May 1, 2003
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Soft Pink Truth
The Wind-Up Bird
April 30, 2003
Pale Horse and Rider
Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers
April 29, 2003
Set Fire to Flames
Frank Bretschneider and Taylor Deupree
Pulsating blue-white and the lines draw themselves across a space; the space is folded, once, twice, and again, and the blue becomes green. At the fold Frank Bretschneider and Taylor Deupree.
In issue o7 of Grooves magazine, practically every interview with an experimental “electronic” artist accounted for the artist’s uniqueness through the use of “warmth,” vocals, “organic” influences, or live sounds/instrumentation in a minimal or otherwise experimental context, resulting in the artist’s very own niche, genre, or sound. This artist was then contrasted to the “multitude” of pseudo-musicians who, it would seem, tend to operate from their bedrooms and produce clickety-click music without soul or subtlety (it can be assumed that the interviewed artists don’t have bedroom gear but studios). For example: “Unlike the glut of software-based producers, Munk makes use of live sounds” (Manual interview, 12); “By believing that there is purity and emotion in noise, the Texan-born artist [Nic Endo] has consistently defied and dissected conventions to carve her own niche” (Nic Endo interview, 14); “Among the multitude of click and nano-electronic desktop musicians emanating from an increasing array of mostly German and American labels, it is sometimes rare to find those willing to inject a discernible human pulse into the proceedings” (Dan Abrams interview, 18); “Vocals and guitar are about the last thing you’d expect to find in electronic dance music, let alone in the stripped-down settings of minimal technno” (Safety Scissors interview, 24).
The observations from the respective journalists, while certainly valid, become clichéd in their repetition. Perhaps an underlying theme that somewhat explains the current infatuation with emotive tendencies in experimental electronic music can be found in a quote from Rafael Toral—in an interview in the same magazine: “I think what first fascinated me in music was its ability to carry emotions of strange kinds, not found elsewhere in life” (16).
But this theme is contradictory: the emotions selected for accolades are usually those from “outside” genres and sites, be it through live instrumentation, the “organic,” or the human voice. Can electronic music convey emotions that bear no resemblance to its exterior?
Balance is the name of this album and it maintains itself over the course of forty-five minutes. Audio with quicktime visuals from Frank Bretschneider for the track “Autodrive.”
Balance swings on a pivot. Each careful, powerful sound—a precise knife-movement of the sonic spectrum—exhibits its contrapuntal opposite. Together, they trace the outline of a ghostly fulcrum. As the sounds interact, a field of fulcrums rise out of a misty haze. The mood is serene.
Balance is an intensive psychosomatic journey that begins by echoing two identities. Bretschneider’s ever-evolving, tension-filled yet contemplative rhythms propel the piece and send it along a trajectory. If Bretschneider is the German engineer, Deupree is the genetic surgeon, mutating perfect strains of sound that act as building blocks of the organism-track that slice through the high and low frequencies as virii.
Exhibiting a warmth that is present yet clearly distilled…actually, I want to say “play,” for the strange descending toybox sound that slides through the background of “Freeze Frame” hints at humour—but then it is gone and the overwhelming sine-wave bass conduces a swelling sensation in my head. Suddenly, I am made aware of the echoed pop and slight click—then the trilled static-frequency—and just as I become aware, three elements hitherto unknown to me disintegrate and a sine wave overcomes my ears. It is only now that I come to my senses and realise that I am on the sixth track, “Autodrive,” which breathes and hums like a heartbeat and pulses tones that conjure up visions of cleanly lit operating rooms eroticized with the sterile bodies of medical professionals. I have been listening for thirty minutes.
Later, I watch the QuickTime video for “Autodrive” and I am entranced by the gliding architectural beams—it is close to what I imagined when the album began. Standard imagery? Perhaps, but only as self-referential honesty, given Deupree’s avowed interest in architecture—see his Tower of Winds with Savvas Ysatis—and Bretschneider’s dedication to design-influenced audio patterns—witness his Curve. Whereas Curve was a slow-building monster of delicate proportions, closer to Tomas Jirku’s Immaterial, Balance is a constantly changing piece with a sound palette that I can only describe as sliced and pared by Deupree. Deupree’s sound is immediately recognisable from his use of frequencies as well as the precise, stellar, and orchestrated level of production that seems to leave absolutely no element to grunge, to dirt, to random and ugly chance, despite the whole sounding like it is living on its own and in its own time. The side that Deupree presents to us in this collaboration is similar to his and Dietrich Schonemann’s DrumKomputer project (see releases on Victoria, BC’s itiswhatitis recordings). Although different in that DrumKomputer is a pumped dj-jam of minimal frequencies and midrange head-kicks embracing electro rhythms, Deupree’s unmistakable love for the precise range of any frequency—the sine-wave bass, the clear pop, the floating tones, the omnipresent yet almost indiscernable microsound peels, the sharp and gated percussion—is what makes his recent work so memorable.
Emotionally this is very different from Deupree and Savvas Ysatis’ Tower of Winds. Structurally, it bears a resemblance only in that sounds arise and fall out of silence, such as the rising opening of the first track, “Interlock.” Yet it is in comparison to Tower of Winds that Bretschneider’s structural controls become apparent. Bretschneider has charted the grid and drawn the map. Deupree is at the edge, sending sounds off like sonar pings and awaiting their response, allowing the music to move further in a careful and plotted course that nonetheless defies attempts to outguess the subsonic maneouvres of the pair.
Balance ends with “Bluetime.” The cover art by Deupree on the disc is green, but blue and its variations are the audio-visual conjunction. Bretschneider actualizes this in his video, straying pulsing lines overtop one another in syncopated montages that synchronise to the rhythms of “Autodrive.” Detailed watching of the video reveals that more than just the main elements of the rhythm have been visually represented. Slight variations and vibrations demonstrate the microscopic attention to the sound structure, which is represented visually through architectural motifs.
Minimalism at its best embraces the possibility of the embrace. In the conjoining of the two bodies, arms wrapped around the other, one may eroticize the encounter or stab the other in the back—or both. Whatever the outcome—which allows for a singular occurrence at every meeting of chests—warmth pervades a slight isthmus of air. It is the memory of this warmth with the other that draws us back to collaborate.
Minimalism has never been a solitary or singular activity, for it leaves open the possibility of other sounds entering the equation. In some respects, Balance is not a minimalist album. Silent pockets are sparse and what appears as silence at first glance is not so much filled as leavened with sonic potential.
Personally I think it is possible to dance about architecture.
Bretschneider and Deupree are warm, organic, emotional, unique artists doing stuff no one else is and they have studios.
Email This Reviewer
Read More Reviews By This Reviewer