Nautical / Nuuk

Got a couple of Mille Plateaux reissues of topnotch avant-Techno and electronica…German duo Porter Ricks first put out Biokinetics (MILLE PLATEAUX MP26) in 1996 on the Chain Reaction label, sublabel of Basic Channel. It was originally packaged in an embossed tin box, at a time when that sort of packaging strategy was reasonably novel, and aimed I suppose to look as “functional” as possible with its stark typography, as if it could be mistaken for a component used in electrical engineering.

Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner are now reckoned to be pioneers of this brand of avant-garde beat music, embracing the aesthetic of pared-down minimalism and introducing a certain indefinable “ambient” strain to the overall sound, and also flirting with dub mixing in a highly inventive manner. Most of the tracks here were originally issued that same year as 12-inch remixes, original vinyl copies of which are now fairly sought-after. The exact nuances in the sound variations and techniques they came up with are not something I’m able to comment on – experts refer to the way Porter Ricks departed from the strictures of Detroit Techno (which was more hard-edged) and strived to develop some sort of fuzzy-edged, “underwater” sound, adding faint layers of miasmic treatment to slightly blunt the force of their mysterious beats. What I’m digging on today’s spin is how they manage to sidestep such musical conventions as melody, and form, deliberately turning in an unvarying track for 5 or 8 minutes at a time, with only the barest of “tunes” to keep the listener hooked and interested. Mesmerising without feeling the need to numb the ears. At the same time, the diffuse and denatured sound is quite some way from the ultra-sharp textures we tend to associate with others in the German school, especially Raster-Noton. There’s a kind of cloaked anonymity to all the tracks which I enjoy enormously, and picking up on the “maritime” themes expressed in many of the titles, the album can create the impression of diving to the depths in a black submarine.

Despite all of these features, Biokinetics is not a “cold” record, and you can see why it’s now regarded as a benchmark release. Reissued in 2012 on the American Type label, this CD and double-LP edition marks the 25th anniversary of this fine album. Thomas Köner provided the photo for the cover artworks.

Thomas Köner’s solo album Nuuk (MP27) is of the same vintage, originally issued in 1997, but quite a different beast – it’s a cold and minimal set of glacial electronic drones, directly inspired by the creator’s travels to the Arctic zones. This was first issued as part of a four-CD box set, which I happen to own – I recall it was a time when “ambient” was an exciting new genre (unlike today, when many composers appear to be thoroughly disgusted with both the term and the music within the genre), and featured four specially-commissioned discs by Paul Schütze, Pauline Oliveros, and even Keiji Haino under his Nijiumu guise. Köner realises his vision of these desolate regions through very slow and carefully-constructed episodes, where the changes are subtle and the mood is subdued, yet still manages to create an immersive, all-encompassing sensation.

This kind of cold ambient minimalism has grown to be a lot more commonplace since 1997, but it’s evident that Köner was not only an influential pioneer, he also did it in a way that remains unsurpassed. I say this in the light of the Glacial Movements Records label operated in Rome by Alessandro Tedeschi, a label which since 2006 has focused exclusively on recreating the arctic in music and image; every album cover features the ice and the snow, and every title references it in some way. As to Nuuk, I think it was made by digital means, which I mention since at one time Thomas Köner seemed to be fixated on creating music by means of brushed gongs. If you enjoy this freezing blast, you’ll want to start lobbying for reissues of the other related titles from this period, such as Permafrost and Teimo. There’s also a video art rendition made by the artist, I think available as part of CD and DVD package from 2004.

Both the above from 21 June 2021.