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Akhet: Akhet

img  Tobias Fischer

History is more often than not written by lucky incidents and accidents, by things inexplicably falling into place and by someone doing the right thing at the right time for no particular reason at all. What moved Manuel Göttsching to press record before sitting down to the jam that was to become his masterpiece E2-E4? Would Neu! still have "invented" the remix on their second full-length had their record label agreed to pay for an entire record's worth of studio time? And what would Tangerine Dream's prophetic acid-vision "Thru Metamorphic Rock" have sounded like if one of the mixing board's transistors' hadn't burned out and created a futuristically distorted sound? The closer one looks, the more one realises that there is no big masterplan and that it is hindsight that awards the spur of the moment the grandeur of genius. Dirk Serries and Paul van den Berg didn't expect any momentous revelations either when they visited their friend Marc Verhaeghen at his lab studio for a nocturnal  session in 2007 – the point was simply to exchange ideas and play a few tunes as a trio. And yet, they somehow had the presence of mind to tape the encounter, preserving in music what would otherwise have been nothing but a fleeting memory. It was to be a fortuitous decision, as the album culled from these recordings congenially captures an encounter which could never have been repeated.

The musicians were certainly no strangers to each other. Only two years prior to the Akhet-sessions, Serries and van den Berg had teamed up for The Amplifier Drone, a dark and dirty psychedelic soundscape recorded at a garage-turned-rehearsal-space just outside of Antwerp. For Serries, the duo represented a further step forward for his Fear Falls Burning project, which gained an air of unpredictability after a string of releases somewhere in between ambient bliss and distortion-drenched melancholia. Van den Berg, meanwhile, already a versatile listener, had crucially extended his borders as a performer, opening himself up to new stylistic horizons. By the time they entered the lab, their musical relationship had progressed considerably through their involvement in 3seconds of air, an ensemble with Martina Verhoeven, in which a passion for complex counterpoint and refined loop-variation techniques resulted in a seductively slow and constantly shape-shifting electronic chambermusic. At the same time, and to further confuse and complicate the dense web of interrelations and influences, Serries had established musical ties with Klinik-founder Verhaegen on the first two entries of what would remain an unfinished septilogy on the deadly sins. Between them, the formation thus shared experience and know-how in a musical field ranging from traditional acoustic guitar work-outs to ferocious feedback studies, from elegant dream-jazz to hallucinatory post-noise.

When their forces finally met, however, the result was anything but a trivial mash-up of their combined inspirations. Instead, the trio intuitively agreed on krautrock as their strongest common denominator. To them, the term didn't so much denominate a particular sound but an approach aimed at openness and experimentation. In most mindsets, after all, a group comprising of a minimalist drone builder, a blues-musician and a progressive industrial producer would have been inconceivable. Part of the challenge of Akhet, however, lay precisely in finding a balance, a rapport, a fruitful exchange. While many improvisers would accept the need for compromise, Akhet opted for the exact opposite, sticking to their guns for the better part of the full hour of the album rather than searching for a homogeneous group sound: On the one hand, there are Serries's drones, which, here, bear the marks of the rich, impenetrable undulations of Fear Falls Burning rather than the intricate melodic mosaiques of his later releases as microphonics. By his side, van den Berg's immediate, unpolished and no-frills tone is audibly indebted to the blues. To top things off, Verhaegen's rhythmical patterns, as the press release correctly points out, reveal both an affinity for the cool, hypnotisingly irregular rigor of his work under the Klinik-banner as well as the hypnotic pulsations of Klaus Schulze's sequencing. Even Schulze, however, who once went on tour with eccentric rock vocalist Arthur Brown, would have considered the proposition of making this unlikely constellation work daring.

And yet, the more the members of the trio focus on themselves, the more their encounter gains in coherency. One could perhaps say that, in a way, the tension of the ensemble is compensated by a reduction in structural complexity: Most of the pieces here revolve around an all but identical dramaturgy, with Verhaegen acting as a trailblazer, fiddling with the timbre, dynamics and stereo-image of his pulsating beats – occasionally reducing them to nothing but high-frequency crackles and smacks or, transposing them up and down a few semitones – van den Berg navigating through a maze of melodic lines on top and Serries nurturing and controlling his soundscapes in the background. It is an outwardly simple principle, but fails to loose its potency over the course of the album's entire sixty minute duration: While beats and drones, carefully held in a suspenseful equilibrium, are creating a still and mysterious space for reflection, van den Berg is holding the different strand together by weaving a magnetic narrative. The polarity between improvisation and composition crumbles to dust, as mere motivic torsos are shamanically repeated and gradually developed into sweeping, several bars-long themes filled with inner drama and a kaleidoscope of emotions. Frequently, the departure point for these extended stints will be an immediate response to a cue of his comrades-in-arms, further strengthening the inner cohesion of the group: On the second of four untitled tracks, every single of van den Berg's phrases is a veiled variation on Verhaegen's sequencer lines, creating a continuum in which every single gesture relates to all the others in a meaningful way.

Other bands may have been more adept at imitating the 70s, but few have captured its spirit as adeptly as Akhet. Nothing here is done with the intention of writing or rewriting history and it is this in-your-face approach and its raw, visceral sound which award the album its timelessness and urgency: You can actually hear the amplifiers humming.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Dirk Serries / Akhet
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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