Siegmar Fricke is a long-standing contributor to the experimental electronic / dance music world. The German producer (who also works as a visual artist) began releasing music in the mid 80s and has produced many albums across a variety of styles including industrial, techno and ambient.
Funkwellen (translated as “radio waves”) is described in the press release as “melodic based sequencer driven work with…futurist appeal”. The album itself has quite a history. Originally recorded in 1994 at Fricke’s Pharmakustik Studio, the work was not released until 2008 when it surfaced as a free download in a different form with a slightly different tracklist. It has now been reassembled and remastered by Fricke, and this “definitive edition” is available as a 24 bit high quality download.
The music itself is quite brilliant. The whole record has been approached with a rare attention to detail and subtlety. Its melodies, grooves and robotic loops owe much to house and techno, but it also contains an underlying and ever-present arty weirdness. This is not “hard” dance music, but it marches forward with enough intent and drive for it not to sit comfortably in the “ambient” category. The beats often seem to be right on the edge of climax, but instead they gracefully hold back. This has the effect of holding the listener on the edge of their seat, energised and alert. The synth sounds are expertly jigsawed together. Angular and disorientating sequenced arpeggios mesh with warm atmospheric pads. Repeated samples of single words or short disembodied phrases in German or English come in and out over the top. By its nature this music is repetitive, but Funkwellen artfully pulls off the trick of creating subtle and sometimes barely-perceptible variation bar-by-bar. New synth parts and samples rise up and fall away whilst filters, reverbs, delays and panning are constantly being controlled to generate dynamic motion.
Funkwellen is evocative. It paints an ever-shifting mood journey. There is hopeful excitement and there is cold bleakness. Sometimes these feelings coexist. The palette of sounds is familiar, but its application is idiosyncratic. It will energise you, it will stimulate deep thought, it will make you feel something, and it will hold your attention.
If you like to think as well as to dance, and if you enjoy having your expectations subverted, then Funkwellen by Siegmar Fricke is album you should hear.
Title: Oxygen: Critical Level I
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Korpus 9
The Korpus 9 label begins a new compilation series here with a four-track various artists EP of thick, kick-heavy techno.
It starts aggressively with “M2S” from Kusp (UK), which stands presumably for ‘menace to society’ since those words are used in the sampled monologue about the dangers of drugs, an established and seemingly ironic approach given techno’s 90’s drug associations. Tom Hades’ “A Constellation” offers up a slightly more spaced-out arrangement of long sci-fi cinematic pads that are just about audible over the thumping, then Bleur & MB1’s “Cerenity” [sic] sits somewhere between the two, foregoing much melody in favour of a repeated vocal sample whispering ‘serenity’ over a beat that’s the opposite of serene, in a good way. Quisan’s “Epiphany” uses the familiar contrast of growling lower synths against wispy, airy top notes over a housier beat, and feels almost mellow by comparison.
Overall this EP feels like it thrives on the fairly simple energy of the mid-90’s techno heyday, and there’s nothing in here that pushes boundaries, stands out, or drills itself into your memories. But as a polished set of reliable, DJ-friendly, journey-techno, it’s very polished.
The self-titled debut release of Cernichov was actually recorded some time ago - between October 2017 and April 2018 - but got recently discovered and reissued by limited edition specialists Cathedral Transmissions from the UK (whose version is already sold out as of today). It's 5 tracks, developed as the first collaboration from Bruxelles based David Gutman (who also releases experimental ambient and improvised music as Drawing Virtual Gardens a.o.) with Torino based Marco Mazzucchelli, are too refreshing to be called Dark Ambient. There is constant movement, transformation and a sublimity in the use of sounds which makes it easy to listen to this as a whole. None of the tracks outstays it's welcome, in fact my favourite is even the longest one "Dissipated Poets". The well constructed and mastered pieces are drones - painting a mood picture which is open to individual interpretation. As such they actually work as ambience too and very well. As of now Cernichov are working on their second Album which should appear later this year and is definitively something to look forward to.
“Chord / Gong!” is a digital restoration of a 1978 recording of two long piano pieces from Philip Corner, assisted by Carles Santos (and performed on Charlemagne Palestine’s piano!). Originally available on cassette, it has been dusted off and it has to be said, the remastering is excellent, and the recording quality shines as though it was a brand new recording, with just a slight exception of some crushed tones at a couple of points.
Musically, the beginning of “Chord” inevitably draws comparisons with the other famous minimalist Philip, the arpeggiated chord feeling somehow almost a trademark of Philip Glass- but over the course of 28 minutes it leaves such comparison behind and heads off into a selection of different tone variations, ranging from very light and fragile, through to romantic, before ending aggressively. It’s an interesting exercise in the range of expressivity possible with self-imposed chord limitations, and while it never goes truly out-there- no thrashing or hammering, no gaps, nothing overtly experimental- it is something of a journey nevertheless.
“Gong!” does push the tonal range somewhat more, beginning with low rumbles and reverberant tones accessorised by small atmospheric noises that are periodically recognisable as piano, but often just very low drone, finishing with a barely audible tail that really draws you in as you genuinely struggle to hear the last section.
The two pieces are a very well-balanced pair, a yin and yang of romantic and dark, and they feel like special works. The only thing I find offputting about the release is the oddly vain artwork, strangely, but musically it is simply formed but exquisite.
I don't know about you, but this Covid-19 pandemic is really wearing me down. Now that I don't have a brick & mortar store (3 months of having to be closed without any $$ for rent or utilities will do that) it's hard to get motivated to do anything, let alone reviews. Besides, not much physical product seems to come my way these days, and I've never been a fan of "digital only" releases. Seems too cheap and easy as any yahoo can put up music online. There are exceptions though, and this is one of them. Hungarian electronic musician/composer Joseph "Lightphaser" Gogh is back again with a new EP (release date July 31st) with something really different this time. The anime cover art is a dead giveaway, and if you're virtual J-Pop savvy, you may even recognize (a version of) Hatsune Miku who does the vocals on this EP.
If you don't know who Hatsune Miku is, suffice to say that she's the biggest "virtual" pop star coming out of Japan today. The key word here is virtual, because as a living person Hatsune Miku doesn't exist. ( Her source voice is provided by the Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita.) What Hatsune Miku really is, is Vocaloid software voice-bank developed by Crypton Future Media and its official moe anthropomorph, a teenage girl with long, turquoise twin-tails. This creation is SO very popular that it has sold out many virtual (holographic) live concerts in the J-Pop and EDM genres. You can find literally TONS of Hatsune Miku content on YouTube, usually with plenty of anime. It comes across as happy spectacle more than anything else, especially when accompanied by huge crowds of glowstick waving fan-atics. The music though seems like it has more "teen appeal" than anything else, and often the vocals are in Japanese. Not so here; Miku with Lightphaser actually sounds very different. Without all the bombastic music and over the top visuals Hatsune Miku sounds like a gitlish pixie through a vocoder. (Certain people might be able to imitate it inhaling helium and singing, but not for long.) Because the voice still sounds a bit computer generated, all the lyrics don't seem crystal clear on first listening. The way Gogh uses the Vocaloid program within the context of the songs though is quite nice. "Serenade" is a space love song ballad, for lack of a better description. Although the Vocaloid is front and center, it is definitely enhanced by the other worldly synths, and combines into something magical. "Play With Me" is ultra cute synthpop with a strong hook that jumps at you right off the bat. Third and final track is the instrumental version of "Serenade." Stripped of the Vocaloid program it sounds like Gary Numan meets Kraftwerk in Vangelis's Blade Runner theme park.
Joseph told me via email that 'Serenade' is the second EP of Lightphaser's using the Miku program, and the "Instincts of Future" EP was the first release with it. There is a third EP planned for September, but what happens after that is still up in the air. It should be interesting to see if Hatsune Miku fans take to this different aspect of the girl's performance. I know I like it a lot more than the typical applications that have exploded across the Internet.
There is a kind of silly but amusing little video made for the "Serenade song, and you can check it out with this link.