Techno, the way Peter Van Hoesen does it, falls close to the style's zero-degree definition, the kind of description one might overhear at a party. It's meticulous, banging, stripped-down machine music that remains just melodic enough to keep it from being totally abstract, and is altogether too savvy to melt into the tech-house fallow zone. Van Hoesen finds an easy fulcrum point between Robert Hood's soulful, severe loops and the sheer aggro bum rush that once characterized Low Countries techno. It's an approach that served the Belgian producer well on his last LP, Perceiver, and it continues to work on Life Performance, a live album whose texture is homogeneous enough to make its already clean-sounding predecessor seem dramatic in comparison.
Life Performance has its share of tension and release, but within the grayscale vocabulary of the live setting. As a studio album, Perceiver could get away with dynamic passages of sound art that are largely missing in the consistent thrust of Life Performance. To some listeners, that may be an obstacle; to others, a boon. Van Hoesen isn't a particularly difficult producer, but he strives toward a kind of purity that can be hard to pin down, particularly when much of the genre is seemingly engaged in a fidelity arms race between distorted industrial techno and more classical, sci-fi-themed takes.
Even more so than his previous albums, Life Performance is techno as full-body massage. It's a current that's intended to rip through bodies rather than be perceived from a slight remove, which means that individual tracks take a backseat to overall thrust. As the album wears on, it feels—not unpleasantly—that this is the kind of techno a 3-D printer would spit out: all the joints are functional and articulated, and yet everything in the machine is made of the same material. We can take this two ways: either Van Hoesen is just that much in control of his materials, or the exigencies of a live set required something more meathead and less heady. That's not a complaint: "Subjects from the Past" and "Challenger" both sound hungrier than comparable studio selections. Listening to Life Performance is akin to being in a wave pool. The water is warm, and the knocks come at expected intervals, but there's still a fear of death on the fringe. It's thrilling in proportion to the uniformity of the surroundings.
Van Hoesen does leave some room for improv, but it's a bit too low-key to feel like anything's at stake. Some of the most exciting moments are when, say, a delay suggests it could go off the rails, that the steady flow of blood and lymph could clot into some kind of emergency to be resolved. That sort of catastrophe never arrives, but the gyroscopic stability of Van Hoesen's live set is admirable on its own terms.