Asmus Tietchens - Ornamente (Zwischen Null und Eins) [LINE - 2015]This is at least the sixth release by legendary German producer of "absolute music" Asmus Tietchens on Richard Chartier's often austere Line Imprint. This stark collection of five wispy, almost mysterious electronic compositions comes four years after his last effort on the label, Soirée.
The packaging is the usual minimal slipcase characteristic of Line, adorned with a design that is little more than large brackets set against a pale blue background; a little black zero and a one the only other elements present. The title and the enigmatic quote included on the reverse of the slipcase, from noted Romanian philosophical miserablist and recluse Emil Cioran adds to the sense of mystery. The tracks are titled simply Ornamente, numbering one to five.
The first piece is indicative of the whole set; slowly evolving microtonal electronics that could be the internal monologue of some deep space probe. Strange, pure tones flicker in the dark without a hint of melody or harmony, without even much in the way or rhythm of repetition. And yet it's not quite entirely formless or abstract, indeed as the title suggest (It translates as Ornamental - From Zero to One) there may well be some deep seated mathematical or binary logic to the composition beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.
Ornamente 2 has more of a drone quality to it. Not the all encompassing cavernous type mind you but something odd, subtle, machinic and yet evolving in an almost organic fashion. There's a touch of low end and even perhaps a bit of reverb to add depth. Above all it's intensely creepy, as if some alien presence was stalking you through the plumbing of your home.
The third variation strips things back even further to leave only the bass hum and barest flickering of electronic skree. At its most abstract it's reminiscent of Xenakis's Concrete pH or some of the less busy pieces with the UPIC system. It invites close listening in the manner of observing some sort of physics experiment. However you might want to describe the music presented here, ornamental it is not, at least in the conventional sense. But Tietchens is not a conventional composer of electronic music. His output has ranged over the best part of four decades from industrial soundscapes, to abstract synth pop and the sort of absolute electronic distillation found on the series of records composed using only sine waves.
Ornamente is not a surprising development in this regard given his previous outing for Line involved "recycling" old work in a process that progressively rendered the originals mere polished bones. It's a shame there is not more in the way of explanation with these pieces, that while occasionally interesting texturally, maintain such an austere economy of composition that keeping your ear trained is sometimes the hardest task.