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CD Feature/ Lithops: "Ye Viols!"

img  Tobias

For Philip Glass, performing in museums and art galleries was merely a detour on his road towards getting his music performed at classical concert halls. While curators and artistic directors in music were traditionally slower to react than their counterparts in sculpting and painting, the cross fertilisation had some advantageous side-effects to boot, paving the way for a mutual stimulation between the worlds of visuals and acoustics which was to influence both for decades to come. Today, many sound artists find themselves in a similar position as Glass. Again, work for installations, dance and cross-media projects represents one of the most inspiring and financially rewarding aspects of their career. And just like in the 60s, it is proving a long way towards making it to listener's hearts

For Jan St Werner, too, there never was a conflict between these two outwardly detached territories. Unlike some colleagues who founded new projects for every minute deviation from their daily routine, the Mouse on Mars moniker already incorporated a wide spectrum of expressiveness and a lucid detachment from concrete scenes and dogmatic styles. For Werner, it appeared, music did not need to aspire to a higher goal. It simply existed for what it was. Intellectual newspapers were happy to finally find a contemporary electronic act they could spill their brains over and the playful and female qualities of some Mouse on Mars tracks introduced an element of wonder and surprise to a music which had long seemed to rely on linearity, discipline and physicality alone. And yet, it was much less the conceptual angle of the duo, which made the difference, but their insistence that composition as an experiment and the studio as a laboratory could yield highly human results.

The seminal question behind Werner's oeuvre was what really constituted organic quality and it has remained the single-most intruiging aspect of it right until „Ye Viols!“. Again, sonic colours are processed and artificially refined to a delirious degree and yet, there is a pervasive sense of familiarity. Rhythms are meticulously programmed and carefully honed, while never marching as numb and mindless as a platoon of dull soldier's boots. Repetition is a compositional tool at times, yet it hardly ever seems mechanical or overly stringent. Harmony has become obsolete, but melody has returned stronger than ever with at least half of the tracks offering hummable and whistleable tunes for your daily shower pleasure. Diversity, finally, is not the result of a compulsive urge to show off, but of an unquenchable inquisitiveness. Werner is not scoring science fiction soundtracks – he is trying to truly communicate with his machines and his music is the temporary summary of their dialogues.

If the material on „Ye Viols!“ is therefore culled from audiovisual projects and -shows, ballet choreographies, speaker installations and work with painters, if the digipack contains a poster, uses recyclable cardboard and vegetable ink and comes in a highly limited physical edition to underline its artistic value, if it essentially constitutes a colourful conundrum of diverse commissions and collaborations without obvious outward leitmotif, then this has nothing to do with a supposed change of direction or a conscious adjustment of tactics. Werner is, for the largest part, making use of the same tools here, of the same techniques and of the same personal experiences as ever. External influences are merely of relevance in the sense that they provide for concrete contexts, immediate inspiration and for a „functionality“ that some of his other works do not have.

This, however, does not prevent them from being appreciated outside of their original meaning by default. The opening trio of „graf“, „handed“ and „sebquenz“ are quirky, bubbly, bouncing, sharp, shapeshifting pieces of abstract electronica which would not seem out of place on any previous Lithops full-length. „In Nitro“ is a poignant work in the academic sound art tradition, researching the parallelity of spaces with different echo characteristics. „apps 1 & 2“ are dancy sequencer lines, while „bacchus“ develops a consistent dronesheet from playfully combined shardes of Organ samples and granular milling. „penrose ave“ begins like a mid-80s Tangerine Dream track, then turns into a hypnotic Noise-fest. Closer „Wammo“, finally, at first sounds like an industrial sewing plant with a hangover before taking on unexpected atmospheric qualties in a loud, yet meditative finale.

It is a varied buch, yes, and it would even be wrong to claim that tracks which were conceived for one and the same project are to be seen as seperate islands amidst a rainbowflavoured ocean of sound. But Werner never looses his grip on the album because his creative personality and his personal script will eventually shine through no matter what he does. This doesn't mean, though, that it has turned out a solipsistic pleasure. „Ye Viols!“ is not about grand, political statements, but it does have a message to offer: Don't let the „art“ aspect of this music scare you off. Don't let its „non-arts“ aspect scare you off. Take terminologies and images with a pinch of salt and let the music do the talking. Concert halls are great, but your living room will do just as well.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Lithops
Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records

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