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Rehberg/ Schmickler: USA

img  Tobias Fischer

Possibly in response to a world of ever increasing convenience, I often feel that if it’s not a challenge then it just isn’t that interesting. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Peter Rehberg and Marcus Schmickler are two of the most interesting musicians around right now. If this results in often difficult music to digest, so be it, because the rewards are so great. And their track record is strong -- there’s already a long list of genre defining documents of laptop, improv, and even shoe gaze between them, documented on labels such as Mego and A-Musik; and as the duo R/S they put out an excellent album of extreme laptop fuckery, One (Snow Mud Rain), on Erstwhile Records in 2007. So it’s no surprise that USA, a document of R/S’s tour of the United States in 2010, is so goddamn invigorating.

Not as air tight or diamond sharp as the Erstwhile album, this vinyl-only release is just as wild, if slightly more expansive. Side A is an excerpt from their set at Lampo in Chicago and starts out bristling. Crackling electronics crash, collide and splinter off into roiling masses. Rehberg anarchic pulses converge with Schmickler’s electronic-balloon glissandi, creating an endlessly fascinating construction that builds on itself throughout like a fractal of sound. Midway through it reaches a sort of equilibrium, as the patterns that have emerged conjure fields of electric frogs and burning insects.

Side B continues with the set from Chicago, where things had quieted considerably from the immersive noise of the previous side. There’s a malignancy to the drones of “Chicago II,” like a Death Star laser warming up to blast poor Alderaan into space dust. It’s a climax that doesn’t come to fruition in the way you expect, but it’s no less satisfying as it breaks down into a heaping jumble of beeping malfunction, dreadnaught sirens and nightmare casino floor spew. And despite the feeling that they’re riding the edge of control and risking being swept off into void, there’s never any point where they don’t seem have an iron grip on the sounds. It would be so easy to just heap one fucked up sound on the other and hope it falls into place, but there doesn’t seem to be much guess work here. They strap in, blast off, but always seem to know their destination.

The second track is part of the set from New York at the No Fun Festival, and it’s as dark and unrelenting as the others, digging through robot innards in search of scrap audio. Again, there’s a portentous air to the proceedings, as if it was a torch song to the end of the world – the worship of swirling debris, burning skies, death by static electricity. This is music that happens to you, rather than you partake in.

Ultimately, to try and choose a highlight of USA is a fool’s game. That’s not to say there’s a lack of diversity to be found here; on the contrary, there’s a seemingly endless complexity to every moment that renders picking and choosing moot. So maybe the challenge is not to explicate the proceedings as much as it is to absorb the information. And that’s a formidable but crucial experience-- to sit and simply listen amidst the swirling electronics and the blistering peals… at the highest volume your neighbors will allow.

A final note of respect needs to be paid to Pan Records’ stunning packaging for their releases, which USA is not an exception. One can moan about the end of the album as an artifact, but Pan has gleefully ignored the writing on the wall, instead producing physical recorded objects worth owning. Not as convenient or easy as an mp3, it’s a fitting format for music as powerful and challenging as USA. And let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like holding a beautifully constructed album as the record spins beside you.

By Tanner Servoss

Homepage: Peter Rehberg
Homepage: Marcus Schmickler
Homepage: Pan Records

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