Friday, June 11, 2004

Risk rewarded? Unknown made known

I picked this one up because its round, pink, transparent slimline case intrigued me. The only info is printed directly on the CD: Conrad Schnitzler, Rot, "Meditation" 19'44", "Krautrock" 20'09", Recorded in 1972, plate lunch music, pl01. A quick look around the Internet reveals that Schnitzler was a German sound artist (rather than musician) working in experimental electronic music from the '60s on.

"Meditation" begins by setting up a handful of drones that remain very nearly up until the end of the track. The other main element are regularly-paced synth notes with "bouncing ball" effects trailing behind them. At one point, the textures start to shift, with long, carefully-shaped notes reminiscent of Big Fun's trumpet layers. The track ends with an homage to tonality (ie. arpeggios) after the drones have been stripped away. Apparently, Rot was culled from an installation in which the machines were set in motion, then left to their own devices; that process is quite audible here.

"Krautrock" is more percussive and twitchy. It begins with mechanical birds warbling in some alien jungle, as ground-crawlers create an ad hoc rhythmic foundation. 8-9 minutes in, something magnificent happens: a few layers are dropped and the slightest inkling of a synth-percussion-driven beat (actually, my tapping foot probably contributed as much to the beat as anything on the disc) emerges, a wonderful kind of minimal techno. At first elusive, the blissful beat is reinforced by a latin clave before fading away, as these things must.

Rot is the product of a time when the year 2000 still meant flying cars, food pills and holidays on the moon: now kitsch sci-fi movie sounds make up its vocabulary; gaudy uniforms, plastic aliens and goatteed evil-doers abound. I couldn't help but think of Keith Rowe and Toshi Nakamura's Weather Sky. They knew what the year 2000 really was about: we still haven't launched ourselves into inter-stellar regions, so they must work on a smaller scale than Schnitzler's planet-conquerors; machines are talking to us (or is it for us?); we need subtlety and quiet in order to listen for missives from a desperately empty universe.