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Seismograph of curiosity

img  Tobias Fischer

The 90s were one of the most exciting times for electronic music. House and techno were leaving tiny bedroom studios and spreading across the entire globe. Electronica was maturing, turning into a challenging, multi-faceted, "intelligent" genre. Synthesizers and samplers were fusing with rock and metal, conjuring up futuristic visions and previously unheard-of hybrids. In short: The revolution was everywhere. Which didn't keep Michael Brückner from missing out on it. Growing up with the commercially dumbed-down derivative of club music on the radio, he would come to regard it as a cold, soul-less music for the masses. Instead, he found inspiration in unexpected places. Around the same time that someone like offthesky's Jason Corder was illuminated by an eight-hour-long, visionary performance by Richie Hawtin ("An education inside and out of the brain"), Brückner's mind was opened and re-set on the mat of a yoga studio, where he  participated in chanting exercises and tamboura meditations. Yoga practise led him towards quieter and quieter pieces with less and less outward development. He would have referred to this music as ambient – if he'd been aware of the term at all.

A happy ignorance
Brückner is refreshingly open about his complete ignorance of trends and hypes. When I see him perform live at a party which local label Klangwirkstoff has put together at Berlin club Ritter Butzke on the occasion of their latest sampler release, he is sporting a shirt depicting the cover of Klaus Schulze's 1996 album Are You Sequenced? And yet, he's in no way disconnected from creative progress and the musical developments that surround him. His discography is like a seismograph of his own curiosity: Over the past twenty years, he's recorded over a hundred albums - most of which have either been published in small, limited print runs by himself or remain unreleased - and gone through a variety of phases, stylistic directions and detours. Admitting the influence of what is generally referred to as the Berlin School of Electronics is one of the more recent developments - after he's handed me his most recent release, his cinematic sequencer-opus-magnum 100 Million Miles Under The Stars, he is careful to point out that this postmodern approach is by no means representative of his oeuvre: "I've only been producing in this style for about a year now. The music was written during a time when I had temporarily given up on trying to be contemporary or ambitious. So the pieces are unashamedly retro and tend in the direction of Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre“, he says, then adding: "But I do want to get back in that ambitious direction!“ An understandable desire for someone who has long been fascinated by microtonality and the avantgarde. His argument is reinforced by a supplementary release to 100 Million Miles Under The Stars: A four CD box set containing alternate takes, additional tracks and a variety of compositions which, for a variety of reasons, were deemed unfit for the official album. And as if that weren't enough, he adds another pile of discs to the equation for good measure, allowing me to immerse myself in a full decade of his work.

The scope of it is remarkable. His early albums, including Drones and Movies Moving in My Head, are marked by ultra-short tracks, some of them mere sketches, which miraculously merge to form a coherent whole. Stylistically, these run the gamut from proto-techno to deep, atmospheric soundscapes and dreamy songs, with his wife Cäcilia acting, as Brückner puts it, as a somewhat reluctant, but recurring guest on his albums. Gradually, meanwhile, tracks expand in length while shedding some of their nervous character and his albums start taking on a progressive-electronica flair. Topics grow more personal and intimate, too, as on One Step Behind, which bridges the gap between nocturnal chill-out and disturbing acid-experiments while working through the pain of his father's lethal illness (the hypnotic bass-ostinatos and bittersweet melodic variations of "A Late Caress" being a point in case). The temporary acme is Days in the Sun, which blends all of these ingredients into a psychedelically colored prism of floating instrumentals, fully-fledged songs, vocoded messages and crisp drum machine beats. It is possibly Brückner's most accomplished work to date: Pieces merge seamlessly, taking the listener on a fantastical journey and through a variety of styles without ever sounding eclectic for eclecticism's sake.

A beneficial connection
The recent connection with Klangwirkstoff seems like a mutually beneficial one. Although the label is rooted in the shamanistic tradition and has a strong esoterical background - reflected by the allusions to Eastern spirituality and psychedelic drug culture – it has gradually opened itself up to adjacent genres, such as (dark) ambient, electronica and goa. Within this colorful cosmos, Brückner's up to half-hour long epics add a touch of krautrock to the equation, a surprising but entirely convincing combination. I spend hours roaming Ritter Butzke's surreal playground of saloon-style dancefloors and burlesque salons, seamlessly switching between sweeping tech-house and mesmerising soundscapes. I get to hear a lot of music, but Brückner's set is one of the definitive highlights of the evening. Inspired by what has come before him, he decides on  the spot to re-arrange his performance from a purely atmospheric one to a slow-grooving space of cool, mechanical beats and intergalactic whispers. And astoundingly, the crowd in front of the stage keeps dancing, twisting their bodies in bizarre slow-motion movements to the pulse of a sceletonised electronic drum. Is this ambient or experimental club music? It is getting increasingly hard to say.

Neither does anyone seem to care. Interestingly, now that Brückner is fully up to date with the terminologies of the scene, he has become musically disinterested in them. It is easy to see why such an aesthetic of fluid borders would have been inspired by Peter Michael Hamel's "Through Music to the Self", a classic book about expanding one's musical horizon, which Brückner discovered during the time of his yoga classes and which has continued to exert its influence on him. Although, as he admits, he hasn't picked up his copy for almost fifteen years now. Perhaps he no longer needs to. Hamel's words helped Brückner discover his own path through music. Now he's found it, he is writing his own book in sound.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Michael Brückner on Facebook