Monday, 30 August 2010

Memories Of Mr. 23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)

ALFRED 23 HARTH - @ Blankies End + @ Eighties End

Laubhuette Studio

Described by its inventor as “another kind of looking back into the last decade”, @ Blankies End is one of the best records that Alfred 23 Harth has released in that period. By analyzing the titles, a forward counting towards 2012 can be detected while observing the recent past. In classically puzzling style, and open to any interpretation by the reader, Harth writes that “…being conscious about every moment we count & live in linearity (…) means a moment within a future moment (2012 is here & now & yesterday)”. The album’s content is both arcane and stimulating; repeated scrutiny is a must. “Ten Tin” contains materials that seem to mix human snoring, chanting monks and bubbling hisses in a conduit, the pace defined by a sort of electrostatic rhythm upon which the clarinet sings with unusual peacefulness, if just temporarily. It’s an inexplicably meditative vision, sounding a little scary at the same time, the grunting tone of Harth’s voice disloyal to the mental image I treasure of him as a timidly smiling gentleman. “Elf” (“eleven”) utilizes distortion in large doses, mashing and mangling snippets of concrete and instrumental substance in homage to the blasphemy of extreme dissonance. The toothsomely vicious results are to be savoured in the restaurant where the finest electroacoustic recipes are served. “Gesternmorgen” is an abstraction: an amassment of simple melodies clashing in adjacency, hyper-acrid reed perspirations, corrosion of heterogeneously alien harmonies and a pinch of disaffection for the cruel world of ordinary music. At the very beginning, “Popol Vuh” might evoke Jon Hassell (the pulse, the nearly tribal atmosphere). The differences become obvious when Harth starts superimposing the different reeds; meanwhile, the background gradually transforms the better intentions in an intimidating mutation of a religious chant, halfway through a sacrificial invocation and the complete disconnection from corporeality. The whole unfolds across undecipherable utterances and other assorted subliminal persuasions. “Twentyhundredtwelve” (namely 2012 or 20+1+2, as the composer would have it) features Choi Sun Bae’s trumpet in a ominous hint to the “enigmatic” year which will define once and for all if those famous prophecies are legitimate or not (curiously, December 21 – the presumed ending date – is also Frank Zappa’s birthday). Again, the voice is a fundamental ingredient of the track, which grows on the listener memorably amidst drones, squeals, gurgles, vociferous solos and warped lamentations, a remarkable episode in Harth’s recorded output. “Back Lantern” explores the fringes of the frequency region with a quick wink to the sweet cheapness of certain synthetic patches from two decades earlier (more on that later); nonetheless, the underlying extraterrestrial mantras and ebbing-and-flowing glottolalia are what actually corresponds to its actual muscle, highlighting a type of spiritual quest that sees the fear of the unknown as a regular incidence in an advanced being’s daily reflection. If someone had taught me to pray like this as a young child, I’d still be there at the church. “Der Schlaf Ist Eine Süsse Melodie” ends the set in typical A23H fashion, and I’m not going to reveal the secret. Go to the artist’s website and ask for a copy of this CDR pronto.

On a first listen, the connection between the above milestone and @ Eighties End doesn’t appear so easy (nothing is when this artist is involved). For starters, both recordings were realized at the closing stages of a decade (2009 the former, 1989 this). Then, a somewhat melancholic clarinet characterizes big chunks of the music(s) quite profoundly. Yet the reason behind Harth’s choice of retrieving this work from the archives is the perception of a reborn interest for some of the sounds in vogue in the 80s, with particular reference to notable presets (which, sure enough, this record comprises). The collection includes segments from a pair of diverse soundtracks: Antigone, a theatre piece played at Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus of which Mr. 23 was the musical director at the time, and Lachen, Weinen, Lieben, a film then broadcasted by ZDF. If the theatre act calls for something dramatically relating performers and listeners – for example, “Antigone.Nacht” offers exactly that in a progression of atmospheres at times reminiscent of Thierry Zaboitzeff – the soundtrack for the television feature shows a new facet of this multi-talented man, who manages to achieve credibility in that difficult field despite the intermittent use of timbres that everybody knows inside and out (…mainly from Korg workstations: lots of musicians, including yours truly, fell prey of those pads in that epoch) but, in his hands, are meshed and delivered with such subtleness that they often result as adequate, even to this day. The beauty of a sound always depends on the context and, especially, on the person who exploits it. In that sense, Harth is invulnerable: the control on the mechanisms and the correct sequencing of the sonic occurrences remains inflexible, the concepts are expressed without excess of discursiveness (which would contradict the music’s designed role in this circumstance). Ultimately, this is a slight detour from the renowned capriciousness of the German’s acoustic craft that permits a partial relief interspersed with a modicum of weirdness (as it happens in “Antigone.Ölfässer”, the general sonority enhanced by the actors via enormous oil cans in a peculiar Mad Max-like scenario).