RUSSIA MIKROTON MIKROTONCD24 CD (2013)
A wonderful album from Hanno Leichtmann who is quickly becoming a rival for my electronic music listening affections with my current favourite block pusher Rutger Zuyderveldt.
Having made that comparison, I’m now reminded how far experimental electronics has come, or how far they have been assimilated into popular culture, depending on your standpoint. I’m thinking of the radical experimentalism of Kluster, for example; their 1970s output like Eruption or Klopfzeichen or Em Und Texte; frankly genuinely deranged masterpieces of the form. You can hear echoes of Leichtmann’s countrymen if you have a mind to keep an ear out for that sort of thing, but this is more formal and distilled.
Ten pieces of music perhaps more developed than their description as mere “studies”, but, I would argue, incongruously labelled “minimal”, as the wealth of detail and space doled out by his brutish analogue “modular system” as he calls it (disappointingly, there is no mention of the manufacturer of the synth in question) is unquestionably maximalist in its conception. Yes, some of these tracks are a few steps away from finished maybe (but not that many); a latest catalogue of ideas, or a document of a month’s worth of sampler experiments or, indeed, a finished work, are perhaps all things this album could be perceived as. And I quite like that aspect; the uncertainty of what these pieces are. Aside from the titling of the pieces “Study One” to “…Ten” and the factual deliverance of production detail, no other information from the author of these “studio sketches” is presented. There’s elements of motoric rhythm here. Certainly, a Germanic history of rock is implied in these tracks. The sound overall is bold and punchy thanks no doubt in some way to Pole’s Stefan Betke’s mastering.
Hanno Leichtmann augments his own parts with contributions here and there by Boris Baltschun’s electric pump organ, Sabine Ercklentz’ trumpet, Kai Fagaschinski’s clarinet and Alex Stolze’s violin.
Track one, “Study One” goes like this: “Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing Bing bing bing” and sets the tone for the album. That’s the charm of the sampler. The retained clicks and the pops of Leichtmann’s relaxed sampling process as the loops roll on and on. Delicious synth toppings are added slowly like a television advert for upmarket icecreams. “Study Two” is the sound machines make when they dream. “Study Three” reminds me of something that might have come out of Conny Plank’s studio in the late 90s but without the ominous patina of grain he somehow managed to imbue his productions with.
“Study Four” and “Study Five” are a continuation of the delicious edited and looped dream which Hanno Leichtmann has lulled us into. Until, on “Study Six”, he presents what is to me the most “pop” arrangement on the disc and one of the most beautiful; examples of repetition in electronic music you’ll ever hear. Boris Baltschun on electric pump organ here.
During “Study Seven” and “Study Eight”, my mind wanders: for me, as I have already indicated, it is impossible not to think vaguely of 1970s German Kosmische Rock and often Kraftwerk in particular while listening to this album, but “Study Eight” especially, seems to me to be Can’s sole UK chart hit “I Want More” filtered and detourned through Hanno Leichtmann’s willing machines and fertile imagination. “Study Nine” reminds me of more German musicians, this time Tangerine Dream, or perhaps Edgar Froese’s 1975 solo album Epsilon In Malaysian Pale. But in a good way. Fittingly, the final track, “Study Ten”, is the most sombre and restrained piece.
Hanno may have possibly titled this release as a faux work-in-progress but it is anything but. For one thing, it coheres. The pieces slot together like well-hammered tenon joints in a chunky piece of hand-made furniture. I can imagine this music being played in a nightclub, or an art gallery or the way I’ve been using it at home: to start the day as I’m giving the kids their breakfast.