RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Seconds in Formaldehyde: "A Shiver in Red"

img  Tobias Fischer

Everyone loves Vinyl these days, or at least so it seems. Bands are releasing luxurious triple-LP-sets of their latest full-length. Merchandise stands at concerts are overflowing with gatefold-covers. Pricey ultralimited editions are snapped up within hours of their release. Even pressing plants have considerably raised their prices in sync with increased demand, taking the music's black gold out of financial reach for many small and medium-sized labels or cash-strapped listeners. That said, it is quite astonishing that merely a handful of artists are actually tailoring their music to the format rather than blindly transferring it from CD or digital files. German Sound Artist Martin Fuhs is one of them. Even though „A Shiver in Red“ is, in fact, Fuhs's debut on Vinyl, everything about the work reveals a passionate life-long love for it, a deep understanding of its sonic specifics and visual potentials as well as an entirely natural tendency of arranging his material into a two-sided dramaturgy: It is almost as if these sounds were harvested straight from the grooves, as though spinning them on a turntable were gently guiding them towards their inner destination.

The fact that this work almost didn't make it to Vinyl is therefore not just a tale about the typical organisational difficulties plaguing artists and labels with high demands on quality, but a story about the mysterious ways of fate to boot. After a technician at the pressing plant strongly advised against publishing the album as an LP because of its unusual and supposedly extreme frequencies, „A Shiver in Red“  was at first reluctantly re-conceptualised as a DVD, involving videos to each single track, and then as a CD with high-quality prints of Fuhs's photography. Only in the very last minute did Droenhaus-label-head Alwin Lorenz find suitable partners to have the record pressed on Vinyl after all. Astoundingly, this seemingly destructive detour had an unpremeditated but incisive advantage: While preparing for the DVD-version, Fuhs stumbled upon Thomas Ernst, whose oeuvre of darkly beguiling, mysterious, yet un-transfigured imagery provided for the congenial visual accompaniment to his sounds, infusing them with the kind of associative synaesthetic complement they demanded. On the cover, a grayish-blue harbour wall now stretches into the dim lights of a distant bridge and if you hold the cover close to your eyes, it almost feels as though you could walk down the stairs leading to the water, to the quiet murmuring where the music commences.

Much more than just a pretty package, „A Shiver in Red“ has however turned out an important musical statement for Seconds in Formaldehyde as well. The album sees Fuhs still working firmly within the drone idiom, but considerably extending his vocabulary beyond the pure aesthetics of his 2006-debut „The Red Sky that was filled with Gloom“ and the three subsequent studio-full-lengths in its wake. While his entire back catalogue was essentially produced with the sparse set-up of one Guitar and a string of effect pedals, his approach today tends more towards a chambermusical setting of guitar, piano and electronics, at times enriched by a carefully manipulated shortwave radio. This extension is mirrored by even less linear arrangements and remarkably more intricate tension arcs. Announced as the last release under his nom de plume before switching to his civilian name, „Shiver“ therefore represents a transitional phase in his discography and marks Fuhs's gradual move away from stylised gestures towards highly personal modes of expressions, from a powerful yet minimal music towards a rich, atmospheric Maximalism, from an improviser/performer towards a fully-fledged composer, whose main task lies in structuring his materials and awarding them meaning beyond their mere sonic colours. Movement is becoming more important than the moment, narrative turning into a focal point – „Construct“, a similarly finely chiseled work dating back three years ago, may well be the only sensible point of reference for his current output.

The consequences of this shift are immediately becoming apparent in the opening title track, which forms a sort of cinematic suite in conjunction with autarkic but seamlessly attached „Desirable Black“, clocking in at a quarter of an hour. Within this duration, Fuhs arranges resonant and all but immobile drones into mesmerising tableaus, as though framing a series of still-lives, and then taking his audience on a tour through his gallery. Similar to the politics of high-profile art spaces, listeners are awarded a limited amount of time to observe each object presented to them before being gently coaxed to move on to the next image. High-frequency radio static is used both as a structural element, delineating individual sequences from each other, as well as a compositional tool, adding a sense of space and urgency to the otherwise calmly reflective, subsonic undulations. It will return in later stages of the record, turning it into a timbral Leitmotif and into an equitable partner of the piano and the guitar – in a way, Fuhs is playing it very much like an instrument in its own right, modulating it to create choral harmonics or fragmented melodies. In the final section of the piece, three deep bass notes gravitate into an open-ended theme, broodingly repeating themselves as the music slowly disappears from sight.

The remaining material may be more immediately accessible in terms of design, but no less marked by a stringent emphasis on compositional ideas and development rather than ambiance. „A Shiver in White“, the flipside's nine-minute long lead track, is tenderly rocked by a dream-like bass line, with alluringly humming chords and singular notes forming on its peaks like ice-crystals. After what seems like an eternity has passed inside the warm fluids of this amniotic bubble, a piercing tone comes welling up from silence, quickly growing in volume, distortion and density and shooting through the music like a pulsating directional laserbeam pointed straight at the evening sky. Even as the piece is cooling down and fading into silence, its luminescence and stored heat can still be traced in the initial structures, which have stoically been playing on in the gleaming ray's shadow. Closer „Love Noise“, meanwhile, leans on a romantic two-chord progression, which underpins the action as the surface is peacefully perturbed by shifting constellations of sustained sound-sheets and glistening overtones.

There is a limited edition of the album, which includes two bonus tracks, „Colour Movements I & II“ on a separate, one-sided disc. Indispensable for collectors and just as worthy of inclusion as the first batch of the material („I“ containing a thinly-disguised, sentimental reference to the recognisable opening motive of Pink Floyd's „Shine on you Crazy Diamond“), they nonetheless feel slightly detached from the album. This may well be a stroke of fate: Initially firmly part of the overall concept, they were only singled out to award the highest possible quality to the audio contained on the main disc. In the end, this unwanted decision ended up making „A Shiver in Red“ a more coherent, intimate and intense artistic statement – one, that is as timeless as the material is was pressed on.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Seconds in Formaldehyde / Martin Fuhs
Homepage: Seconds in Formaldehyde at MySpace
Homepage: Seconds in Formaldehyde at Bandcamp
Homepage: DroehnhausRecords

Related articles

Chihei Hatakeyama: "Ghostly Garden"; "A Long Journey"
A romantic Descartes: Twisted deja-vues ...
Fjordne: "The Setting Sun"
Nightly inspirations: Chamber music moving ...
CD Feature/ Maju: "Maju-5"
Soaked in constant movement: A ...
CD Feature/ Fennesz: "Black Sea"
Triumphant in a tender way: ...

Partner sites