Battles has always been an interesting band, staking out a musical space somewhere between the conformity of modern electronic loop-based music and the improvisational nature of experimental, freeform rock. The trio mines the tension between musical forms, but recording that push-and-pull so that it maintains an organic truth isn’t a simple process—and that battle is captured in the short documentary, Battles: The Art of Repetition.
Following the band as it records a new album for Warp Records—La Di Da Di, due out September 18, 2015—the flick kicks off with a mix of live footage from Germany’s Immergut Festival and pre-studio rehearsals in Battles’ hometown of New York City. Noting that the cost to record in Manhattan for a few days can net the group a three-week lockout elsewhere, it’s not long before the group heads off to Machines with Magnets Studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
With the specter of Battles’ previous album hanging over everyone’s heads—it took seven months to record—engineer Seth Manchester notes that this time, a lot more decision-making was handled in advance before the band arrived in R.I. Once they’re onsite, the bandmembers are immersed in music 24/7—a bedroom at the facility doubles as the second recording room, and the studio shares space with a live music facility, leading to some amusing anecdotes.
Of note throughout the film is the extreme subtlety of Abelton’s presence in the film, which is so small as to be essentially non-existent. While the company produced the documentary, the short resolutely focuses on observing the band’s process, from tense playback sessions to joking around making coffee, rather than falling into the typical routine of product testimonials and how-to footage. So for an insightful look at a challenging but accessible band and its work, you could do worse than to put aside 17 minutes to watch this thing unfold.