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Zeitkratzer: Electronics - Whitehouse

img  Tobias Fischer

By their detractors, classical music and contemporary composition are often regarded as unnecessarily complex, complicated and confounding. To Reinhold Friedl, quite on the contrary, they have always represented an intense, immediate and, above all, physical language. Friedl no longer treats  concert halls as spaces for passive consumption or the mere satisfying of dogmatic ideals. Through the passionate performances and recordings of his zeitkratzer ensemble, they are transformed into emotional arenas for ideas and concepts, into stages for intellectual drama and sonic warfare. This philosophy has naturally increased the potential for conflict. But it has also fascinated even his staunchest opponents: When zeitkratzer worked with Merzbow and Polish Sound Artist Zbigniew Karkowski on their manifesto-like debut Noise, editor-in-chief of now defunct German online-mag „Musik and Sich“ Henrik Stahl initially reacted with anger, confusion and disgust. And yet, even though he essentially qualifyied the music as unpalatable, his review did end with the assessment that the album was probably most accurately defined as „bold nonsense with occasional whiffs of genius“.

A curious mixture of bewilderment and fascination has remained a pervasive reaction to zeitkratzer's output, regardless of whether the ensemble would re-write Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music for a chambermusic group, collaborate with notorious agent provocateur Ian Duncan or publish CDs meant to be played in shuffle-mode. Despite engaging with more subtle representatives of the Electronica spectrum, their love for sonic extremism in its various guises has never subsided. This is not entirely surprising given the fact that the abovementioned description of classical music could, in various ways, equally apply to Noise: Both only reveal their true nature upon closer inspection, revel in self-referential metaphors and have, attempts at popularising or demystifying them notwithstanding, traditionally been for the initiated few only. Both, too, feed from the reaction of sound with the human body, of entire string sections coalescing into billowing clouds or aggressive clusters.

It should therefore seem anything but unusual for Friedl to establish a musical rapport with William Bennett of Whitehouse, who, for roughly two decades, has been the driving force behind what is frequently considered to be the most radical music project of all time. As different as their respective backgrounds may be, there are, after all, plenty of similarities in their respective approaches to music: Both Friedl and Bennett have an aversion against over-analysing their art and an affinity for perfecting its details. They care nothing for scenes and expectations, even if this means estranging themselves from their core audience. And for both, too, part of their mission has always consisted in not just questioning conventions, but of questioning the very act of questioning itself: Just like zeitkratzer followed up the aforementioned violence of their first albums with the delicately nuanced electronix and Au Défaut du Silence, a duo effort at the borders of perception divided between Friedl and multimedia artist Michael Vorfeld, Whitehouse evolved from their pure Powernoise beginnings into a far more varied act which would work with African polyrhythms as well as a wide sonic palette. As such, it was only consequential that their orbits, despite rooting in different galaxies, would eventually intersect.

Contact, meanwhile, has been anything but trivial: It takes several attentive listens and an abundant use of the repeat button before the melodies, asymmetrical cycles and harmonies Friedl is referring to in the liner notes finally peel themselves off an at first cacophonous wall of sound. It must have been fascinating to say the least for Bennett to hear his electronic originals, all previous incarnations of which were systematically destroyed and deleted to avoid the immanent danger of repeating himself, coming to life by the hands of a ten-piece ensemble comprising, among others, Matt Davis and Hilary Jeffery on trumpet and trombone respectively, Rhodri Davies on harp, Ulrich Philipp on double bass and Friedl himself on piano, whose dense blocks of black and white keys lend an air of immanent danger to the tectonic shifts of „Fairground Muscle Twitcher“ and are, despite hardly ever taking a prominent position in the limelight, of seminal importance to the threatening aura of the album.

There is certainly no loss of power or aggression, as zeitkratzer make highly effective use of multiphonics, overblowing, scraping and a string of utopian extended techniques to conjure up a world not even the most visionary science fiction author could hardly have devised with more plasticity. What Friedl foremost brings to the table is a completely new way of listening to this music, far less occupied by sheer violence and much more by the ingenious interposition of wickedly wedged sonic events. Rather than setting all controls to maximum distortion and flattening out dynamics, Bennet's pieces are constructed like collective breathing exercises: Instrumental lines mostly consist either of short, pointillist thematic repetitions or long, sustained tones. On their own, they don't amount to much. But within the structure of the group, these deceptively harmless motives, insistently working with the intervals yielding the most disturbing frictions, constantly rub against their counterparts in continually changing constellations, causing a flickering flux of interfering frequencies, like a group of people screaming, grunting and gurgling with frenzied intensity.

The sense of emancipation for each player is vital – the musicians may be playing at the same time, but they are not playing together in the traditional sense - and it is only through careful analysis that the loop-character of the pieces becomes apparent. And yet, despite the outward absence of a conductor, these movements, seemingly by accident, condense into precisely constructed eruptions or gradually intensifying climaxes, in which the individual emanations dissolve into fulminante ensemble crescendos - nothing at all is left to chance here. Moments of more traditional functionalities in these consciously polydirectional and ritualistic soundscapes, in which Percussionist Maurice de Martin sculpts the flow of the music with expressions ranging from tribal drumming to combustible pounding, are rare, yet their appearances lend an all but fata-morgana-like touch to the action: „Munkis Munkondi“ is pierced by a screeching reed-solo, whose overblown free-jazz-references lend an almost humorous touch to it, while „Nzambi la Lufua“ is a duet between trumpet and trombone accompanied by a madcap string section tasting of aluminium and blood.

It is in these moments that the veil of pure aggression is lifted and the music reveals itself as what it really is: A direct translation of the chaotic and ultimately incomprehensible nature of our world into form. There is a constant and unresolvable friction between micro and macro, of the way that entirely unconnected events are coalescing into meaningful constellations or how structured patterns are falling apart into loose units without any kind of cohesion. Neither the composer not the musicians are interfering with this dance of the elements, rather serving as magnets carefully aligning them into meaningful patterns and shapes without ever trying to reconcile their inherently heterodox nature.

If the journey should seem more like an exorcism than a purgatory, then that is because there is no resolution to the dilemmas at hand. Those considering classical music and contemporary composition as nothing but an over-intellectual playground must be licking their wounds: This music is taking factors such as intensity, immediacy and physical impact to the max.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Zeitkratzer/ Zeitkratzer Records

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