P16.D4 - Passagen(boxset) [Monotype Records - 2012]P16.D4 were a German avant sound collective who existed between 1980 & 1988. Their sound blurred the lines between noise, industrial, avant-garde electronics, modern classical, jazz improv, Musique concrète & beyond. This new box set brings together pretty much all of the projects output, and it offers up a great selection of weird, puzzling and often noisy sonic fruits.
The box set consists of 6 CD’s, one DVD, a 40 page large format book, and a selection of four postcards. The set comes in a long white card box that features fairly minimal lo-fi 1980’s artwork, which doesn’t really hint at any of the noisy, strange & decidedly off-kilter sonic with-in. Each of the seven discs comes it’s own min gatefold cardboard slip sleeve.
First up in the set we have “Kühe In 1/2 Trauer”, which was the projects first released full length from 1984. The original album featured ten tracks, and these as whole album created a very unsettling, strangle, doomy & noisy sonic trip. The tracks here mix together all manner of lo-fi grainy noise making, looped choir samples, sawing & unsettling guitar textures, organ & sax improv, bleak & spaced-out piano clunks, all manner of sonic matter taking in screams, laughter, animal sounds, washing machines, watchers. And layered 'n' looped percussion that takes in wheelbarrow, spatula, baking trays & chairs. Sound wise it’s very difficult to tie down into one place at times it sounds like a denser more jumpy take on Nurse With Wound, at others like some strange & nightmarish avant classical improv jazz meets 1980’s industrial collective, and at others it sounds complete of it’s own odd self. The tracks are often jarring, and to start with they often feel quite radom & free form; but with each re-visit to the album you start to make out the skewed yet controlled chaos of the whole thing. This edition of the album adds on three extra non tracks that appeared on a 1982 Selektion label compilation, and these go from: disorientating mixture roam sinister bass ‘n’ guitar lines, & amassed chant samples 'n' crowd sound. Onto seared & crashing avant jazz punk darts that slide down into nightmarish & hazd bleeds of noir jazz & wounding doomed piano stabs. Through to low strung bass throbs, weird vocal gabble, and surreal tape swirl mixers.
Next in the set we have 1984’s “Distruct”, which is possibly the collectives most known work as it was built from sound elements sent in from various experimental, noisy & odd projects from around the world. We have elements from the likes of: Nurse With Wound, Merzbow, Nocturnal Emissions, The Haters, DDAA, Vortex Campaign etc. The collective used & edited the sent in elements to create a crazed canvas of ten tracks that darted from unsettling & warbling guitar dwells lined with jarring thrown around percussion & surreal/ sinister vocal chants. Through to tracks that start out as churning & feasting lines of noise that are fed with type writer machine gun fire & weird field recordings, before drifting into mixture squeaking door & water elements that are played over by romantic violin swoons. Onto jarring on/off march samples that are bayed by alto sax honk mixed in with jerking electronics. Through to avant mixture of squeal horn & guitar scuttling that morphs into brief doom rock styling before searing into churning machine tone meets avant jazz chatter. Onto to throb ‘n’ sinister grooved early elctrioncia/ industrial cross breeds that collapse into dense & noise surrealism and beyond. As a whole the album is a bit more bright & crazed compared to the often doomed & unsettling air of “Kühe In 1/2 Trauer”, but once again it’s near impossible to categorize what this album is genre wise, as it darts around so much & doesn’t fit into any one sonic convention or form.
Disc number three in the set comes in the form of “Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie!”, which appeared in 1986. This original double Lp release was a collaboration between P16.D4 & one man German experimental project S.B.O.T.H.I.(Swimming Behavior Of The Human Infant). The original release consisted of one LP of untouched & fairly raw material from P16.D4 & S.B.O.T.H.I, and one LP of the material from the first LP re-worked by both P16.D4 & S.B.O.T.H.I. This new reissue brings together the four original ‘raw’ P16.D4’s tracks, along with five re-worked/ re-moulded tracks….so there are none of the original S.B.O.T.H.I. tracks here, and one of the re-worked/ re-moulded is missing too- so really we only have half of the story here. I’ll have to say on the whole this is the least rewarding releases of the set- the four ‘original/raw’ tracks are just that rather un-dynamic & unfinished versions of their early work with predominantly a improv/ droning collection of instrumental textures & rather un-interesting noise elements; there just seems no surprise or spark in the tracks, and to be perfectly honest there just rather dull. The other re-worked/re-moulded five tracks are again a little underwhelming in their feel, sure there is more going on in them, but once again they seem like a lesser version of their past work. The release is topped off by a unreleased live track from 1991”Ephemeral March Of The Dead Monks”, and this is the best thing on this disc with it’s warbling & baying mangled up instrumental textures, that sound both pained & haunted. But ultimately it’s not from the same time frame as the rest of the material on this release, & the only connection with this release is it utilizes elements from “Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie!”.
Disc four is taken up by “Tionchor” which was a original released in 1987, and it complied together 15 tracks that appeared on various compilations between 1982 & 1985. This reissue also features three extra tracks from the Sonoris label 1997 reissue of the album, along with one new unreleased track- so total there are 19 tracks on this disc. And for me this disc is one of the highlights of the set, as it deals with the project at their most noisy, jarring & unhinged. The tracks are a often manic tapestry of unsettling industrial noise, doomed piano elements, march music & choir samples, low grade & ugly improv, various German tongue based sample elements, and all manner of off-kilter /unhinged sonic matter. Each of the 19 tracks here are as deranged, surprising & head-screwing as the next. I won’t go into track details, as I think it will ruin some of the surprise & bent/ noisy wonder of this release….but if you have a thing for lo-grade/ lo-fi noisey & surreal sound you'll be like a dog in fox muck with this disc.
Next in the set we have “Acrid Acme (Of) P16.D4”, which originally appeared in 1989. This album was broken up in to three distinct sonic sections- first we have Section 1: All tracks in this section are based on material recorded in 1981 which was treated and recomposed in 1987. The idea of this section was to re-work with early rock-recordings in a non-nostalgic way analysing the relations between actual and early-80 approaches. This section takes in three tracks, “Maba 4. 12”, “Kriemhilds Rache”, and “Rotting Outscratched”; and basically these tracks conists of cut-up lo-grade ‘rock’ song elements that get more jarring, stop/ starting & mangled the father you go into the album- lord knows what listener's back in the 80’s thought if they were un-familiar with the project, they truly must have thought their stereo's were going into terminal melt down!
Section 2 is made up of compositions featured on the Captured Music Festival in February 1987-the elements been rearranged for their "pure acoustic" features. And this section consists of four tracks “10 Up / 3 Down” “Sabine Mit Helmut ...” “Das Lamm, Der Dolch” and “Acrid Addled Adze”. These take in harmonic organ rising & lowering doom dirges that are sudden attacked by all jarring/ demented off –angle percussive elements, onto electric piano off/on elements that are jarred by improv creaks & violin scratchers, through odd & off-kilter tape element constructions that take in melted & bent piano wondering.
Section 3 take in tracks that were improvised direct to tape, and this section takes in two tracks “Half Cut Crows” & “Interfaces”. The first track is a wonderfully unsettling & nervy joinery into jerky cut up & groove bound noise elements- the track utilizes two turntables’ to create this wonderful rapid stop/ start landscape that fires out elements of gammoning trash metal, sawing horn work, vocal snippets ect. And the second track utilize a coal box, a shovel, electronics, tapes & radio to create this strange scraping ‘n’ dragging landscape that’s alive with odd murmur & electro circling.
Section 4 is a collaboration between P16.D4 & Merzbow entitled “Zur Genese Der Halbbildung”, and this comes in at just shy of the twenty minute mark. The track finds the two projects mixing together: all manner backwards/ forwards musical samples. A selection of cluttering, dragging & scraping elements, dramatic ‘n’ jaunting church organ runs, violin, electronics & turntables elements to create this wonderfully surreal & unhinged tapestry of sound which keeps you on your toes through-out it’s run-time. This re-issue doesn’t feature any extra material, but I don’t think there’s any way you could top the head melting & pace changing wonder of the P16.D4 & Merzbow collaboration. On the whole “Acrid Acme (Of) P16.D4” is twisted & deranged masterpiece that dismantles the musical rule book, and bends/ melts into P16.D4 sonic outlook.
Last in the set of audio discs is “Three projects”, and this was released firstly in double LP on RRRecords in 1988 under the name of Bruitiste, then at a latter date in a few other forms. As the title suggests this release brings together three separate yet related P16.D4 projects. First of theses is Bruitiste, and this section brings together four tracks that were recorded in the P16.D4 style by none members of the project- these tracks really take a more clean & often sleek sounding take on the projects off kilter-structure & genre mixing sound; there interesting enough I guess, but to me they felt too academic & really lacked the passion/surprise of P16.D4 original work.
The next section is Captured Music and this brings together five tracks that were recorded at the Captured music festival in February 1987- the tracks find P16.D4 organising non- P16.D4 material. These five tracks offer up a suitable chaotic mixture of heavy machinery tones, managed up musical elements, skittering/sped-up mixture of different sound genres cut-up in the P16.D4 manner. These tracks are ok again, but they some how they seem to lack the spark of the projects original material.
The last section Fifty which finds Merzbow organising P16.D4 material, this section is made up of three tracks. And these are the highlight of this release for me as they find Merzbow going down a similar sonic route to the track they did togeather on “Acrid Acme (Of) P16.D4” with a manic splicing ‘n’ mixing between cut-up musical flotsam and jetsam, stereo channel & quirky sounding noise textures, & creative/ crazed instrumental textures.
This new edition of the release adds on one new bonus track in the shape of V4, this was an unreleased track from the Fifty collaboration, and it’s just under five minutes of brooding textural cluttering & reverberations that are a-run with scuttling noise elements & fog horn like bays. It’s ok, but not as impressive as the other Fifty tracks
The DVD disc in the set is entitled “Ethereal Ephemera”, and it brings together thirteen fairly short films that last between just under a minute to just over the ten minute mark- with a total DVD runtime of just under a hour. The films are split up into two sections: Captured Music & 4 Filme- Captured Music takes in nine films that are extracts from the visual material that created by the visual side of P16.D4:Markus Caspers & Horst Manus. And 4 Filme conists of four films that were initial created for a posthumous P16.D4 video release by Markus Caspers. All thirteen films offer up a fairly experimental selection of visual be it reel or darting German texts, obscure & moody black ‘n’ white filming of objects, often violent & surreal live performers, or colleges of aged super eight footage. Much like the projects sonic work the visual side is once more quite jarring & odd, yet really disconnected from any specific theme or setting meaning the listener/watcher very much puts their only personal spin on what’s presented to them here. The sonic backing is taken from a selection of their album work, though also there are three films here that feature un-released sonic material.
The sets booklet comes have the forty page long format booklet - this comes in the form of stapled booklet that features a metallic gold & black cover, with black & white text/photos/ artwork inside. Contents wise we have:
A reprint of a interview with one of the bands key members Ralf Wehowsky- the interview was originally published in 2005 in The Wire, and it’s more of a career overview of Wehowsky himself, sure the project is mentioned but the article is far from a focused P16.D4 Piece.
A write-up from New York based experimental electronic composure Howard Stelzer about his encounters with P16.D4- this is the most interesting/rewarding thing here, as he talks about when he first encounter the bands recorded work as a 16 year old, and the effects in had on him.
A selection of printed reviews, flyers & project photos
A detailed discography of the project
On the whole it’s an acceptable enough visual/ written word companion to the set, though I wish maybe there had been more effort to discuss the projects history, and maybe a write-up on the production backgrounds/ themes for each of the releases in with the set…..but this is a minor quibble, when your faced with a most consistent & well put together box set like this.
So to sum-up this whole set is a wonderful & much needed look back at the work of one of Europe’s most challenging, creative & uncategorizable sonic projects. Really this is a must have item- if you have any interest in any form of noisey, off-kilter or surreal sonic fare.