Originally Published in July 2004
Biotop is the second of Die Stadt’s series of 18 Asmus Tietchens reissues, mostly from originals on Sky. Opening with two bonus tracks that are expected to pop up throughout the catalogue (with “Fast Food” this may be the closest to the pop realm I have heard his sound stretch) and influenced by its era of new wave and punk, it shows Tietchens had a flair for wiggly Moogs and Rolands. This playful piece almost mocks the sophistication and development of his overall oeuvre, though it proves he can develop a sound that draws on the immediacy of new developments of technology (even though some of the mixers, decks and oscillators he currently plays are over thirty years old) – and a cheeky sense of humor. These releases reproduce the vibrancy of the original cover art, here in bright Day-Glo pink and green with geometric text design by Tina Tuschemess similar to the straight ahead boldness of Talking Heads’ 77. Tracks like the asymmetrically rhythmic “Die elektrische Horde” may have predated similar work by younger contemporaries such as John Foxx and David Van Tieghem, but Tietchens’ sound builds a greater tension, excludes unnecessary vocals and choral riffs, then detonates a batch of flavorful short pieces filled with harmony and punctuation. It’s a great look at how Tietchens immerses himself in the sound of an era without pinning himself down to particular trends, and while the equipment sounds a bit dated, it gives the work a documentary/historical rather than antiquated feel. On “Blutmund” you can hear the future of say Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy – “I want your soul……” After listening to this I want to break out my copy of Liquid Liquid to contrast: it’s that good, despite an endearing awkwardness that wanders a bit. Dare I say that Biotop is a fun record challenging his more academic later works? (What will Beta-Menge sound like in 2015, though?) With all eighteen tracks here at four minutes or under, these may actually be a collection of “songs” in the scheme of things. “Sauberland” sounds like a tribute to early Devo and all its spawn – upright, perky and conceptually edgy. The closing title cut’s caustic vibration transcends in a flight of pure, spectral light.
Spät-Europa, the third reissue of the series, was originally released in 1981, and its opening title track starts like a church service, choir angelically chanting until a churning, dark synth rechannels the sphere of menacing sound into a monster movie, bleeding into the corrosive “Frautod Grafitto.” Unlike Biotop this sounds like a lost Jack Smith soundtrack, the intimidating “Poanpo” as a children’s novel gone awry. The electronics are sharp and retro-futuristically sci-fi. Most tracks on this 22-track recording are about two minutes in length and have an archived birdlike alter-persona; the crow is watching, waiting, honing in. Spät-Europa plays like a ghostlike fairground after hours, headless operators on “Bescheidenes Vergnügen” winding the machines with celestial muscle; the amusement is in the absence of rational gravity, the ethereal space is accented only by the wisp of icy cold air and lingering stale beer odors left from the revellers of the day. In comparison, the Lene Lovich-like levity of “Schone Dritte Welt” croons and dips like a schnauzer in heat. The gaiety of it all is like being lost in the swirl of PacMan curves while swallowing a larger than mouth-sized dollop of fiery pink cotton candy on a stick – sensory overload. Once you get your equilibrium back out pops the cold, gray dragnet of drone presented by “Erloschene Herzen” and friskier, yet moderately self-indulgent “Endspannung” and its leisure-suit percussion. The Cabaret Voltaire sound-alike “Ausverkauf” bounces metallically and screeches around the sharp curves of its James Bond theme. The mesmerizing choppiness of “Stille Hafen” presents beats by way of the acoustics presented like an orchestra covered in liquid latex, peering out of their cocoon and emerging like baby rats on the following “Epitaph.” Here a piano caresses the chaos, brings the tension to a standstill. The two bonus tracks rewind the motor, acting more like an encore re-presentation of some earlier elements heard herein. The closing “Zum Tee bei Frau Hilde” sways intoxicated with a boatload of fermented, archival synth spurts that are as quirky as they are refried. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz…
Switzerland-based Jason Kahn teams up with Sirr-ecords to bring us Miramar, recorded in Caudeval, France. Beyond the initial blatant warp of drone a tinkling undercurrent of pixie joy is just barely audible. As time passes, and the tone shifts just a hair, the subtlety is erased into a whirring abyss that throbs and spins. Kahn’s analogue synth bounces off the bevels of space, with an adroit curvature that ends in deadening silence. When track two flares up, it’s more a motor than an instrument, but listen on and the atmosphere quickly erupts into bloated banality with hints of sinister intent. It just hovers, though, mostly balanced, perhaps more focused on the finish line than on the gravity of the moment. The five tracks here sort of act/react in succession: Miramar’s intent is not self-evident – it’s a bit of a dreary collapsing enigma, actually. It has something in common with what has become known as the classic technical difficulty signals, audible and a bit menacing, repetitive and unnerving, but what sets Kahn’s work apart is its very minor tonal shifting that plays with such completely poker-faced dealings. This is complex listening to the nth degree, somewhere in the abyss between dark ambient and electronic noise experimentation, and its retrofit will certainly fend off your casual listener, appealing instead to those specifically interested in perhaps the findings of a forensic acoustician. Let’s say he is on to something, though he has yet to find his map – this is his journey.