M.B., Teban Slide Art (The Come Organisation Files), Menstrual Recordings, 3 x CD LH40 (2013)
“M.B.” refers to Maurizio Bianchi, the noted experimentalist in industrial / musique concrete / noise whose career extends back to the late 1970s / early 1980s, the period in which he made these early recordings which have now been re-released, some of them without his consent, it must be said. The recordings were originally issued by the Come Organisation label under the name Leibstandarte SS MB and included speeches and addresses made by Adolf Hitler in his role as leader of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.
I’ll be frank: these recordings can be long and tedious to listen to. The tracks appear to have been released to profit from his current period of hibernation away from music creation and performance, and the attention his activities have attracted over the years. Those of us who aren’t British probably wonder at the obsession that British contemporary culture often expresses with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, especially when we compare the extent of British encounters, military and non-military, with the Nazis with those of other European countries unfortunate enough to have borne the brunt of the Nazi German onslaught in terms of lives lost and the lasting political, social and economic effects. In those countries, particularly Russia and Ukraine where the most brutal and vicious conflicts between the Nazis and Soviets were fought and many of the most hideous atrocities were committed by both sides against each other’s forces and on civilians, these effects continue even today, nearly 70 years after Nazi Germany surrendered to Allied forces, in subtle ways: among other things, I have seen on the Internet a suggestion that in 1954, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bypassed proper government procedures and made a gift of Crimea by decree to Ukraine to push people there away from supporting the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist and notorious Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and his followers who were still active (with contacts in Britain and West Germany) during the 1950s. (And of course even after his assassination in 1959 Bandera still has his acolytes in Ukraine as recent events in that country have so far revealed.) Then again, we are not – and many if not most British people also are not – always aware of the extent to which fascism gained a strong foothold among some sectors of society in Britain during the 1930s (Oswald Mosley notwithstanding); perhaps as a loosely held set of often contradictory beliefs fascism never really went away in that country.
I am not necessarily counting the people who made and / or compiled these recordings among those sectors: over the past 50+ years, Nazi symbols and recordings have been used in popular and youth culture as symbols and expressions of rebellion and dissent from mainstream discourse which itself has often been authoritarian and repressive. The folks at Come Organisation themselves would be aware of the extent to which Nazi iconography was being pilfered by musicians in the punk, new wave and industrial scenes at the time and it’s possible that they released these recordings to call attention to the fact that the Nazis were real people who carried out or encouraged other people to commit the most heinous acts of violence, destruction and theft, physically, socially and culturally.
If you don’t know any German, the spoken voice recordings are painful to listen to in their unrelenting haranguing and monotony, and I suspect that if you do, you may find the content of them repetitive to the point of inducing mental numbness even if you’re not offended by it. The music is not always bad though on very long tracks (and Disc 1 “Triumph of the Will” especially – you can see the obvious reference to the Leni Riefenstahl documentary here – features very long pieces of over 20 minutes each in length) it can be unrelieved monotony playing a secondary role to the spoken word recordings. A better time can be had with Disc 2 “Weltanschauung” where the music assumes a more expansive mood and is slightly atmospheric; on tracks like “Endoradiation”, the droning sounds and undulant rhythms supply all the menace needed and require no additional enhancement. Parts of Disc 3 “Lebensraum” appear to draw parallels between Nazi German society and popular culture of the 1930s on the one hand and popular culture in the UK on the cusp of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s on the other, and suggest that the political, social and economic conditions that birthed Nazi Germany might also have existed then in Britain and other countries (and might do even today). The wavy yet stuttering music is relentless, absolutely inhuman and machine-like, yet it also possesses a seductive power that can mesmerise listeners. Recordings of speeches given by other leading lights in the Nazi German regime that include rapturous audience applause given at regular intervals throughout the speeches have the same call-and-response litany structures that religious ceremonies and large music festivals and concerts employ.
Listeners are at liberty to pick and choose which tracks they prefer to hear: Discs 2 and 3 are the easiest on the ears. Those listeners of a generation for which Nazi Germany seems as temporally distant as the empire established by Alexander the Great over 2,000 years ago might find the spoken voice recordings tiresome and puzzling, and probably need to know some 20th century history and an understanding of how Nazi German symbols and propaganda have been appropriated by contemporary Western culture and art as symbols of modern rebellion.