Jan Warnke - Antagonist / Agonist [Geräuschmanufaktur - 2018]Antagonist / Agonist is the first album from Jan Warnke - the first using his own full name rather than an alias. Labelhead at Geräuschmanufaktur, Jan has operated under the J. Adolphe alias in the past and has contributed to numerous collaborations including Red Cliffs and The Dead Mauriacs - both duos make an appearance on the tape as Thorsten Soltau and Olivier Prieur present remixes of Jan's work at the end of each side respectively. The release comes as a single pro-dubbed cassette with artwork and design by Jan himself (as he has done with his entire label catalogue).
First up on the album is 'Nursing Wounds', beginning with a quiet fade in of lusciously glistening synth. A soft pool of sound that comes closer and closer to the listener, in its approach more melody is discerned and the once glistening synth lines begin to shine. Slowly a subtle, knocking chime overlays the synths in their continuing climb in volume, a perfectly sparse percussive addition - I imagine two empty bottles knocking eachother lightly in a breeze. A low-level high-pitched wail pushes us out of the reverent, delay-heavy synth into the soft patter of rain-like static and a slow-churning ambience that feels dark and foreboding. Squirming and pulsating synth sounds worm their way over this churn until all foreboing atmosphere is depleted, what was once dark now ambivalent and curious. They seem to be continually 'straying' sounds that cannot find an end decision, as they attempt to do so more percussive elements are worked in that snap and twist around them. There is a real attention to space and atmosphere throughout this track, a real journey of sound - each part of the arrangement seems to be aware of itself in relation to the whole and as such is oozing with emotional impact and inspiring to the imagination.
Secondly we have 'Promiscuous and Unwanted', which begins with a similarly unorthodox percussive atmosphere made up of sine-like whining and sputtering crackles that seem to exist in a dense fog. The synth that slowly lurches over this sounds reversed and slowed down and eventually sounds as though it is a small, recurring loop. Various bleeps and bloops and distorted eddies of sound punctuate the looping as it falls in and out of earshot throughout the track. The result is a blissfully dream-like sound that washes over the listener like a cool bath.
The Dead Mauriac's 'Version Cubist' closes the first side of the tape. It is hard to be clear which track of Jan's is being remixe - it might be that this is material which was meant entirely for the remix and so does not appear elsewhere, it's hard to say just from listening. We open with a very 'cut and paste' style sound-cutting - as though we are switching from station to station on an analogue radio or listening to a spliced tape collage - and yet as the track progresses we also have very digital-seeming sounds, glitches and bleeps and splutters that convulse throughout the track erratically.
Beginning the second side we have 'A Protagonist' - a ringing halo of a soft high-pitched frequency beckons us inwards to a shimmering pool of gloopy synth which is once again peppered with glistening beeping droplets that supply a rhytmic force and create a journeying, or even narrative, sense for the listener. These take turns to come to the fore throughout in a very cyclical fashion, each new cycle brings us a new development, however subtle.
Secondly, we have 'An Antagonist' - what we are led to believe may be the polar opposite of what we have just heard previously. However, we hear a similar shimmering and angelic pool of warm synth beckoning us inward and rusty clanging and thudding glitching gloops that skirt around the pool. As I was listening to this a thunderstorm started outside my window and I had to really listen out to make sure I was noticing sounds in the album and not from the storm - the two soundscapes merged beautifully, with only the louder sounds of the storm wormimng their way in as I was listening on headphones. Not once did the track falter in any way that I might want to pause and just listen to the storm, although the thought did occur to me - I think this speaks to the credit of both the track and the album. New whining serpents of sound twirl in confusingly erratic patterns before our ears while subtle and interesting rhythms come and go. There are elements in all four of Jan's tracks here where the rhythmic element and its combination with inventive and texturally rich sounds forces me to liken the music to that of pioneering dance music figureheads such as Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada - something totally unexpected going in and considerably high praise coming from myself as I am a ardent fan of the both of them.
Lastly but not leastly, the Red Cliffs offering 'Promiscuous (A Pearl Inside A Dolphins Womb)' is quite noticably a remix of a track existing on the album - and so we are led to assume the other remix was as well (as this would make most sense). A high-pitched electronic wail carries us into a luscious synth refrain. Slowly, a vocal sample careens above the sombre refrain. A heaving thunderclap from outside my open window pushes through (unforunately you won't hear this). Of all the tracks on the album, for some reason this one seems to me as though it is the most easily 'accessible' track, and by that I mean of course that outsiders of experimental music would be likely to listen to it and enjoy it. I've often found this to be a terrible way of profiling music, though, and it just happened to come to mind rather than being something I set about comparing and thinking towards throughout the review. It's also ironic that I should feel that way about a track that maintains a feedback-like wail throughout its course - it's likely my idea of what is 'accessible' has become heavily skewed and unreliable over the years.
This is the first non-HNW album I have reviewed for the site in a while and I'm incredibly happy for it to have been this one - the album completely blew me away. While HNW is not necessarily my utmost preference for reviewing, it is a subgenre that I feel is too heavily neglected by reviewers of experimental music (with only this site and a handful of other individuals as the notable exception to this otherwise general observation) and so I'm content to make it my focus. However, it's not the only thing I listen to and so it makes sense to put the time in to review what others are doing in the more dynamic areas of the experimental. There could not be a more deserving album to make this foray for than Jan's debut offering.
I cannot recommend this album strongly enough to those who enjoy complexly layered synth music with an experimental and broad pallette of textural and percussive sounds for it to draw upon. As of writing this review the label had six out of fifty copies available so if you would like to own this, know that the clock is ticking!James Shearman