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[multer]: Berge im Bunker

img  Tobias Fischer

History has always been coloured by questions of locale. [multer] certainly found out the hard way that where you lived would decisively determine how, by whom and by how many your work was perceived. When, in the mid-90s, the band gradually moved from pure drone pieces towards a cohesive blend of electronica, micronoise, rock, ambient and soft industrial, creative centres in Germany had already established themselves. In techno, soundscaping and experimental electronics, the axis ran from Cologne via Frankfurt to Berlin. The country's legendary krautrock-legacy, meanwhile, was mainly kept alive in Düsseldorf and Cologne. And in terms of Hip-Hop, Hamburg and Stuttgart had established themselves as regional powerhouses. These were no coincidental developments, as their rise went hand in hand with economic and medial concentration processes, the influence of which continues to be felt today. In contrast, the trio of Hellmut Neidhardt, Mal Hoeschen and Thomas K. Geiter were from Dortmund, a city whose electronic scene was mainly associated with a single man - Thomas Köner - and thus habitually disregarded. It's naturally somewhat futile to speculate whether albums like Däghallmy (1998) or Kopenhagener Deutung (2003) might today be considered classics if they'd been released elsewhere. But it is a tempting thought nonetheless.

Of course, where you're from is not just another entry in your CV. It deeply affects who you are. There's an instantly recognisable script of collegiality  running through Neidhardt's journalistic writings as a reviewer and
traits like these must necessarily show through in one's art as well. Consequently, [multer] album-covers are never odour- and tasteless projection surfaces but objects one can actually touch, smell and feel and which frequently come in non-standard sizes and individual packagings, using rough, heavy paper and hand-made stamps. It is hard to imagine a work like Berge im Bunker, protected by two sturdy, stapled squares of cardboard, being created in one of the aforementioned metropolises. Its delicate, almost ephemeral and otherworldly sound sets it apart from the urban, rationally grounded and occasionally ironic tone of so many releases from the German capital. Its focus on organic timbres, compositional reductionism and a thematic interest in earthly environments rather than cosmic affairs, meanwhile, differentiate it from the fantastical and occasionally spiritualistic „Frankfurt-sound“. By avoiding open references and turning inward, the music instead attains a degree of nakedness and intimacy that borders exhibitionism.

It is an intimacy culled from an almost absurdly small pool of motives: Berge im Bunker (Mountains inside the Bunker), on which the formation has shrunk to its current core of Neidhardt and Hoeschen, comprises two eighteen-minute-variations of the same piece, both created using all but identical sources: Three delayed guitar notes spread out, with subtle variations in length, across the entire track and structuring it both through their presence, returns, as well as, in an extended phase in the middle section, absence. A softly struck gong. A sustained high-frequency tone, gradually rising from the guitar's aftermath. And, tucked away in the background, what appear to be field recordings of traffic noises. On the second interpretation, „Erinnerungsflöze“ (which, roughly, translates to „Mnemonic coal chambers“), gradually intensifying scraping noises are added to the mix, the drones moving more towards the bass region, but the reverie remaining intact. In both cases, there is a clearly defined beginning and end to these operations, a gradual growth towards a dynamic peak and a decline into quietude that is not entirely uncharacteristic for the genre. And yet, the music never seems to be going anywhere in particular, development strangely folding in on itself. Brian Eno once touted the idea of spatial composition, with elements floating through a cube rather than moving along a linear timeline, and [multer] seem to have realised his vision before him, two dimensional explanation models loosing their meaning as melodic and harmonic particles are briefly concentrated in the lens of the listener's attention, before drifting apart again. As a consequence, these „themes“ in themselves are never at the center of attention. Instead, they don't delineate but merely inhabit the sonic space, pointing not towards sound but silence.

Silence, of course, can take on multifold manifestations and in this case, it is one of reflection. Berge im Bunker was conceived as the soundtrack to an installation by Barbara Meisner dealing with regional identity and cultural transformation in the Ruhrpott area. For an entire year, visitors could descend into a labyrinthine system of narrow corridors and small, low-ceiling rooms filled with figments of memories, bizarrely distorted images and personal objects which even their creator could, with all likelihood, never fully decipher. More to the point, the exhibit seems to represent a portal leading deep into Meisner's psyche, a surreal place filled with friendly cows made of bonsai, snippets of paper carrying truncated sentences, shards of broken glass and a landscape of miniature mountains glowing from inside. As seemingly random as these artifacts may seem, they are, in fact, carefully chosen placeholders, signposts and metaphors: For decades, the Ruhrpott was known for its coal industry and the tough, dangerous jobs in the mines, for a fanatical devotion to soccer and a passion for locally brewed beer, for its bitter rivalry between a politically left labor force and a conservative peasantship.

These are socio-political topics, but Meisner has refused to discuss them as such. Her exhibition is a manifestation of personal memories, an emotional counterpoint to the cruel forces of history. Corresponding to the silence of the music, the visuals are headed for an empty space and a canvas suddenly filled with real, human faces rather than anonymous platitudes.  There is nothing overtly romantic about this and neither is there in the music. Berge im Bunker frequently sounds alien and ghostly, like music in search of a body. But it also sounds delicate, refined, heavenly and gorgeous. After all, as Meisner put it, we are beings made of flesh and blood – ultimately, it is precisely these opposites and imperfections which make us human.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: [multer]
Homepage: Consouling Sounds Recordings

Homepage: Berge im Bunker Exhibition Website

 

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