Politically charged electroacoustic ambience from German electronic minimalist.
Peter Marsh 2003-06-24
Ekkehard Ehlers' work blurs the distinction between indie electronic experimentation and 'classical' electroacoustic composition. Over the last couple of years he's conducted a digital interrogation of Schoenberg, turned out an album of folktronica and fashioned tributes to such diverse figures as Albert Ayler and Cornelius Cardew on his acclaimed Plays series of EPs.
Though the cover art and title are explicitly political, Politik Braucht Keinen Feind (or 'Politics doesn't need Enemies') certainly doesn't sound it.; no samples of George Bush Jr here. It's more 'compositional' than Ehlers' previous works; two of its three pieces are written for conventional instruments. The opening "Maander" is a study for bass clarinet; Ehlers stacks up a whole bagful of them and coaxes them into slow moving chords. Digital processing morphs the clarinet's mournful tones into deep sinewave swoops, zooms in on the crackle of spit on the reed or squeezes out didgeridoo-like overtones. The opening of the third section sounds like a fleet of ancient bombers on a final mission, before trailing off into Eno-esque ripples of bell-like synthetics.
"Blind" (for cello quintet) covers similar territory, though it's maybe less austere; Anka Hirsch's physical investigations of the instrument's possibilities merges with Ehler's digital manipulations to produce a richly layered, almost romantic piece that shifts gear from glacial, deliberate formality to scratchy indeterminacy. Very nice.
The closing "Woolf Phrase" (written for the Frankfurt Ballet) could be lifted from a mid 70s release on Eno's Obscure Records. Where the source material actually comes from I don't know; Ehlers loops a scratchily recorded string ensemble into 21 minutes of minimalist heaven, adding subtle, gradual colourations through filtering and EQ. It's kind of blissful, but there's a vague sense of unease at work. Much like the cover image (a clubber, arms outstretched, wearing a t-shirt with an image of the World Trade Centre on the front) Ehlers' music toys with your perceptions a little, opening up a space to think. Intriguing stuff.