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Fabio Orsi: Wo ist Behle? & The Theft of a Rose

img  Tobias Fischer

A life of repetitions need not be a bad one. When I asked pianist Tzimon Barto what he thought about the popular theory that, in classical music, „everything had already been done before“, he had a completely convincing counter-question: „I'd ask the people making that claim why they get out of bed in the morning - that's been done before!“ And yet in music, things have never been quite that simple. Philip Glass has been the butt of innumerable bad jokes over the years. And despite its undeniable experimental tendencies, techno, as a genre, has consistently been ridiculed for being monotonous and linear. At the same time, as the oeuvre of William Basinski, for example, proves, there is still ample room for taking the concept of loops far beyond what might have formerly seemed reasonable: At its outer extremes loom confusing spaces which all but force audience members to take a stance in favour or against them. Clearly, there is a quality in the processes and results of repetition that please and inspire one group of listeners, while alienating and provoking another –  and with the former increasingly organising themselves through festivals and labels catering specifically to the scene, it certainly hasn't become any easier to mediate between the poles.

On two of his most recent releases, Wo ist Behle? on the Italian Boring Machines label as well as The Theft of a Rose on Time Released Sound, Fabio Orsi isn't so much looking for a compromise but actively contributing to the debate by concentrating on a different perspective. While the more concise Rose comprises of an expansive twenty-minute drone track, Behle is made up of five guitar- and synthesizer-based pieces, only two of them exceeding the ten-minute mark, with a strong taste of ambient, cosmic electronica and even rock. On none of them does Orsi try in any way to hide or obscure the fact that he is working with loops. On the contrary, the demonstrative attention and center-stage-position awarded to them suggest he is turning them into a Leitmotif for the work as a whole: On „Loipe 2“, at three- and a half-minutes by far the most concise effort on the album, a one-note ostinato is running through the entire composition, complemented by a synced pulse in the upper registers, which adds a mere two tones to the equation, a stoic drum beat and a noisy psychedelic sound effect. Despite its brevity, „Loipe 2“ acts as the thematic centerpiece to the record, as it congenially encapsulates the paradox of looped composition: When there is no harmonic progression and rhythmic variation to speak of and just the tiniest whiff of melodic tension and development, what are factors for musical quality and appreciation? In the outward absence of anything happening, what keeps one hooked as a listener, glued to one's seats face to face with a mantra?

Orsi's astounding mastery at creating the illusion of seamlessness from what are really quite unwieldy elements, for one. Straight from the the majestic futurism of opener „Loipe 1“, on which influences from krautrock, trance and ambient are merged into a euphoric sound wave, Wo ist Behle? works wonderfully as background ambiance, and it is only upon closer inspection that one discovers the myriads of tiny hooks and spikes delicately woven into the fabric of the music, which award it its hypnotic pull. Two of the pieces here are even scored in three-four time, awarding them a slightly askew groove and  effectively defining them as waltzes. On the final cut, a surprising stab at raw, industrially-tinged space-rock, meanwhile, the broken drum machine beats, although technically speaking still mechanically looped, provide for such a stuttering and stumbling metrum that the mere idea of this constituting a loop-piece seems outlandish. Then again, Orsi will frequently  literally keep his cycles spinning for minutes, seemingly content with them running circles around themselves. Only to, as on The Theft of a Rose, slowly and all but imperceptibly add a minimal string melody and spellbinding choral sighs to the mix, which suddenly lend an unfathomable depth and strangely organic quality to the music.

What does repetition mean in itself to Orsi? Not a lot, as it seems. His loops and drones are constructed in a way that renders their repetitive character irrelevant or presents them as a perfectly natural compositional principle – in itself a paradox. On the other hand, the notion of change is rendered absurd here as well. Whatever development there may be, is essentially entirely taking place inside the listener. It is through her or his involvement in the unfolding of a piece that the music is taking shape and that what could be pursued as nothing but a string of identical moments is rendered into a kaleidoscope of perpetually rotating meanings. This involvement doesn't just happen by itself, however, and it always the result of including an element which will not reveal itself through logical deduction. For Orsi, this element is a sense of longing and admiration for a beauty which can not be grasped by the human mind and intellect alone. His music is an approximation of its physique, his lines a description of its curves, but the result never equals a photograph – not even the hazy screenshots added to the visually breathtaking Time Released Sound edition. Rather, it implants a seed into the listener in the very first seconds, feeds him with sounds from his musical ewer and waits for the tree of associations to grow.

In 1980, German ski racer Jochen Behle was on his way towards Olympic gold, but the camera couldn't make him out. For the entire duration of the race, he would remain out of sight, causing reporter Bruno Moravetz to  repeat the question „Wo ist Behle?“ („Where is Behle?“) over and over again. Behle's absence, would become the stuff of legends, just like the missing parts on these two releases are among their most valuable assets. It's all in the mind, after all.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Fabio Orsi
Homepage: Boring Machines Records
Homepage: Time Released Sounds Recordings

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