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Robag Wruhme: Thora Vukk

img  Tobias Fischer

To some, music comes easy. Unlike Leonard Cohen, Gabor Schablitzki could never ponder over a single line of text for years. He will probably never step into the footsteps of legendary German composer Alban Berg either, who failed to fully finish his operatic masterpiece Lulu after purportedly spending thirty years imagining, conceptualising, writing, refining and reconsidering it. And one would be hard pressed to imagine him devising complex intellectual processes to kickstart his creativity. Instead, compositions seem to flow from his hand as naturally as though he were preparing a sandwich or smalltalking about the weather. One of the most revealing scenes of Amy Grill's documentary Speaking in Code showed Schablitzki working on a new track in his comfortable studio. Even while he was still chatting to his guests, a bubbly groove emerged, intriguingly asynchronous  structures started appearing from silence and a complete piece emerged from the void within seconds after picking up his mouse – the mere sight of this would drive other producers insane with envy. Appearing under a variety of eccentric monikers, including Die Dub Rolle, Machiste and Rolf Oksen, Schablitzki's public image has consequently been one of an idiot savant, a whimsical genius only leaving his withdrawn life in the countryside to deejay and publish oddly titled works like Wuppdeckmischmampflow. Only the second full-length to appear under his Robag-pseudonym, Thora Vukk is almost certainly bound to change that perception.

Already the very first seconds of the work indicate that this is not going to be  business as usual – if that were possible at all with someone as unpredictable as Schablitzki. Compared to the far more bass-heavy and club-oriented redecessor Wuzzelbud „KK“, Thora Vukk is marked by a recognisably weightless sound and an almost feathery production built on no more than a handful of gently moving elements per track, which comfortably drift and rotate around each other like molten wax inside a lava lamp. There is a delicate scent of jazz in the air, as arrangements are driven by comforting upright bass pluckings, nocturnally glowing seventh-piano-chords and irregularly swinging percussion structures, whose subdued sensuality defies notions of anyone ever rocking their socks off to this – Schablitzki has correctly defined the record as „music for bedroom listening“. Against the improvisational ethos, meanwhile, technical proficiency or instrumental virtuosity are of no import here. Rather than desperately trying to impress, these lightflooded constructs quietly introduce themselves and then simply stick around for a while, like a cat visiting your garden to keep you company in the sun for a few minutes. There is something infinitely consoling in this ebb and flow of occurrences, a sense of melancholy and affirmation, which can perhaps be compared to being read stories before bedtime.

It is interesting to consider this astoundingly effortless touch and perfect coherency of the work with the far more unusual way in which it took shape. Essentially, Thora Vukk grew from the mere six minutes of its title track, originally released on a split 12inch with labelmate Isolée. On hearing the piece, Pampa-Records-label-owner Stefan Kozalla (aka DJ Koze) knew that Schablitzki was on to something and effectively commissioned an entire full-length taking just a single piece as its departure point. In fact, he may have seen things more clearly than the artist, who, on the one hand, experienced an explosive creative flash as though the music writing itself and, on the other, saw himself faced with a plethora of practical questions and loose ends. Some of the music on the album consequently took considerable time to emerge, with closer „Ende“ going through months of aborted attempts and breakdowns until its montage of impromptu singing and tender piano beats finally made complete sense. The fact that much of the music belies this complicated and strenuous compositional process is just one fascinating aspect of the end result.

Another consists in the various microscopic traces and hints to the unusual underlying ambitions Schablitzki has left behind on this occasion. Despite its easy-listening-exterior, Thora Vukk has the appearance of a portal into a world far more mysterious, magical, fascinating and fantastical than ours – the world of children. It is in this space that quotidian contextual safety and picture-perfect rationality are turned upside down: Bad jokes can arouse hilarious laughter. Inanimate dolls can turn out to be intriguing partners for debate. And horrifically out-of-tune melodies may sound like the most wonderful melody. And yet, the reverse is equally true – anyone who has ever been unable to sleep for fear of a shadow emerging from the dark will know the twisted ways of the juvenile mind. Consequently, the playful and the frightening are taking turns and it is through their continuously changing relations that a colourful kaleidoscope of many different moods takes shape: There's the inclusion of grotesque field recordings into the very fabric of the music. There are myriads of personal sounds – the clanking of plates, the hum of a neon tube – which are awarded rhythmical functionality. And then, there are surprising twists and turns, when listeners' expectations are thwarted in the sweetest possible way – such as when, on opener „Wuppe Dek“, the opening sequence is replaced by a grumpy minimal bass line in the final minute of the track, sounding out the journey in a surprisingly grim ambiance.

The same logic also explains for Thora Vukk's most striking and, simultaneously, outwardly most paradoxical feature: The five „bridges“, short transitory tracks, segueing and connecting the regular-length compositions. It is in these mostly barely one and a half minute miniatures, sometimes comprising no more than a single musical thought, quickly sketched and then abandoned, that Thora Vukk goes from turning from a well-crafted and sensitive electronica album into something deeper and more intriguing, into a journey that takes its audience to a place no longer as familiar and secure as the initial impression seemed to suggest. Dark, ominous shadows are cast on the walls of a cave on „Brücke drei“ and „Brücke vier“, which don't just provide for stylistic contrasts with the pieces sandwiched in between, but actually question their emotional content. Slowing down the unfolding of the album and completely ruling out its convenient use as background wallpaper, they appear to be counterproductive – until the moment that one begins to really listen. It quickly emerges, in fact, that these seemingly ephemeral creations are the actual driving force behind the music: It is only through them that the hidden depths and trap doors of smoothly flowing tracks like „Tulpa Ovi“ are made audible and commented upon. Kozalla's assignment has taken Schablitzki to places even he himself did not dare to tread before, to corners of his mind he might otherwise have avoided. And so, after repeat listens, the overall impression of this work is one of a surreal deformation of reality, of walking barefoot across a field of shards from memory – some pleasant, some bewildering – feeling disturbed and confounded rather than amused.

If so much on Thora Vukk sounds as though it weren't quite finished, then that is an immediate result of this process, which always leaves it up to the listener to add the missing pieces in his imagination. On „Wupp Dek“, a deciding moment occurs, when, out of the blue, a trumpet sounds a single, solitary and infinitely sad note, followed by a long, spacious exhaling. It is neither a melody nor even a fragment of a motive, and yet in this second-short figment, a galaxy of sentiments and ideas is expressed and conveyed. Such is the logic of dreams: When you know you're sleeping, everything comes easy.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Robag Wruhme / Gabor Schablitzki
Homepage: Pampa Records

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