“Try to walk a straight line in circles.” It sounds like a prompt from Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies, but really it’s the artist Barnt, aka Daniel Ansorge, explaining his creative process in an interview with Amsterdam’s Trouw nightclub. “It’s like our love for the blue ribbon in the sky,” he continues. “Do we want to catch it? Or do we want to let it fly away?”
It’s not surprising to hear Ansorge speak in riddles and abstractions, because the trappings of his music follow suit. Ansorge is a co-founder of Cologne’s Magazine label—or, sorry, not a label, but “a depot and a serial publication of contemporary contributions.” Magazine’s sleeves, which look like they’ve been pieced together with images clipped from out-of-date textbooks, might pass for pages from Artforum. Likewise, Barnt’s titles might as well be culled from scraps of paper found on the sidewalk, or from spambots’ emails: cryptic fragments with the sterile whiff of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry (“All the alts I’mm holding are hurting.” (sic), “Wiggett: So we know that hexog****”, “How Do I Know What Solutions X Form?”), whose very refusal to express anything is itself weirdly expressive.
As arch as all this may seem, Barnt’s music is hardly short on emotion, which is just as you’d expect of a techno producer schooled in krautrock and Kompakt. “Collection”, from his debut EP in 2010, was a haunting house track poised halfway between Superpitcher and John Carpenter. On the same record, “What Is a Number, That a Man May Know It?” paired naïve synthesizer melodies with piledriver kicks to surprisingly moving effect. “Libretto”, compiled on Kompakt’s Pop Ambient 2011, conjured absent-minded melancholy out of rubbed wineglass rims. And his singles “Geffen” and “Tunsten”, for the Cómeme label, spun minimal techno into gonzo Casiotone freakouts, all seesawing chromatic sequences and dog-whistle octave play.
That said, Barnt’s take on dance music is marked by a strange kind of clinical remove. It’s not that his tracks don’t work on the dancefloor—they definitely do, often in the most deranged way possible—but there’s always a sense of something slightly off about them. If techno is supposed to be the meeting of Kraftwerk and George Clinton in an elevator, then Barnt’s music is an encounter between those artists’ waxy avatars on the floor of Madame Tussauds. If hyperintelligent extraterrestrials were to recreate the sound of earthling dance music after 30 years of observing us through telescopes, their algorithmic reconstructions might come out sounding something like Barnt’s recent 12″ for Will Bankhead and Joy Orbison’s Hinge Finger label in which shuddering drum sequences and EBM bass synths hammer away, without pause or variation, as long as the vinyl will let them.
With his debut album, Barnt continues to tease out the contradictory impulses—as stone-faced romantic and lab-coated hedonist—that make his work so compelling. His kit remains the same as always: cheapish-sounding synthesizers, usually no more than one or two per track, and outmoded drum machines with the tempo knob seemingly permanently soldered to the 120 beats-per-minute mark. He’s fond of tinny, bit-crushed hi-hats and quavering tremolo leads; save for a little reverb here or there, there are few obvious effects in play. It is a dry, almost deadpan sound.
The repetitive nature of Barnt’s music, with its steadily cycling arpeggios and constant pedal tones, has led some listeners to connect it with the “kosmische” tradition of German synthesizer music of the ’70s and ’80s, but one of the great pleasures of Barnt’s work is how modest it is, built of cheap plastic and low-grade metal and cracked rubber fittings. As interstellar metaphors go, this isn’t the hi-def sci-fi of Skrillex‘s spaceship; it’s more like the paltry 64-kilobyte memory of the Apollo Guidance Computer.
The bulk of the album is devoted to five longish tracks, none shorter than six-and-a-half minutes long, and one that’s more than 15, in which cautious melodies and economical counterpoints rise and fall above stolid four-to-the-floor beats. (Three short interludes serve as palate-cleansers; their single-keyboard riffing recalls a kid trying out synths in the music shop—dreamy, wistful little airs that bridge classical schooling and solid-state circuitry.) To enumerate their elements is even more useless than usual when discussing club tracks. The leads tend to be reedy, spindly things, and the drum sounds lumpy and leaden; there are almost no basslines to speak of. Pedal tones and open fifths are par for the course. All the elements go out of their way to be unremarkable; it’s the way they come together that really sings.
In “22:25”, a strident, two-note pizzicato sequence saws dully away until it’s relieved by lowing choral samples. The opening “Wiggett: So we know that hexog****” plays hypnotic counterpoints against cricket-legged hi-hats and insistent splash cymbals. “How Do I Know What Solutions X Form?” balances Medieval European and Middle Eastern influences over an Italo-disco bassline. “Cherry Red”, one of the album’s best tracks, works as a kind of relay race, as a nervous, 16th-note patter is passed from voice to voice—tuned toms, open hi-hats, monotone bass—for 11 minutes of continuous shuddering that sounds a lot like the echo chamber of contemporary media. The final track, and the one with the most inscrutable title (“All the alts I’mm holding are hurting.”), offers more than 15 minutes of minor-key meandering and desultory drum workout; the last two minutes are just one-handed keyboard noodling, as if the artist were lost in a dream, unable, or unwilling, to decide what to do about that blue ribbon in the sky, and unwittingly become one with it.
For all the album’s studiously generic sounds, there’s nothing else that sounds quite like this, and perhaps that’s the most important contradiction of all. For all his clinical reserve and careful attention to detail—some of these beats might as well contain footnotes—Barnt has ended up crafting an unusually heartfelt testament to techno’s emotive potential.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1rgNSGh