Emptyset is the innovative electronic duo of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas. The pair shares a history in Bristol’s underground music scene as well as an impressive list of production credits. Ginzburg, now Berlin based, runs a network of record labels including electronic music label Subtext and Arc Light Editions, whose reissues include a work by Arthur Russell. He’s a prolific producer and remixer for both independent and major labels, with diverse projects such as Faint Wild Light, Ginz and more recently Bleed Turquoise. Purgas, now based in London, founded the We Elude Control label in 2009, a curated collection of rare experimental music. Purgas is an artist, writer and curator who has presented projects with Tate, Whitechapel and Serpentine Galleries, and he is also an active promoter of electronic music in eclectic spaces from a carpark to a Modernist pavilion.
The duo composes within a complex set of self-imposed parameters or rule sets and the results of their expeditions on Borders are at once minimal and visceral. Focusing on shifting timbral changes over melody, Emptyset’s work is an exploration of the relationship between rhythm, texture and space.
Each project’s framework and parameters dictate how the sound or performance evolves. In the past, Emptyset have explored the ways in which the sonic and spatial interact within different architectural contexts: often site-specific locations such as the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station in North Wales, or the neo-gothic Woodchester Mansion. Borders takes a different approach, centering around the performative and the performer. Having each created their own tactile instruments, a six-stringed zither-like instrument and a drum, Emptyset focuses on how organic sounds interact with the analogue processes that have defined their work to date.
Contrasting typical approaches to making electronic music, Emptyset set out to emphasize live performance rather than creating sequences within devices. While Purgas and Ginzburg utilize vintage analogue electronics, compressing and distorting the signals, the album itself is performed entirely live, where subtle movements make for substantial changes in sound.
From the very first track, “Body,” one can hear how the physicality of the instruments have imbued the sound’s texture. The physical characteristics of the metal strings create a layer of dynamic juxtaposition to the grinding timbres emerging around them. The broody “Ascent,” features the album’s clearest call-and-response between the stringed instrument and the drum, barking and thudding back and forth at one another. Evident in tracks such as “Border” and “Speak,” Emptyset uses basic rhythmic structures drawn from an array of broad cultural practices, expressed neutrally and without overemphasis on the source. Taken as a whole Borders distills the duo’s inspirations to their essence and the resulting music is as raw as it is captivating.
Over the course of their work together, Emptyset have been commissioned to participate in a number of projects by a variety of organizations including Architecture Foundation’s installation at Ambika P3 space near Baker Street in London, Tate Britain’s Performing Architecture programme, a collaboration with conceptual artist Cevdet Erek for Spike Island, an installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and a study of composition through ionospheric propagation developed with Deutschland Radio. Emptyset have been showcased at a number of festivals including Unsound, Mutek, CTM, Sonic Acts, Berghain, Luminato, Adelaide, and Bozar. James Ginzburg’s audio-visual work has been presented at events such as Sonar and Berlin’s Atonal festival.