Theo Alexander may have a background in noise and metal, but the Chinese-British composer has spent the last five years exploring quieter, more contemplative terrain with piano and tape loops. Broken Access was recorded at his home on a TASCAM four-track, a model from the Portastudio series—the same kind that captured Guided By Voices’ original lo-fi era, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). For decades, these accessible tools have provided a way for artists to wrap up their most intimate existential musings in a blanket of hiss.
While Alexander’s debut EP contained four pieces for piano and string quartet, the solo works on Broken Access place him alongside contemporaries like Peter Broderick, continuing in the tradition of minimalist giants like Philip Glass. These pensive neo-classical pieces boast textures similar to downcast ambient luminaries Grouper and William Basinski, yet Alexander’s compositions softly evaporate rather than disintegrate. Opener “Palliative” features a repeating musical motif that slowly wanes throughout its 11 minutes until the second half is subsumed in effects. There are moments where Alexander’s sound sources become unrecognizable: the low-pitched drone that begins “Matter of Balance,” and the final 30 seconds of “Fortuité,” where he turns off his loops and simply plinks on the keys. “Aspect Withdrawn” provides the most vivid sketch of these various approaches. Beginning with sparse yet evocative chords, it unspools into a shimmering cloud, then ends abruptly with the sound of Alexander clicking off his tape.