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Zeitkratzer & Terre Thaemlitz - Electronics [Zeitkratzer - 2008]

The Zeitkratzer ensemble joined forces with German ambient artist Terre Thaemlitz in 2008 to create a work of modern classical / new music modestly titled "Electronics".  The proves a very strange name for this album, which contains very few electronics, certainly far fewer electronic sounds than acoustic sounds.  The six 5-12 minute pieces found here are written an augmental orchestral instrumentation.

The backbone, and most prominent element, of nearly every song is an unchanging beat (played on classical percussion) at a consistent energy level, pleasantly "motorik" and Krautrock-ish.  This music, however, does not have the unpredictability and ambition of the great kraut rock, indeed it is quite calculated, orderly and restrained. 

No improvisation occurs behind the beat, and the other elements that come into play, mostly chords and longtones from the horns and winds, seem oddly chosen, as they are hardly adequate to fill the space or provide any real melody, though they sound quite pleasant in their own right.  The music remains empty and open feeling, even in its densest moments.  There is little bass, and no tonal grounding.  It doesn't help either that the recording sounds thin.

Without real momentum growing behind the rhythm, I typically lose interest before the end of each track.  The band, it seems, does as well: most of the tracks end with an unmemorable trail off, or gradual stripping down of elements, leaving eventually only the beat.

The 2nd piece "500 Year Orbit" is the best song here.  Unlike the others it has a clear stylistic identity: it is unabashedly ambient, and does not center around a rhythm.  There is piano playing here with a little more of the looseness missing from the rest of the album, and there's a floaty minimalist beauty to the whole affair, which has a luxurious balanced orchestration.

When I first put on the album, I was truly surprised by the opening song "Down Home Kami-Sakunobe".  I was expecting an attitude of pure classical intellectualism, and was quite jarred when a repeated lively 'down home' chant began, "Heyyy-yess-uh... Sistas-uh...  Work!  Work, work, work, work!".  It is delivered with a preacher's inflections, and sets a strange tone for the album, which otherwise ends up adhering mostly to the classical intellectualism I initially expected.  It's hard to put my finger on the feel they're going for here, and I am still confused at the inclusion of these vocals.

"Sloppy 42nds" is also out of place here, violently disturbing the measured serenity of the rest of the disk.  The same kind of rhythm takes hold again, but this time all manner of chaotic free jazz skronk is loudly overlaid, and the strings engage in piercing upward glissandos in unison, each lasting nearly 30 seconds.  Like much of the rest of the album, it becomes predictable, but here the harshness pushes the piece to a much higher level of obnoxiousness.  This is one to skip.

The final piece, "Superbonus", is divided into two 12 minute parts, and arbitrarily so, as the transition point between the two tracks marks no significant change in the sound.  The drums are here again, slower and more comfortable this time.  There are no horns or strings around them, only singing metallic resonances with beautiful whistling overtones.  This is a nice change of pace, and not unlike the hallucinatory sounds preferred by Steven Stapleton of Nurse With Wound.  At 25 minutes it overstays its welcome if one is actively listening, but makes for good background music.

Conclusively, Zeitkratzer & Terre Thaemlitz created a true oddity with "Electronics".  It's certainly inventive and original in many respects, but becomes monotonous and feels aimless at many points in its running time, and it's hard to tell if there's any real reason for the combining of these disparate ideas.  It's lacking in any real intensity.  I hope in the future these musicians will impose some more direction onto their creativity. 

Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5

Josh Landry
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