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CD Feature/ Zeitkratzer with Carsten Nicolai, Terre Thaemlitz, Keiji Haino: "Electronics"

img  Tobias

In a perfect world, there'd be no need for promo copies of „electronics“. One should certainly think that the proposition of one of the most energetic, open-minded, outright fun and utterly passionate new music ensembles inviting three of the most recognisable, influential and succesful artists from the field of experimental music to celebrate an eclectic, emotional and exploratory program of Microtonality, Electroaoustic Improvisation, Drones, Cut-ups and Jazz should be enough to have anyone with only a faint inclination towards electronic music going mad with sheer delight. As a quick reality check shows, however, most listeners and journalists alike still seem to prefer chliched repetitions of proven formulas above the high-voltage acoustic stimulation on display here. Which is why these three CDs need all the coverage they can get.

I should point out right at the beginning that the word 'project' might inspire some incorrect ideas about „electronics“. It is not, for example, the result of a singular approach. All co-operations can and should be considered on their own terms. All follow their very own logic and their unique methods of performing in a group context, which in the case of Keiji Haino were apparently anything but easy or straight-forward to establish. Some of them were recorded at the same venues, but none of them on the same day. All of them, too, are guided by different thematic propositions: Repetition and romance in the case of Carsten Nicolai, the inclusion of noise into western composition with Haino and the exploration of freedom and form on the Thaemlitz-disc. And, to conclude this paragraph of contrasts, they all focus on a different segment of the Sound Art spectrum, on neighbouring pieces of a multilayered pie so to speak.

And yet, despite their undeniable idiosyncratic qualities, they have a lot in common as well. The closely outlined time frame for these works, which were invariably performed between 2005 and 2007, automatically puts them into immediate relation with each other. All are marked by the exciting polarity between physical and electronic tone creation. As zeitkratzer mastermind Reinhold Friedl puts it: „Terre Thaemlitz seemed to treat instrumental sounds electronically much in the same way that zeitkratzer treated electronic sounds instrumentally“. The outcome of this indeed exciting confluence (which the Berlin-based group had, of course, already previously researched on their version of Lou Reed's „Metal Machine Music“) can now be heard on all albums of the „electronics“ series, with e-bowed Pianos sounding very much like manipulated sine waves and crisp laptop clicks becoming indistinguishable from acoustic percussion.

As appealing as these topics may be, they are also negligible, of course. What really matters is that none of the collaborations came about merely because modern technology made them possible or because there was a sudden splurge of subsidies. Relationships with Nicolai and Thaemlitz (the latter of which was described by the US-born artist as „a culmination of errors“) were carefully intensified over a period of ten years and on the short, but intense phase of preparing for the gig with Haino at the Volksbühne in Berlin, the liner notes elucidate: „After several days of rehearsals that fluctuated curiously between improvisational experiments and instructions on the part of Haino, a mixed form finally emerged in which Keiji Haino specified certain materials for each piece and the group followed in a timeline devised by Reinhold Friedl.“

You can therefore sense that there was a lot of discussion and possibly even controversy during the rehearsals of all these pieces just from reading the concise, yet extremely informative booklet essays. But you can never hear them in the music. Zeitkratzer would never shy away from the task of asking questions and digging for answers. But they are not one of those new music ensembles who confuse this necessary task with the actual process of playing together and celebrating music as a form of reciprocal communication. Whether it's the infinitely tranquil soundscapes they forge with Nicolai, the quiet and concentrated sonogrammes they compose on the spot with Haino or the cool, snappy and upright-bass-heavy eroticism brought out on their sensual encounter with Thaemlitz, these discs are as rewarding on a first listen as they are after several spins.

With its broad approach and underground star potential, „electronics“ is one of those sets which almost begs for lines like „if you buy this release, you don't need to get yourself another CD of electronic music this year“. The exact opposite is true, however: Listening to this release will make you want to find out even more about these artists, buy even more of their music, continue the journey they started, join the debate it sparked and explore the full richness and depth the scene has to offer. It may be a strange way of putting it, but sometimes it's great to be living in a world as imperfect as this one.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: zeitkratzer/zeitkratzer records
Homepage: Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto
Homepage: Terre Thaemlitz
Homepage: Keiji Haino

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