An astonishing collage-tapework sound-art piece is Just Like A Flower When Winter Begins (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO060), which was concocted by the highly prolific non-stop German genius rlw collaborating with srmeixner, who is Stephen Meixner from the UK dark ambient group Contrastate. It’s dense, almost impenetrable stuff they come up with, and a single listen raised over 25 question marks over my head. In trying to solve the puzzle, I’m not entirely assisted as I peruse the artists’ notes which accompany each track, and which describe the overall project and how they got there over the course of two-three years. It seems they share common ground in their contempt for schlagermusik, a genre of popular musical entertainment in Germany 1. I’m not really an expert in this field, although in my mind I vaguely associate the genre with spangly jackets, smooth easy listening music, superannuated crooners and wholesome fresh-faced youngsters. Schlagermusik is probably similar to the all-round family entertainment which we Britishers used to suffer in the 1970s and 1980s on the telly, on shows such as Top of the Pops or Seaside Special, or anything featuring Torville & Dean. Well, not only do rlw and Stephen despise it as entertainment, they seem to look down somewhat on those who do enjoy it. Just Like A Flower represents their attempt to do something about the situation through their art. I’ll admit I’m faintly put off by the condescending tone behind this piece, particularly if the target is merely some harmless old-age pensioners simply having a German knees-up. I suppose to these wild-eyed underground geniuses, schlagermusik must represent The Enemy in the form of family values, good taste, sentimentality, the mainstream media, popularity, and just plain bad music. I should stress that this condescension doesn’t appear on the record, which is highly intellectual and rarefied – a Jean-Luc Godard-esque study in deconstruction.
The album is a fascinating listen. A fractured conceptual melange of words, music, song, speaking voices, and unidentifiable gobbets of sound – all lined up with fastidious neatness and respect for order, to create an impression of non-stop chaos. It’s sound poetry in the finest Henri Chopin tradition. It’s an explosion of ideas, which leaves behind the neatest pile of rubble you’ve ever seen 2. Creating it was a highly collaborative back and forth process, if the diary notes by Ralf and Stephen are anything to go by, a continual process of editing and re-editing and re-shaping each others’ contributions; the finished work is ordered under theme-based headings, and the fellows are able to elaborate in some detail as to what the themes mean. One note regards “nostalgia” as a disease; another muses on the vast number of schlagermusik superstars there are, and how impossible it would be to count them. There is an effort made by both to transform “shit into gold”, to take such an unpromising starting point and make a worthwhile artistic statement out of it – the same sort of superhuman effort that could remix 100 Hot Hits LPs 3 and arrive at greatness thereby. Guest vocalists add readings and songs to selected tracks, and there appears to be some connection to a related release Mit freundlichen Gruessen 4. Apparently if this album had been released first, it would have been called Vomiting agents of several generations. I’ll drink to that! From November 2013.
- Although if we believe the wikipedia entry, it’s been spreading like a blight across most of mainland Europe since the 1950s. ↩
- This metaphor borrowed from Marc Newgarden. He used it to describe the work of cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller. ↩
- Budget compilation records where chart singles were re-recorded by anonymous session bands and singers. Allegedly Elton John worked on some of these at the very start of his career. ↩
- I have found no evidence this other release even exists, and it may just be part of the overall conceptual joke. ↩