Die Kunst ist Tot, part 2

The second new record from Robert Schalinski on the label 90%Wasser is NNOI#2 (WVINYL 027), a split between Asmus Tietchens and Frieder Butzmann, men accurately described here as “two German greats of the electronic avant-garde of the last 40 years”.

Asmus Tietchens is one whose ultra-cool, distant minimalism has been baffling and intriguing me for years now, and some day I hope to truly find the key that might help me unlock these sealed cryptograms in sound. Whatever he turns his hand to, the results always display a certain assurance and conviction, even when it’s far from clear how the sounds are being generated or what their purpose may be. Here he occupies all of side A with seven excerpts from Stenogramm, all carefully numbered like plates in a scientific journal. If we can believe the elusive liner notes, there’s some “reduction” process at work here, and the concepts of space, sculpture, and abstraction all offer viable terms and language to grasp at in attempting to process this alienating material. Even so, it’s not quite at unsettling as the previous record, and Tietchens adheres to a ruthless internal logic as he executes his tasks with clarity and economy. If only we could find out the basis for this logic. Not everything Asmus Tietchens does manages to find a place in my printed circuits, but this one works really well for reasons I can’t understand; it might help that receiving the sonic data in compacted two-minute episodes, each one offering a slightly new twist on the argument, is a good way of making it digestible.

Most of side two is occupied by Frieder Butzmann performing ‘SinusToneSuite – Live in Zernikow’ for precisely 19 mins. A sinus tone is something used is the area of psycho-acoustical science, and the term is used to describe any tone with a single frequency, most often generated by an oscillator. It so happens there is a brand of homeopathic medicine sold under this name that might help to clear your nasal passages, though I suspect this is furthest from Butzmann’s intentions. Nor am I sure if he even used synthesizers to generate this very busy and fascinating array of puzzling, mostly non-natural sounds; the press notes refer to “sinustones that could be found between generators, vocal cords and wooden tubes”, and indeed one can hear a human voice (heavily processed) and deranged whistling sounds included in this madcap experiment. A more extreme contrast with the A side could hardly be imagined; Frieder Butzmann is discursive, holding forth at some length in pursuit of his theme, compared to the concise close-lipped riddles of Asmus Tietchens. What’s more he sounds like he’s having fun and prepared to indulge a certain amount of spontaneity in his japes, though ‘SinusToneSuite’ still emerges as a powerful formalist piece of electronic music. Of the four sides proposed by these two records, this might be the one to hook in the innocent listener and prepare them for a path down the more adventurous lanes of German electronic music. Like its brother, this one is packaged in a gatefold sleeve printed with Frank Diersch artworks. Both from 28th September 2020.

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