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Nickolas Mohanna: Transmission Hue

img  Tobias Fischer

Still running until September of this year, an exhibition at Munich's renowned music store Hieber Lindberg is beckoning visitors into the fascinating world of analogue synthesizers. Afficionados from all over Germany have been piling in to lay their hands on the likes of an ARP 2600 or MS-20 and to tap into a long and glorious tradition. While the general response, according to Hieber-Lindberg project manager Stefan Leberfinger has been incredible, even the most nostalgic fans are occasionally disappointed: „Some of them come to realise that these classic synthesizers are simply not for them and move on to something different“, according to Leberfinger. Pioneers like Richard Lainhart, a die-hard and dedicated apostle of modular systems, meanwhile, even discourages newcomers from buying expensive hardware altogether and to opt for a good Software solution instead to get a feel for the processes and peculiarities at the heart of old-school sound synthesis. His message is clear: Not everyone playing a Minimoog is a genius by default. And not even the most famous analogue synthesizer can substitute human creativity.

After several limited CD-Rs as Vakhchav, Nickolas Mohanna's debut album under his civilian name is a perfect example of what a musician with the courage to transcend cosmic cliches can accomplish by putting the power of music before the cult of the machine. Even though „Transmission Hue“ makes extensive use of modulars and, on several occasions, puts their evocative sounds and unimitable sequencing abilities to prominent and highly effective use, it is foremost an album of timeless Electronica guided by  contemporary ideas rather than a fetish for the 70s. In fact, two different spheres of influences are manifesting themselves on this release to an equal degree: Firstly, the deep, abstract, free-form soundscapes of early Krautrock, as featured on rhythmic, but essentially percussion-less albums such as Ashra's „New Age of Earth and Tangerine Dream's „Zeit“. And, secondly, 21st century Sound Art, with its shifting constellations of concrete noises, found sounds, field recordings and overtone-rich drones. From the former, Mohanna has culled the tendency of sculpting and orchestrating a minimal array of sounds into sonically rich and spatious atmospheres. From the latter, he has derived a playful attitude towards timbre and source materials as well as a preference for sonic opaqueness and metric irregularity – if there are, at times, several, contrasting pulses and chord cycles running on top of each other, then this constitutes a perfectly conscious decision.

On each of the five track contained on „Transmission Hue“, these two tendencies are battling for supremacy. Dark and sonorous ambient meditation „Of Lethe“ clearly leans towards a classic use of analogue gear and so does powerful opener „Dialogues“, which sends wave after wave of delirious sequencer oscillations through a string of hypnotic filters and galactic generators before a deep, swelling string pad rises to the fore like a prophetic Leitmotif. „Thin Ice“, on the other hand, which juxtaposes delayed drum echoes and pearly overtones, has a distinct experimental flavour to it, while „Gishiki“, in a similar display of sonic research, builds gradually, from sheets of gurgling and rasping Kalimba-tones, into a brilliant and luminous drone, like a flower opening its petals wide to catch the warmth of the sun's rays. The latter track is also a perfect example for Mohanna's ability to award a musical quality to his sound effects, which he seamlessly weaves into his tapestries.

It takes until closing ten-minute epic „Configurations in Placing Sky“ for this exhilarating imbalance to finally come to a harmonic conclusion. Incorporating anything from the sonorities of Indian ragas to the sweetness of dreamy Ambient, from caleidoscopically rotating sound snippets to dense prisms of texture, from deep organ points to jubilantly floating high-frequency harmonics, it not only makes for a peacefully restive finale to a persistently restless record, but also offers an intriguing outlook into the future. What impresses most perhaps, is that nothing here points to dogmatics or a set of restrictive rules. Mohanna, quite on the contrary, seems to treasure being able to choose from as many options as possible.

For this reason alone, „Transmission Hue“ has turned out anything but a pure retro-statement, revealing a completely unmistakable voice instead. Since arriving at this kind of utterly personal script was what drove acts like Ashra, Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream in the first place, this defiantly timeless and personal work is perhaps the most representative continuation of the tradition they so famously initiated with their now legendary works.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Low Point Records

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