From The Secret Lodge

Jürgen Eckloff is a member of the far-out Berlin art collective Column One, a mysterious bunch with whom I’ve recently become somewhat preoccupied, because their work is so absurd and unfathomable. Eckloff has had a sporadic solo career with a number of albums appearing on the 90% Wasser label, such as 2004’s Zwei Sinterflaschen In Wechselschaltung – a piece of abstract sound art at whose dimensions only a bold man could guess. His latest here is Angeflantschte Fugenstücke (90% WASSER WVINYL021), a vinyl LP where the entire first side is occupied by ‘Bel Wanzen Geld Zuruck’, one of the most confusing pieces of installation art I’ve endured with my two ears and shrivelled brain. It dates from 2004, originally appeared at the Sibirische Zelle series of events ¹ in Berlin, and proposes an unsettling, slightly alien space for the listener to explore; “a seemingly empty room with greasy walls” ² is the only information we’re given. Echoing rattles and firedoors closing in the distance create an illusion of space, but pushed to the fore is an unappetising slurping sound resembling a greedy animal or human lapping away with its broad tongue at a bowl of some repulsive foodstuff. Maybe it’s grease; maybe someone is licking the greasy walls. A brilliant combination of cerebral, sterile genius with something vulgar and horrid.

The B side is more approachable, with a number of short experiments in what we might call “documentary sound art”, but it’s impossible to fathom what sort of “events” they might be a document of. Part of the enjoyment we have here is trying to engage with these absurd tales of near-madness. ‘Fettrohre’ involves unusual objects and loopy voices in a joyless romp; one might almost call it a dismal glimpse of a 19th-century insane asylum. Mortel I-IV is a triology in four parts (the notes delight in contradictions, to further confuse the mind of the poor listener), where the toy collection of Joseph Beuys meets the close-mic techniques of Gregory Büttner, informed by the child-like wonder of a Paul Klee and the insane freakishness of a Tristran Tzara. I’m agape at the brilliance of these absurdist rattlings and squeaks…the daring simplicity of Eckloff’s technique here makes a mockery of conventional sound art, if there is such a thing as “conventional” in this area, making the efforts of even Rolf Julius seem over-worked and contrived. Eckloff is planning to release a film, called Girls In Dirty Aprons, which will feature all of the sounds on Side B; be sure to book a ticket for that cinematic marvel when it turns up at the Ritzy.

Lastly we’ve got the nine-minute ‘Jazz’, another completely preposterous statement of genius, informed by the same mischievous spirit as the A side. The strange objects involve more rattling and creaking and a very squeaky door opening and closing…if such it be…the squeaky door resembles a squeaky saxophone or trombone played very badly, so perhaps this is Eckloff’s way of celebrating “free jazz” and sneering at the genre at the same time. Or indeed making fun of all musical pretensions. It’s serious fun…the performance of this art-action is convincing and deliberate, not playing around with technique for its own sake, and has a strong commitment behind it; and the recording quality is remarkable, producing a vivid statement of weird organic noise. You’re probably all familiar with Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir, and I expect Eckloff is too…but today I’ll buy Eckloff’s resonant variation on the theme, which knocks most academic musique concrète into a cocked beret. Useful to get this record; I feel more on Eckloff’s wavelength now, and it might help me to decode the bizarre extremities of Column One in future. From 25 May 2016.

1. Literally translates as “Siberian Cell”. It’s described as a combination of club and secret lodge housed in a remote corner of northeast Berlin from January 2004 ‘til the end of 2005. The avowed aim was art-in-secret, keeping the work away from anyone but those in the know.

2. One is tempted to look for a link here with Joseph Beuys and his use of fat as sculptural material, but…