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Steinbrüchel: Non Renew & Shinkei: in.fohr.MAY.shun puh.loo.shun

img  Tobias Fischer

Can you have too much of a good thing? It seems a rhetorical question in a time of absurd abundance, when the web is literally littered with gigabytes of both excitingly fresh and mind-numbingly conformist music. Each day brings new podcasts, dj mixes, radio shows, streamings, singles, eps  and albums – as well as a flood of comments on, reviews of as well as discussions about all of the above. Each day, too, new platforms for sharing one's creations are born, the pool of sources and sites spiralling into infinity. What's more, a lot of it is available at no cost whatsoever – as Pheek from Canadian netlabel Archipel  recently pointed out, in a bizarre reversal of logic, these days „selling the music seems to get more attention then giving it for free“. As an immediate result, the potential for life-changing experiences is growing as quickly as the question of what to listen to next becomes a harder nut to crack.

It is certainly no coincidence that Shinkei's David Sani and Ralph Steinbrüchel should be among the first to start looking for answers in earnest. Their oeuvre reflects their fascination with essence. Their arrangements are expressions of subtractive purification-processes. Their sounds have been polished with the dedication and precision of a South African diamond grinder. But never before have they looked as deeply into the music itself to arrive at a solution. For in.fohr.MAY.shun puh.loo.shun, Sani was moved by extracts from a text by Jakob Nielsen, addressing the threat of „information pollution“ (get the title?). According to Nielsen, „the entire ideology of information technology for the last 50 years has been that more information is better, that mass producing information is better. But the net is not so much a machine with all the answers instantly, it has mutated into a 'procrastination apparatus'.“ At the end of his explanations, he issues a passionate warning: „If people don't develop really harsh counter-measures, it will basically destroy their ability to use the computer in any productive way and it becomes the ruler of your time. Ultimately, time is a non-renewable resource. Once that day is gone, it is never coming back.“

The key elements here are the notion of prioritisation – of deciding upon what is really important and what can be neglected – as well as of treating time wisely. In terms of composition, Sani has interpreted the proclamation as a call for compaction. Every single piece on in.fohr.MAY.shun puh.loo.shun clocks in at exactly one minute and comprises of mostly decontextualised and discrete (in the mathematical sense of presenting one element at a time) crackles, ticks and glitches. In their simultaneity of extreme temporal reduction, instrumental pointillism and timbral concentration, the resulting miniatures have the same meditative quality to them as the sparse orchestral canvasses of seminally influential (at one point in  the 1950, the entire western Avantgarde was regarding his ideas as quasi-religious commandments) Austrian composer Anton Webern, which spelled out their intentions within the short duration of a handful of bars before disappearing into the ether again. More recently, others may also have arrived at similar approaches – the monumental 60x60 project, for example, collects a stimulating, one-hour-long mix from thousands of 60-second short entries each year, for example – but the combination of philosophical intention and sonic radicalism makes the statement a provocative and inspiring offering nonetheless.

It is important to note that the Nielsen-analogy only goes so far. The act of listening is not actually comparable to the process of crawling through the web. And while music can be represented as information, its purpose is not primarily to be „useful“ in the same way as a well-assembled statistic or an insightful article. In fact, one important aspect of music is that it, while not objectively constituting a productive effort, upvalues the time spent taking it in. In a way, therefore, it is a different, deeper, more rewarding and complex way of experiencing the passing of time and replacing the factual limitations of the physical world around us with the borderless expanses inside our imagination. At the same time, music as a fixed container of materials aimed at triggering this response also binds the listener into submission: A symphony demands to be consumed from beginning to end and the entire pop business is based on the art of keeping audiences glued to their seats through the skillful use of suspense and release. The linearity of by far the largest amount of music today implies a top-down-model of appreciation, in which the listener either sets aside an hour of his time to listen attentively or to loose the message by reducing art to background wallpaper.

With this in mind, Steinbrüchel's „non renew“ isn't actually as extreme as it may seem at first sight. All of these again one-minute-short pieces, which directly correspond to the tracks on  in.fohr.MAY.shun puh.loo.shun, are highly musical, inventive and filled with myriads of inspiring ideas both large and small. Within the short breath of their duration, they can either create winding trajectories and conclusive narratives or briefly sketched thoughts and layered fields of micro-noises without obvious beginning or end. With the fifth movement, Steinbrüchel has even created a miniature-scale soundscape which seems to encompass the emotional weight of an entire classical concerto: Over the course of the first four to five richly resonant bell-tones, a dense spiritual space opens up and a system of intertwined motives is set in motion. The music undulates slowly and pulsates with dreamy calm, tonal ripples of stuttering chimes forming on its surface and building up a tranquil momentum on whose movement it floats into an abrupt ending.

Of course, these kind of pieces could go on for much longer. On the other hand, the concise outlines of „non renew“ have not so much caused frustration, but merely adjusted listening modes, with most buyers simply putting it on repeat. This, it needs to be stressed, is not a circumvention of the composers' intentions, but their most fascinating conclusion: Given back the choice of listening to a piece of music as often and for as long as they like, listeners have reacted with a vivid enthusiasm uncommon to most releases in the realms of experimental Sound Art.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steinbrüchel
Homepage: Shinkei
Homepage: Yugen Art Recordings

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