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Excitingly eclectic

img  Tobias

Like so many artistic discussions, the question whether there can ever be any true industrial music apart from Throbbing Gristle, is more of an academic sujet than a fruitful and enlightening debate. Yes, some of the artists stuffed away into this stylistic drawer may be closer to rock and metal than to the sound of the decrepit English suburbs. But the noises coming from their direction are still interesting and refreshing enough to justify lending them an ear from time to time. Someone who has been responsible for quite a lot of those worthwhile releases over the years is Martin Steinebach, now both a respected musician and one of the leading employees of the renowned Frauenhofer Institut (whose MP3 algorythm possibly changed the musical landscape more than any release of the past decade). And a new splurge of CDs shows that his creativity has not dried out one drop.

Steinebach’s career now spand about twelve years, in which he has come to spread his own interpretation of what Throbbing Gristle and their heirs were about: “I see myself in the classical industrial tradition with respect to music.”, he explains while sitting in the sun of a University campus, while preparing a demanding lecture on compouter science. “I question as many hearing habits as possible and play with them. I do not embrace the other aspects of early industrial like shock tactics or pseudo-militarism. This rather seems to be outdated in a culture where you can buy pink girly cameo suits in fashion stores. War has become an accepted pop item, it seems.” And while some may disagree as to his stance on provoking imagery, there is certainly no doubt that questioning listening habits was one of the main pillars of the industrial movement.

In the course of the years, three projects have been the outlet of his ideas, all of them highlighting different aspects. “Conscientia Peccati“, his first pseudonym, was ritual and neo-classical in nature and touched the blossoming medieval scene occasionaly. Until today, Steinebach still continues to publish under the moniker, but things could have gone very different ways: “At first, I recorded therse songs as a kind of diary for different roleplaying game sessions or as background music for some game evenings. The songs on this tape were never meant to by published, but a friend persuaded me to send a demo to Art Konkret.” As it turns out, there is ample interest in the music, and the record about a time “when even the gods did not exist” kickstarts his musical career. Still, it is only three years later, that he returns to the fray, this time with a new name and a new direction: “Monoid” is about harsh rhythms, close-up and direct synthesizers and an overall more brutal approach. Both in visuals and sound, this was quite a large step away from his previous efforts, but thanks to the right partners, it became an instant hit (on a very small scale, admittedly). “A&T Records”, a German tape label, offered to print all of Steinebachs albums, until they passed away in 2000. By this time, the third piece of the puzzle had already been presented: Stillstand was to be the source of Ambient material with delicate distortions and industrial touches. The term should be used in a cautious manner, though, as it strectched beyond a mere aural wallpaper: “It is very abstract. Where other ambient releases try to imitate nature or use natural sounds, StillStand creates an own environment. I want distance between the every day world and the music so that the listener can use it as a kind of resting place or a source of thought and dreams.“ Since its first, eponymous, tape in 1998, there has almost been at least one Stillstand release each year.

Each twelve months, a new aspect of his personality came to the fore and each project mutated within the borders set at its inception. A natural form of evolution emerged: ”I am quite fascinated with bands playing different styles over the year, always re-creating their sound anew.”, Steinebach says. “Die Form in their early releases is an excellent example for this, and I am quite disappointed about the similarity of their newer releases. I also like the way Einstürzende Neubauten changed over the year, avoiding the trap of becoming a copy of themselves” For his own CDs, however, he rejects too drastic alterations: “I always look for a certain consistency in the sound of a project”  So, in order to allow himself the pleasure of merging all of his different tastes into a new type of music, he had to come up with yet another project – “Compest”. “Compest is kind of a meta-project made up of my three projects Monoid, StillStand and Conscentia Peccati. These deal with (rhythmic) Industrial, Dark Ambient and Ritual Sounds. After having dealt with these different styles seperately, I this time specifically aimed for a combined effort. In the past, I'd already released tracks under the moniker of "Conscentia Peccati vs. StillStand“, but those were also very specific intersections - in this case a mixture of ritual and ambient.” This also nicely coincides with Martin’s definition of the “new”: ““New” for me is a previously unheard combination of styles and sounds. This may be a new form of synthesis strongly influencing a musical style like the Legion releases. Or a new style of music like Acid or Drum&Bass. It is about ideas, about next frontiers.” In 2005, “Kryptozoologie” was released by the einzeleinheit label of yours truly and simultaneously, “Cyber Blast Records gave birth to “Wrack”. In both cases, ritual rhythms met oriental melodies and dreamy ambient merged into harsh, noisy passages. His most daring and, if we may say so, most professionaly produced effort was greeted with wide acclaim and extremely positive reviews across the bord.

This is a perfect basis for a total of four new releases over the last few months, all of which deserve your attention. The most exotic for sure is Stillstand’s latest: “Schauer” (Tosom Records) is an almost 70-minute long piece, which uses the recording of a rainy summer day as a starting point. The field recordings were treated to constantly changing manipulations and were mixed with tiny melodic fragments and even delicate rhythmic sequences. The result is a feathery-light journey, which can either pass you by unnoticed or lead you into a deep trance. Little rain drops dance on the plastic cover, used to protect the microphones and the distant hollers of playing children blend with scratching, metallic sounds to form a moving picture. Thought by some to be too “artsy” or “no music”, this is in fact the ideal representation of the Stillstand philosophy.

Quite a contrast with Monoid’s “Crowd Control”, out on Invasion Wreck Chords as a CD-R. In Steinebach’s own words, the basically simple approach is deepened by unusual arrangements and an eclectic balance: “”Crowd Control” comes back to this mixture of quasi-song structures and ambient experiments after the purely rhythmic “Virtual Violence” CD and last year’s experimental “Pattern hiding” 3’’ CD-R. It features some of the harshest as well as the most melodic and danceable tracks released by Monoid so far, trying to be interesting and accesible at the same time.” This is pretty exact description of the album, which starts with the mighty broken beats of “Crushcraze” and the powerful “Firewall” and ends with the distorted hymn “Prayer” and the quiet exit “Break Out”. Demanding, both for the body and the soul.

“Benu”, meanwhile, is the new Compest disc and it has been out for quite some time already on prolific French outfit taalem. It pushes the limits of the project even further with a lengthy piece of twenty minutes, which begins with rubble and then bursts into a combination of grooving tablas and madening, high-pitched stabs. It may be a shock to fans of former Compest-releases and will definitely not be to everybody’s taste, with a very up-front and less refined production. Still, a welcome move into a new direction. The same can be said about his split with obscure noise band “Zarach Baal Tharagh”, entitled “Garotte” and published by an offspring of taalem. Two tracks, both with a diverse line-up of styles and means. “Garotte Part 1” at first drifts off into soundscape-ambient territory, before a piano and deep strings begin a naive duet. “Part 2” is more concentrated and intense, like a strange feaver dream full of backward sounds and allusions.

It’s a colourful bunch and even if you may not like all of it, there will always one project close to your heart. The future may even look entirely different, as Steinebach still has one wish he wants to realize: “.I did various approaches on working with female singers, as I really like industrial music with female voices, but it never worked out. So maybe this comes close to the unfulfilled dream.” Whatever the academics may say, this sounds like a promising proposition.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Cyberblast Records
Homepage: einzeleinheit Records
Homepage: Invasion Wreck Chords
Homepage: taalem Records
Homepage: Tosom Records

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