Monday, April 12, 2021
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rlw: Agnostic Diaries

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Artist: rlw
Title: Agnostic Diaries
Format: CD
Label: Black Rose Recordings (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This is the second of two discs recently received from Black Rose Recordings. rlw = Ralf Wehowsky, one of the most respected electronic composers of our day and was also a founding member of the seminal German group P16.D4 and label Selektion whose ground-breaking releases influenced many working in today’s experimental music scene. Way back in 2013 I positively reviewed his 'Fall Seliger Geister' album here, calling it " an enigma just waiting for you to puzzle through." The common factor linking the recordings on 'Agnostic Diaries' is that they were projects never fully realized. The basic recordings started in 2005, however the period of reworking and transformation (2016 to 2017) is more important. All vocal parts and general revisions were done during this period. Agnosticism was the basic idea for the vocal/musical re-working of the pieces with the vocals implanted into the basic pieces, not just as simple overdubs, but inserted in a dialectical confrontation with the basic sounds and structures. The album consists of six tracks running about 50 minutes. It's a strange listen for most, but no so strange if you're already familiar with rlw.

Track 1 ("le ballet") claims to rely on George Antheil´s 'Ballet Mecanique.' If you're into avant garde music you've likely heard this fantastically aggressive, frantic, chaotic classic. If for some odd reason you haven't, think of Frank Zappa's work at its most avant garde (instrumental; not the comedy stuff). You really should check out 'Ballet Mecanique' before going any further though. "le ballet" may have been influenced by Antheil´s composition but does not sound anything like it. Antheil employed a number of pianos, pianolas (player pianos), xylophones, drums, as well as electric bells, siren, etc. rlw's vision here is closer to musique concrète, realized with electronics, cut up voices, etc. Think more John Cage than George Antheil, and fits comfortably into the experimental ambient domain. Track 2, "July 2006" is a noisier affair than the preceding, giving a sense of motion, but also careening headlong into oblivion, until it comes to a momentary dead stop. Picking up again, the digital sounds seem like they've been put in a lo-fi blender without a lid, and spit out hither and thither. The piece is uncomfortable, but it is precisely this uneasiness that makes it interesting. "for gerald" was to be a co-operation with Anla Courtis using some sounds by Ovary Lodge planned for the Gerald Jupitter-Larssen series which stopped far too early. Here, breathy light noise and single tone rising and falling electronic oscillators combine with radiant electronic resonant tones and chords for awhile, but that changes somewhat when more (intermittent) percussive elements are introduced. Next comes some chaotic circuit bending introduced into the mix. Track 4 ("without m.b.") includes rlw’s parts for a collaboration with Marc Baron, but holds up pretty well on its own, combining processed noise and electronics, spoken word (Italian, I think), feedback and manipulated samples as well as deep chambered resonance. With all that is going on here (and frankly, it's a lot) I don't see how Baron could have added much to this piece. On "caute!" we are treated to a noise scrubbing, once again with (treated) foreign language spoken word samples before it drifts into a quieter sort of ambience, with a juxtaposition of sublimely percussive low and high tones. There's a it more going on than that; you just have to hear it for yourself. Last track, "monotype #6," includes vocals by Dylan Nyoukis, but seems to be largely comprised of processed strings and electronic treatments.

'Agnostic Diaries' is a remarkable achievement on its own and shouldn't be just considered a collection of unrealized projects. Although there isn't a central unified theme here, I don't necessarily think there has to be one. I am still amazed though that an artist with the stature of Wehowsky doesn't seem to have his own website (I couldn't find it so I used his Discogs page) and forget about any email address. I'm sure Black Rose will notify him of the review anyway.


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