Tag Archives: Bernhard Wöstheinrich

May/June/July 2019 – upcoming pop/rock gigs – Tim Bowness out and about in England, Netherlands, Poland and Germany (26th & 31st May, 2nd to 4th June, 7th June, 20th July) – also featuring Anneke van Giersbergen, Hey Jester, Bernhard Wöstheinrich, Imogen Bebb, IQ’s Andy Edwards, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets and others…

23 May


  
Working off the back of his recent ‘Flowers At The Scene’ album, Tim Bowness will shortly set out on a live lope around Europe for the summer months.

During the decade-long lull in his No-Man activity, Tim’s bloom of solo albums have all been half-hidden treasures. They belong to a current, mysterious class of brilliantly-crafted labour-of-love pop records – the ones which make decent chart performances (in a chart which no longer obeys the simple rules of earlier generations) but which remain strangely invisible, apparently known only to cult audiences. They’re part of a kind of parallel-universe pop culture, only distinguished from our own by luck and chance.

When he was singing sweetly over dance beats for mid-’90s No-Man (a mixture of blush and bleak, stark and swoon), I was creating stubborn little write-ups dragging their art pop over into the prog rock court, armed with some of my suspicions and certainties regarding their eclectic musical appetites, their taste for a bit of well-spoken Anglo grandeur, their cinematic sensibilities. Gradually, over a couple of decades, I was proved right. Tim (like his No-Man partner Steven Wilson) now commands considerably proggy audiences; in Tim’s case, he also generously stewards art-rock megaboutique Burning Shed (something which gives him the additional blending of goodwill and cachet that helps attract silvering art-rock aristocrats like Peter Hammill, Kevin Godley or Ian Anderson into guesting on his records). All of this culminated in the epic kitchen-sink-Ziggy multitrack saga of ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’, in which Tim revisited the imprints of his ‘70s heroes and spikily reinvented them as an embittered, failing dreamshadow self.

Still, call me wayward or a backtracker, but for a while I’ve been wishing that there was less outright prog in the picture. Coincidentally, Tim seems to agree, as ‘Flowers At The Scene’ tempers and bounces away from the progginess of recent years, possessing a delicacy of musical touch to match his lyrical subtlety. At times it’s a missing link between several of his old touchstones (The Smiths, Kate Bush) while at others it flirts with the fan-dance flutters and delay guitars of ’80s art pop, indulges the odd florid arena-rock burst, or touches on glacial latterday synthpop. It’s also a possible curtain-raiser to more No-Man activity. Steven Wilson, always a friendly presence or passing mix wizard on previous Tim albums, quietly shared the full production chair and an open No-Man credit on this one. The songs, too – while recognisably Bownessian in their portraits of make-do-and-mend, subtly cultivated angst and discreet English agonies – have a lapping No-Man urgency to them, the exquisite solipsistic portraits and summaries refitted with a pulsing pop drive.



 
In keeping with the spotty, sporadic live patterns of cult artisty and cottage-industry songsmith, Tim’s tour is less of a tour than a series of temporary outbreaks – a couple of one-off shows at odd-matched English venues, two more in Poland, a festival appearance in the Netherlands, a raid on Berlin. His band continues to exemplify that stylistic spread I mentioned earlier. They’re a collection of friends with sympathies dotted across various British movements – current bassman John Jowitt represents a strand of classy neoprog veterans; regular drummer Andrew Booker flies the flag for the clean-cut clever bastards; a pair of multidisciplinarians (guitarist Michael Bearpark and violinist Steve Bingham) pull the ensemble towards the flexible art rock yearnings which are Tim’s genuine home, and to refresh things, Brian Hulse (Tim and Michael’s companion in recently revived ‘80s Manchester art-pop trio Plenty, and a major co-writer on ‘Flowers…’) is now covering keyboards, laptop and second guitar.

OK, I’m a malcontent. It still feels as if it would be be good, at this stage, to see Tim elsewhere, in a different less cosy, less ‘Prog’ magazine context – wrangling over stage space with spikier arty acts like Rufus Wainwright or St Vincent; Eyeless In Gaza or John Greaves; even Momus. He’d fit in – different moves and intimations might flex within the live show; the tart angst and great-battles-in-small-spaces tone underlying his songs could be seen better for what they are. But we have what we have. He’s appreciated. He has, at least, this home; and he’s making generous use of it in both senses, with several of the upcoming shows (bar the Bowness-only Poland gigs) providing support acts interesting to proggies and non-proggies alike.


 
For the London gig at Dingwalls, there are slots for Ms Amy Birks and Nick Beggs. A ‘Prog Magazine’ chart-topper last year in the female vocalist stakes (and having already made an upcoming name for herself as frontwoman for chamber-prog/classical projects Beatrix Players and Birks&Kroon), Amy is now fitting in space for a solo career, some of which will get an early preview at this show. Refreshingly free of diva blather and of irksome vocal histrionics (both on and offstage), she’s shaping up as a prime exponent for that thoughtful breed of songs pulled up immaculately from source; cool, clear material polished to a classical drawing-room sheen which only increases its impact.

Nick, meanwhile, was initially infamous as the hair-beaded beanpole bassist for Kajagoogoo during the early 1980s. He’s long since been unmasked as a serious and dedicated muso with a vibrant musicality and the requisite interesting arty quirks to put the right kind of distance between himself and the workaday session cat. Having spent his post-Kaja time travelling through Iona and Ellis Beggs & Howard (scoring a hit with the latter via slo-funk effervescer Big Bubbles No Troubles‘) he’s more recently been playing backup in the live bands for John Paul Jones and Steven Wilson, and fronting mildly dystopian prog-poppers Mute Gods. For this concert, he’ll be playing a solo set on Chapman Stick – an instrument on which he’s one of the prime British performers.



 
With John Jowitt in the Bowness band lineup, the Worcester show marks a fleeting IQ rhythm section reunion: IQ’s onetime drummer Andy Edwards is joining in for a couple of songs and is, in addition, the mentor behind the two support acts. The assured young Brummie power trio Hey Jester offer contorting, slightly grunge-y but always theatrical prog-pop something in the vein of Muse – or, to pick another budding band, Tonochrome. Imogen Bebb (better known as one of the British synthpop community’s superfan commentators via her Sound Of The Crowd blog plus her writing for ‘The Electricity Club‘ and various Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark sites) finally unleashes a musical project of her own. I can’t scrape up many details on this, but you might expect something rooted in her love for OMD. Alternatively, it might well be a live outing for her singer-songwriter project Music For Your Tape Recorder, which slipped a few tracks out onto Bandcamp last year: promising, shapeshifting piano or guitar ballads, like a nascent Tori Amos or Rickie Lee Jones coming up through British indie-folk.



  
The Netherlands gig is a double-headliner, shared with Anneke van Giersbergen. Another assured no-fuss singer (with a clean, bell-clear voice that can soar across grand pop, arena rock and experimental metal with equal facility), Anneke came up via Dutch doom metal act turned alt-rockers The Gathering (whom she fronted for twelve years between 1995 and 2007). She’s since forged a solo path, as well as being a frequent performer in ongoing rock opera project Ayreon and an equally frequent collaborator with Devin Townsend as guest vocalist, as well as fronting her own prog-metal project VUUR. It’s a little like getting Peter Hammill or David Sylvian to split a show with Nancy Wilson; but Tim’s already got form for gracious stage-sharing with female singers whom you might have thought didn’t fit his precise, rail-thin aesthetic, having already done so with iamthemorning’s Marjana Semkina a few years ago.


  
If you were hoping for something a little less prog’n’hearty – and a lot less rock – as a support act, you’d be better off getting yourself over to Germany for the Berlin gig, where the opening performer is Bernhard Wöstheinrich. Formerly a collaborator with Tim in ongoing avant-electric trio centrozoon, Bernhard’s primarily a visual artist. However, he’s been transposing that way of thinking onto keyboard and programming styles which (over more than twenty years) have been fearlessly and frankly swaying and transmuting between instrumental synthpop, a kind of foregrounded ambient method, faux-tribal rattlings, fierce dance barrages and what’s best described as a kind of pushy shape-building (like a restlessly, rapidly built pop-up city sprouting out of electronic pilings). Here’s a selection…




  
In late July, Tim and co. are back in Germany for the Night of the Prog festival in Loreley. In this case they don’t get to call the shots on who they play with, or how, being fourth on the bill for a day of Europrog (headlined by Nick Mason’s revival of psych-era Pink Floyd via Saucerful of Secrets, and also featuring Overhead, the interesting world/electro-tinged Lazuli, Czech instrumental sphere rock band Fors, Afro/classical-touched Canadians Karcius and the live debut of Thomas Thielen’s “T” project). That said, it does give them option of wheedling away some new fans from the more restless strands of a more traditionally proggy audience…








  
* * * * * * * * *

Tim Bowness dates:

  • Worcester Arts Workshop, 21 Sansome Street, Worcester, WR1 1UH, England – Sunday 26th May 2019, 7.00pm (with Hey Jester + Imogen Bebb + Andy Edwards) – information here and here
  • CreativeColors Stage @ Cultuurpodium Boerdiij, Amerikaweg 145, 2717 AV Zoetermeer, The Netherlands – Friday 31st May 2019, 7.30pm (co-headline show with Anneke van Giersbergen) – information here, here and here
  • Klub Firlej, ulica Grabiszyńska 56, 53-504 Wrocław, Woj. Dolnośląskie, Poland – Sunday 2nd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Club Progresja, Fort Wola 22, 01-258 Warsawa, Poland – Monday 3rd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Prachtwerk, Ganghoferstrasse 2, Neukoln, 12043 Berlin, Germany – Tuesday 4th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Bernhard Wöstheinrich) – information here, here and here
  • Dingwalls, 11 Middle Yard, Camden Lock, London, NW1 8AB, England – Friday 7th June 2019, 7.00pm (with Ms Amy Birks + Nick Beggs) – information here and here
  • Night Of The Prog Festival @ Freilichtbühne Loreley, St. Goarshausen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany – Saturday 20th July 2019, show begins 12.00pm (with Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets + Lazuli + Karcius + T + Overhead + Fors) – information here and here

  

REVIEW: centrozoon: ‘Blast’ album reissue, 2008 (“let the music fall inwards”)

3 Feb
centrozoon: 'Blast' (reissue)

centrozoon: ‘Blast’ (reissue)

Here’s a tale of escape.

Disciplines become traps: beautiful sounds become honey-traps. This can be more obvious along certain musical paths than others. Two particularly susceptible paths are ambient-synth playing and the underground swell of Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft. The former can drift towards being a proliferating mass of lonely cells; each of them seeking an individual voice but often, obliviously, stuck in identical textures, wallowing in parallel. The latter follows a rigorous playing method and lifestyle which borders on benevolent culthood. While this banishes the shapeless flab which often devils ambient music, it can err in the other direction. At its best, the Craft births and burnishes exceptional players: at its worst, it produces musicians who devote themselves to obsessively burnishing a constant reiteration of stern, generic Fripp stylings.

When touch-guitarist Markus Reuter (an accomplished Crafty, and part of the Crafty-dominated Europa String Choir) encountered former Subsonic Experience electronics-coaxer Bernhard Wöstheinrich and formed centrozoon, the team-up had conceptual and practical lineage from both the Crafty discipline and the ambient flood. On top of that, by the time they released their debut album ‘Blast’ in 2000, there wasn’t anything especially unusual in what (on paper) they offered – an alliance of mutant fretboard work and left-field synth-noise, stretched and softened into a minimal ambience. In chasing that direction, centrozoon were following a path which had been trodden since the mid-’70s and the days of… well, Fripp & Eno.

Their peculiar triumph (which is clear even eight years later, with this expanded reissue) was that ‘Blast’ escaped all of the expected pitfalls and mudbanks. It’s not that Markus and Bernhard simply brazened it all out; nor did they overwhelm their listeners by assuming wracked and exaggerated musical personalities. Instead, they opted to simply get out of the way. With minimal shepherding, they let the music fall inwards of its own accord. This sounds like abandoning responsibility, but it’s not. Ultimately, and with the right kind of awareness and attitude, it’s a very effective way of letting the music take its own shape.

On a superficial listen, ‘Blast’ isn’t an obvious leap into the unknown; nor is it immediately shocking, then or now. Each of the four pieces on the original release could conceivably see the same use as other ambient experiments – a gloss for cosmic afternoons; sonic wrappings for art installations; chemical soundtracks for intellectual stoners on introverted afternoons. As for immediate originality, let’s say that Fripp fans enthralled by the oceanic, ambient-improvised textures of Soundscaping will find plenty of pleasure here. In particular, the widening ice-vapour agglomerations of Markus’ Warr Guitar textures in Empire are an immediate homecoming. As they stretch near-subliminal fingers out into the void, they’re subtly transformed by Bernhard’s lullaby synth-pulse; moving from austerity into something like the hopeful whistling of a small boy in the rain, safe in a shapeless optimism.

Transformation is a key process here. Markus’ extreme processing and honing of his Warr Guitar touch-playing into textural drifts and folds, all sounds of strings and fingers worn away; Bernhard’s unschooled musical impulses becoming constructive. Most significantly, their effect upon each other – formalist liberated by upsetter, randomiser cradled by knower.

Markus might dominate Empire – however passively – but it’s Bernhard (the part-time abstract painter) who leads the more baleful Sign. Here, the low buzzes and wah-swells of synth gradually open up into a mournful piece of grand European ambience. For Crafty guitarists and King Crimson fans alike, this is the most Frippertronical piece on the album. That said, Markus eschews any of those intensely compressed Frippish emotions in his playing. Instead, his touch-guitar yields little more than a distant, echoing subway-tunnel ambience. It pulls the listening ear after it, as if co-opting it into the pursuit of an invisible stranger who’s only just out of reach; or a far-off footfall which must be caught up with.

Even this early in their career, it’s the ability to trigger that kind of unsettling mood and engagement in the listener that set centrozoon apart, and eased them out of those Crafty/ambient straitjackets. Their eerie approach to layered tonality may have had its similarities to the Fripp approach, but it’s been taken a few steps further along. Blank and unsettling, it feels like a kind of purposeful decay, a deliberate whittling-away of what underpins expectations and security: hollowing it out only slightly, just enough to make a change that’s sensed. As a listener, you venture out onto it, but the sound of the settling structure disturbs you.

In many respects, time has left ‘Blast’ strangely untouched, and for all the right reasons. The Fripp & Eno analogy still holds, not so much over sound and mood, but over how Markus’ discipline and rigorous self-schooling and Bernhard’s iconoclastic instincts meet and envelop each other. Even at this stage, they’re astonishingly well integrated. It’s difficult to look at their work looking for cracks in the method. Unified and unruffled, it stares back at you, and it’s you that blinks first.

More self-conscious (or perverse) than the other tracks on the record, the hooded, atmospheric Sense cops a few tricks directly from 1980s art-pop. Sparse lines and pared-down chords of electric piano recall the pairing of Richard Barbieri and David Sylvian. A upfront electro-pulse (OMD meets ’90s techno) is carved up into a jazz shimmy, while Bernhard’s bloopy electronic punctuation sounds like nothing so much as a Simmons drum set catching the cheesy hiccups. All of these are eventually upended when Markus sets aside his Invisible Man approach in favour of a growing grind of slow-motion garage-static. In parallel, Bernhard’s underlay of sound gradually becomes more and more unstable and less and less comforting; eventually it hones itself into a subtly disturbing sheath of noise.

On the original ‘Blast’, Sense was the disruptive moment. Power – a held-back track from the album sessions, now restored to the reissue – demonstrates that it wasn’t as much of a one-off as it seemed. Post-‘Blast’, centrozoon would begin several years of thorough engagement with dance music (actually, a kind of wilful grappling) which would flower in 2003 with the thumping techno-prog drive of their ‘Cult Of: Bibiboo’ album. Three years earlier, Power anticipates this and delivers an early take. Its rocking knock of rhythm and Bernhard’s dirty twangs of synth are a shift towards the dance-floor, away from icy dreams. Markus’ misty blurs of Warr playing are more direct and sharpened than they are elsewhere on the album, roaming purposefully behind the electronics like a searching headlight. The musical layers climb eerily, growing into an alarming constellation of eyes as Bernhard works in a march-rhythm built from a racheting percussion pulse. Nine minutes along, the beat courses away and the music planes on into ambience and a slow fade of atonal spirals.

Placed at the end of the reissue, Power supplants the title track of ‘Blast’ as its grand finale. Drawing attention to the band’s drive onwards to its dance phase makes some historic sense, but it also displace the album’s original emotional core. After the disruptions of Sense, Blast doesn’t immediately seem disturbing. For a long time it remains as beautifully eerie but conventional textural ambience. It hovers around the same close, elongated and barely-there notes like steam in a cathedral aisle, coiling itself backwards in the winking lights from the synths.

Over seventeen minutes Markus and Bernhard gradually, imperceptibly marshal the potential of horrific awe that’s within the music until it’s staring you in the face. Its intensity is subliminal, its aghast tone somehow removed from imminent peril. The horror here is backwards-looking, specifically European and instinctive, reeking of a darker history without ever clarifying what that is. This could be just soundtracking; but if so centrozoon have found silent films of overwhelming cataclysm to channel the music for. At a pinch, it could be cathedral music – if so, the building’s traumatised ghosts have crept out for a whirling pageant of blood and fire. It could be a troubled, unanswerable requiem; if so, this one’s for a calamity that’s overtaken even God, even memory. There’s something about it that emphasises the absence of words, of the shapes that make sense. It’s less the blast, and more the invisible and unexpected shockwave – like a glimpse over the shoulder at the terrible beauty of impelled destruction.

In the coming years, centrozoon would prove themselves far more mercurial and direct than the music on ‘Blast’ suggests. Compared to the hammering pulse of ‘…Bibiboo’ or the leaping, detailed art-pop of ‘Never Trust The Way You Are’, ‘Blast’ now sounds like hidden music, or perhaps hiding music: Bernhard and Markus remote almost to the point of vanishing, keeping their skills on a low bleed. Even here, though, there’s a determined stamp that set them apart from the noodlers and set them on course – but that’s not all. There’s still something special about ‘Blast’ and its ability to etch such hauntings out of such hushed musicality.

centrozoon: ‘Blast’
Unsung Records/Inner Knot Records, UR004CD (4260139120307)
CD/download album reissue
Released: 2008 (originally released 2000)

  • Followed by: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’.

Buy it from:
Iapetus Records or Burning Shed (CD); or Bandcamp (download).

centrozoon online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp Last FM

Album reviews – centrozoon: ‘Boner’ (“a palette of capriciously shifting noises and sonic pounces”)

16 May

Centrozoon: 'Boner'

Centrozoon: ‘Boner’

Testing to destruction. For some, this isn’t a harsh and necessary process, but a judicious way of life. For the floating, ever-mutating alliance of centrozoon (magisterial touch-guitarist Markus Reuter and synth-bumping/pad-thumping lateral thinker Bernard Wöstheinrich) it seems to be a shrug of nature. Either that, or a compulsion. As centrozoon add to their body of work over the years, they’ve studiously avoided clinging to previous methods. Instead, they function as a kind of art-rock Laputa – hovering briefly over various musical terrains, dropping down tendrils to slurp up flavours and approaches. Despite their bone-dry sense of humour, they’ve always remained a little detached and aloof.

At the same time, centrozoon are driven hard by cryptic fascinations of their own, including their vigorous collision of schooled technical approaches and wild, derailing instinct. Their music has always been bipolar and simultaneous. Crude synth presets are embedded into beautifully-fashioned electric textures; ravening, artful touch-guitar solos play off the blunt wallop of electric whack-pads. En route, centrozoon have explored majestic dark-ambient drift music, ridden the clattering back of gabba techno (while flaying it to within a microtonal inch of its life) and spent time as rhapsodic prog-inspired melody men. In the early 2000s, they borrowed the lissom voice and hooded lyrics of Tim Bowness (on furlough from No-Man) to slide smoothly into a song-driven world of art-pop. Equally smoothly, Markus and Bernhard subsequently hit the eject button in order to reform as an introverted chamber electronics duo. Every time centrozoon go public, they’re different. Every time they seem to settle on a final format, they discreetly blow it up and start again.

Ultimately, centrozoon navigate their increasingly risky game of de-build and re-build by trimming back everything that they’d otherwise need to defend. They explode their identities as musicians to become a diffuse spray of wandering cells. They reduce themselves, once again, to enigmatic minds on the prowl; and now they’ve delivered the most abstract and challenging record of their career.

Emerging after a period of diversion, scatter and relative silence, ‘Boner’ suggests that it’s becoming increasingly pointless to define centrozoon‘s work as a clear interplay of individuals. Instead, their work has become a kind of willing entanglement into which each man – somehow – disappears at full volume. Suitably, the contributions of the band’s current third man Tobias Reber are mostly sonic collage (drastic laptop sound-mangling, heavily processed field recordings, occasional blurts of absurdist lo-fi vocal). With both Markus and Bernhard now enthusiastically jumbling up their own sounds, the band creates an intense and murky improvised electrophonic soup – extreme, exaggerately processed and roaming balefully across unstable tonal centres. It’s both utterly fragmentary and utterly involved. If anything, those interim years spent on other projects have only added to the creative centrozoon seethe, bringing the musicians and sounds closer together.

Where ‘Boner’ stands in the wider scheme of music isn’t clear. Not jazz – there’s no swing here, few melodic rushes or pursuits of harmony, no acknowledgement of pop moves. Not ambient as such – despite the atmospheric swishes of sustained texture, there’s little solid order and continuance, and precious little commitment to minimalism. Something in the drive and stance of the music links it to the far fringes of experimental rock. If so, it’s clinging on by a fingernail.

These new, uncomfortable compositions hang in the air like spasming irises or like nested Venetian blinds: multi-layered, periodically flexing open and shut to reveal new textures and patterns. Ever restless, centrozoon shuffle each and every one of these layers, flying in further sound-fields in the blink of an eye. A dribble of coffee-maker noise jump-cuts to a rumble of bass strings. A radiophonic pot-swoop is overwhelmed by a ringing metallic chord or an imperative percussion thump. In the arrhythmic wander of La Waltz of Kirk, hints of Zawinul tropicalia well through the gaps. On Cervus, ominous and dissonant passages in a classical-minor form recur first as vaporous synth pads, then as overdriven bassy touch-guitar lines.

You could try to cite assorted chaotic improvisers, plunderphonic artists and mixing-desk contrarians as close cousins to this music. However, what remains clearest (most evidently on the rumbles, quick body-blows and Mellotron hangings of Knock Outs) is centrozoon‘s familial relationship with King Crimson. More particularly, with that band’s most left-field improvisations – the atonal busyness of the ProjeKCts; the poly-everything lurch and creak of the ’90s Double Trio (spattering pulped MIDI all over the stage on ‘THRaKaTTak’) and the spidery skitter of ‘Starless and Bible Black’. The post-modern stomp of Markus’ work with another Crimson spin-off – Tuner – is also present. Both Tuner and ‘Boner’ share a hypnotic mixture of harshness and disorientation; an over-arching, out-of-focus beauty; and a grate-and-chop, channel-surfing mixture of signals to pour into your ears. Like Crimson, centrozoon also possess a rigid skeleton of stateliness which glides serenely through even their most chaotic improvised scrambles.

While attempting to make sense of this scattered map, it’s equally important to point out that centrozoon are also exploding the idea of what a commercial music album ought to be. Generally, such things are self-contained musical statements – linked to a point in time, a specific intent and a clearly-defined sales package. In making ‘Boner’, the band embraced as many constructive (and deconstructive) possibilities of chance, reinterpretation and creative dissension as they could. Hundreds of initial hours of free trio improvisation were cut and pasted into new compositions; then a third layer of process was added via two outside remixers, each of whom independently cloned and mixed down the finished sessions.

The result is two twinned but different takes on the final album, with different mixes and track sequences (the Marziano Fontana version emphasising those dramatic cuts and layering, the Adrian Benavides mix more spacious, smooth and chilly). Additionally, centrozoon sell ‘Boner’ in a bewildering variety of packages (via its “Bonestarter” campaign), with diverse extras plugging into the deal like bonus phone apps. Options now include one or both album versions; further choices of formats and downloads; signatures; custom clothing; original artwork; even personal access via one-to-one conversations or touch-guitar lessons.

It’s not that these moves, in themselves, are new. Alternate mixes and reinventions are commonplace, and compositions via mixing desk and improv have been around at least since Zappa. Jane Siberry has offered special-purchase deals with souvenirs and judicious personal access for years. What is new is centrozoon‘s audacity in coupling all of this to such a demanding, avant-garde musical package.

Even without the bonuses, ‘Boner’ may prove to be an incomprehensible palimpsest for many listeners – a palette of capriciously shifting noises and sonic pounces. For others, these same qualities will be a selling point. With colossal chutzpah and confidence – and a disregard of risk – centrozoon are selling the album with all of the confidence of arena rockers touting a singalong blockbuster. Bold, yes – and also pretty funny.

But ultimately, buying one of these bonus-laden ‘Boner’ arrays is rather more significant than buying a box-set edition of a rock album. Those who go for the full-deal set of clothing, decoration and tuition won’t just be grabbing nick-nacks, but buying into a whole centrozoon artistic method: effectively, into a way of life. As a consumer, how can you be sure that you truly own and understand the bewilderments of ‘Boner’ unless you have the Grand Deal with all of the trappings and the chance to press flesh with its creators? Alternatively: if you just own your preferred single recording of ‘Boner’, have you identified its core source, and swept aside all of those commercial refractions; all of those fetish fruits to sweeten the pill?

All of this casts up more questions than answers… as does the album itself. Those who don’t want to embrace the whole Bonestarter frenzy (and ultimately, even those who do) will ultimately find that their involvement will boil down to whether or not they find ‘Boner’s relentlessly abstract, unaccommodating music worth the investment.

Cautiously, I’d say that it is… although I’d add the warning that this music will never be quite what you expect it to be, or what you try to force it to be. Material of this nature is tough to understand, as such – you need to intuit instead, working your way into it. As you’ve seen, ‘Boner’ has already spun over a thousand analytical words out of me as I try to get to grips with its multiple paths and detonated form. Yet my primary reaction to the album is visceral and instinctive.

Beyond the chopped-up structures and the modular marketing, I’m listening to a trio persistently and inexorably falling into the realms of utter abstraction, only to pull themselves back out by their fierce musicality as players and editors. What I’m hearing through the hundreds of shifts and swaps is their determination to plot a course through this humming chaos. The cautious and catlike way in which they place their feet, while otherwise convulsing their music so utterly. The manner in which they orbit and flirt with musical collapse, like a capsule orbiting a threatening black hole.

It’s these things that I remember, past the sing-song AutoTuned rants in Bright Meowing and Smoked Info Monster; past the pocket-calculator seizures of Weak Spelling; even past the jigsaw-puzzle Bonestarter sale of mixed music, time and trophies. It’s this determination that links those fleeting glimpses – around jump-cut corners – of fingers hammering down on strings, keys and mouse buttons before vanishing into the edit.

centrozoon: ‘Boner’
Unsung Records,
CD/download album (plus assorted packages)
Released: 9th May 2012

Buy it from:
Centrozoon directly (includes various Bonestarter packages as mentioned in review), Burning Shed or Bandcamp

centrozoon online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp Last FM

Album reviews – centrozoon: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ (“miscellaneous objects picked up on a bright afternoon”)

27 Feb
centrozoon: 'Sun Lounge Debris'

centrozoon: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’

Interbreeding the subliminal and the upfront, German ambient duo centrozoon first showed up in 2000 with the self-camouflaging, superbly effective ‘Blast‘. Icy and transformative (an album of elusive, subtle yet uncompromising music for a dissolving world), it was a deliberate hollow grail; an eerily crafted emptiness masking or bypassing outright emotion. The occasional fragmentary synth-pop hiccup broke this rule and humanised the duo (like a brief giggle or fart in the meditation), but ‘Blast’ was mostly all hints and invisible statements – a ghost-impression of grandiosity, a sumptuous erasing.

The six tracks of the follow-up, ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ (put out on the quick-release art-rock label Burning Shed rather than, like ‘Blast’, on the more impassively arty DiN) turn out to be the product of a single day’s recording. With ambient groups being what they are, and the rapidly diminishing returns of minimal textures, it’d be fair to expect a series of belated out-takes. Markus Reuter and Bernhard Wöstheinrich could have exposed themselves as blanded-out or hopelessly jumbled: at best, retreading the magnificent displaced atmospherics of ‘Blast’. Fortunately, centrozoon‘s taste and inspiration are very much intact, and they’ve added some healthy lust and humour to the mix.

Admittedly, ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ doesn’t have the quiet and eerie impact of ‘Blast’. The disordered-lifestyle title makes that implicit, whether the centrozooners are suggesting a J.G. Ballard dystopia or simply admitting that they, too, sometimes like to lie around in a mess of crisps, magazines and tanning lotion. The music – disparate and different in its swatch of moods – also indicates that centrozoon aren’t prepared to plough that same impeccable furrow as they did on their debut. In certain respects, ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ resembles a collection of miscellaneous objects picked up on a bright afternoon. However, any randomness is rapidly offset by the connective, collective intelligence which centrozoon exhibit, and by their clear eagerness to develop from their previous wintry and self-absenting perfection and move towards questions and delicate musical quirks.

‘Sun Lounge Debris’ pieces come, roughly speaking, in pairs. Two of the tracks, Tales Of Children In Trees and Harvest Girls, reveal depths (or, more accurately, widths) to centrozoon which have previously gone unnoticed. More on those later. The two remaining pairs take inspiration from the texture-based constructions of ‘Blast’ but move the ideas elsewhere.

From the throwaway ironic/pedantic titles, one of these ambient pairs suggests game-playing at work; toying with expectations. This One Will Please You could’ve been a ‘Blast’ outtake, were it not for its warmth – it’s a cosmic Mistral, entirely composed of atmosphere, thoroughly sunny and swimmy. The second – the displeaser – is darker, but where ‘Blast’ suggested urban dissolution (chilliness, shapes of buildings yielding to vapour) This One Won’t Please You implies some more rural outlines. More forbidding than its brother, it possesses a similar softness: perhaps a musical impression of the darkness hollowed out beneath the forest roof. The sinister side is provided in a sense of waiting for something unknown, something as yet unshaped in the mind’s eye.

Less cohesive – but bolder – than the Please tracks, another pair of centrozoon experiments jolts the project into more radical dynamics. In Sable Orbit is the most immediately striking of the two. As mushroom clouds of pipe-organ sounds are put through the MIDI wringer, pitches are set afloat in choppy spasms so that they billow in a vast and giddy skyward swell: a scrap of Messaien nightmare trapped in a Zeppelin. Several Chilled Wives follows the same approach with a little less alarm. Beyond its lazy, inexorable and monstrous lurches a circular harmony reveals itself, like the boundary of a horizon.

In almost all of these it’s unclear as to which noises are coming off Markus’ heavily processed and looped Warr Guitar and which emanate from the voice-banks of Bernhard ‘s synthesizers. In spite of their very different musical motivations – Bernhard spontaneous and iconoclastic, Markus scholarly and studied – both centrozooners are able to morph together without an evident join, as they did for much of the frosted blend of ‘Blast’. Harvest Girls – one of the two serious centrozoon digressions on the album, and the one which gives ‘Sun Lounge Debris’ its explosive, bliss-struck opening – is very different, and shows us what happens when centrozoon let themselves fall open into those two halves.

It’s revealing. While Bernhard blots an immense, swirling, stained-glass flange noise from his keyboard onto the sky, Markus lets rip with a richly melodic overdriven buzz of solo – an ecstatic Robert Fripp whoop. This is the polar opposite to his usual textural playing, with its concealing nature – this is a lusty, ascending and liberated firework spray of rock tensions, as healthy and randy as a summer party. The nasal-toned scurries and wails are closer to the excitement of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lark Ascending’ or to Joe Satriani’s triumphal histrionics then they are to more expected influences like Fripp or of Trey Gunn, with their devotional dissonance. The joy is unfeigned, but unashamedly synthetic in its plastic textures: you can hear centrozoon revelling in the fact. In response to Markus’ blaze of guileless prog-rock romanticism, Bernhard sends a cheesy synth-pad of concerto strings rebounding off the clouds. Apparently intent on mutilating any of the dodgy presets which he can entice out of his gear, he also offers up an undulating bass synth boom plus a taffy-stretched swathe of electronica which sounds like an evaporating glass harmonica.

Harvest Girls could be centrozoon trying on the bristly mantle of rock piggery and loving it; but Tales Of Children In Trees propels them forward into the world of dance. Those smooth swirls of ambience and the synth chuckles could have come from anywhere else in their ambient past and present, but they’re all tossed on a hustle of jazz breakbeats: a thinking pummel, assured and dominant. As an album closer, it suggests that centrozoon are already off their loungers and in fervid motion. If you came by to relax and slob out, you’re already too late. Next chapter engaging…

centrozoon: ‘Sun Lounge Debris’
Iapetus Records/Burning Shed (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R/download album
Released: 21st February 2001

  • Preceded by: Blast.
  • Followed by: ‘The Divine Beast’.

Buy it from:
Free download from Iapetus Records or Bandcamp. Originally released by Burning Shed as a CD-R album.

centrozoon online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp Last FM

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