of space for complex, multi-layered textures that vibrate the finer strings of the soul. Many compositions feature clean-toned synth parts that build insistently above thick bass and percussion.
Random Rab embraces the range of sonic possibilities electronic music affords, using his synthesizer to meld sounds from all around the world. Some of his synth parts bear tones similar to those of Middle Eastern string instruments. Others are thicker and more distorted, and carry undertones of hard rock and metal. Still, others sound like the intoxicating voices of otherworldly creatures and defy comparison to analog instruments.
The violin is as versatile as the electronic arsenal. At times, it provides sustained, legato lines that might fit well in a traditional orchestra. In the blink of an eye, though, those same lines assume a distorted, synthesized tone that would be as out of place as a ratty old t-shirt in an orchestra hall. At other points, the violin takes on a manic, pulsing quality that invites comparisons to Celtic music.
Random Rab weaves these myriad textures together by way of a keen sense of dynamic contrast at the microcosmic and the macrocosmic level. Pieces crescendo and decrescendo multiple times and develop slowly over long periods of time. Individual lines pulse and fade like heartbeats. Over the course of a single piece as well as an entire performance, Random Rab traverses a wide swath of the emotional spectrum.
The artist introduced one of two debuts he unveiled Friday as “one of my homages to the beauty of the world.” The phrase could describe the performance as a whole. Clean, bright synth parts bleed out of thick, distorted drones, then collapse into atonality, only to resurface with renewed vigor later. As Random Rab told the audience in a rare, brief monologue toward the end of the show, the contrasts honor the beauty of the world, but also acknowledge the chaos, longing, and sadness that foster and exist within that beauty.