In the belly of the disassembled time machine Steinbrüchel's detained gamelan orchestra sounds better than ever. Which is no surprise, since the level keeper traded his cracking whip for a categorically overdriven pitch meter to reconfigure the ADSR continuum. A great yet unrecognizable journey through sonic commonplaceness whose process caricatures get back from infinity what civilization once took away from them. If colour, then dark blue.
There are records one has to take time for, like the new EP by Steinbrüchel. A/B/C/D got released on Essen label BineMusic and includes four tracks which are more soundscapes and dreamy collages than songs in the classical sense. The listener searches in vain for beats, instead he will find warm, organic sounds whose structures unveil not until you zoom out a bit and take a look at the bigger picture. This is when pattern emerge and loops become recognizable. One for experimental spirits rather than pure pop fans.
Apparently for this brief set of four recordings Swiss experimentalist Ralph Steinbruchel started out with simply a handful of instrumental recordings. It’s almost possible to hear it, but the burned out fingerprints of each instrument is all that remains under elongated digital drones and familiar glitches. Occasionally a hiccupping rhythm will reveal itself as a xylophone, or a drone might just for a second let its guard down and sound like a guitar, but for the most part Steinbruchel has transformed these sounds into something absolutely his own. Fans of recent Raster Noton releases (especially Alva Noto’s collaborations and experimentations) should check this without delay; Steinbruchel’s work is up there with the best of them. Recommended.
Take a break from the speed of life and relax to A\B\C\D by Steinbrüchel. Think of it as a massage for your ears, soothing, relaxing, and will take the stress right out of your day.
While most people tend to regard change as an unwelcome force in their daily lives, it is still widely considered as indispensable in the realms of creativity. In music, the better part of the former century was spent discussing the question of how much the balance between repetition and (thematic) transformation should be allowed to tilt towards the former. Technological innovations have only served to escalate these conflicts: While Schoenberg and Webern eschewed any kind of mechanical repetition, sequencers and samplers allowed for musical statement to be cloned quite literally, with each cycle constituting an exact copy of its predecessor. As acceptance of these techniques and the music resulting from their application (such as techno) grew, traditional notions of the act of composing were called into question. If there was no transformation, after all, where was the artistry? As it turned out, collecting the right materials, organising them into stimulating relationships with each other and initiating processes of interaction, which could prove engaging despite – or even, perhaps, because of them – remaining stable for an extended period of time, was a task requiring as much intuition, instinct and talent as coming up with a melody and then running it through a string of harmonic changes. And by seemingly ignoring conventional assumptions about change, new ones emerged. Some of them focused on the inner qualities of the material (as in American drone-builder Richard Lainhart's one-sound-theory), others on the human sensory apparatus (some of William Basinski's long-form pieces come to mind), yet others through astutely asymmetrical loops, in which different tracks were pitted against each other in such a way, that their contact surfaces hardly ever yielded the same results. To some, continually researching these implications and accepting their insoluble nature, has represented a life-long ambition.
German-born, Zurich-based Ralph Steinbrüchel is one of them. For him, the fascinating relativity implied by change has always presented a seminal inspiration. Almost his entire discography, in some way or the other, is based on the thought of things depending not just on their inherent faculties but on the observer's perspective and external influences as well. Or at least album titles suggest as much: While momentan_def., Perspectives and Stage dealt explicitly with the topic of development, works like Circa and Opaque hinted at the fact that, ultimately, our bodily instruments for measuring these qualities were inadequate. In realising these deficiencies, Steinbrüchel factored the listener back in to the equation. On two of his more recent works, both released on labels run by Italian micro-sound explorer David Sani aka Shinkei, the contrast was brought into sharp relief. While Sustain, a twenty two minute drone piece, seemingly entered a state of stasis, with merely the soft undulation of harmonics indicating any kind of movement, this year's paradoxically titled Non Renew renewed itself every minute, its six sixty-second miniatures constituting perfectly self-sustained sonic worlds avoiding repetition at all cost. There were no loops here, yet they were always implied as a kind of solution to the ephemeral brevity of these fragile structures, with the audience being invited to put the music on repeat to keep its flame burning.
A/B/C/D, another pronouncedly concise release ahead of an upcoming new full-length on Room40 – pressed as a twelve inch intended to be played at 45rpm, it contains just four tracks of almost exactly five and a half minutes each – continues this train of thought, while presenting its case in the most sultry, sweet and sensual form imaginable. As so often with Steinbrüchel, acoustic instruments with bell-like timbres, most likely including glockenspiel, xylophone, a gong and prayer bowls, are used to create short melodic statements rarely exceeding three or four notes. These, in turn, are then juxtaposed with outwardly unrelated, similarly short themes to create chains of related motives, who, although objectively consisting of entirely disparate parts, seem to magically respond and react to each other. Although there is quite clearly quite a bit of effect processing going on, with a fine layer of gentle hiss, crisp crackles or even an featherweight rhythmical pattern accompanying them, the resulting textures feel astoundingly organic and warm, taking on an endearing rather than an alienating feel. By arranging these elements into loops, Steinbrüchel is creating the dreamiest minimalism imaginable, a tender and romantic kind of beat-less techno.
Left spinning in the background, nothing much seems to be happening here, the music pulsating peacefully, like foam floating in a bath tub. The closer one looks, however, the more there seems to be continuous evolution everywhere: Structures are gradually growing more dense, then, suddenly, disintegrating again. Melodies are interlocking into coherent statements, then drifting apart and turning asynchronous. Deep swells appear, then wither away. And no matter how often one listens to the record, there doesn't seem to be a way of definitely deciding upon what constitutes the foreground and what is merely part of a fluent and unified sonic texture. This is, because the two are effectively one and the same here. It is an at first confounding realisation, leading to a kind of sweet dizziness and stupor. All the same, it is also a deeply comforting one, eliminating the need for upfront, concentrating listening. Just lying there with both eyes closed, allowing your thoughts to wander and taking in the music almost casually, as though it were part of the room's ambient sound, is perfectly enough.This, meanwhile, presents a paradox: If there is no center against which to measure it, there can be no such thing as change. And yet, things are undeniably shifting and morphing all the time. The conclusion is anything but complex: Steinbrüchel is pursuing a strategy of delicate transitions, of all but imperceptible variations, which, in due course, are taking a track to a new and unpredictable destination. It is a process spread out across all elements of a piece here, which consequently feel almost liquid rather than taking on a definitive form. In a way, one could say they are never really there at all.
In terms of the polarity between change and repetition, therefore, A/B/C/D is taking on something of a mediating position, because none of the two are actually present in their purest form here. Perhaps Steinbrüchel, after years of subjecting himself to the same philosophical and artistic questions, has arrived at an age-old wisdom: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
By Tobias Fischer
Static Sound (UK)
Ralph Steinbrüchel is a German musician and graphic designer living in Zurich, Switzerland. He has released music for the past 14 years on labels such as 12k, Line, and Room40, and presents here a 4-track 12″ EP on BineMusic. It is quite clear from the opener A, that this record is less about narrative than it is about states and structures. Throughout this EP, Steinbrüchel suggests patterns, motifs and melodies but make them quite ungraspable. Fragments of micro-rhythms are alluded but very often vanish and echo the crackle of the needle on the vinyl surface. Short melodic phrases are repeated like mantras, often oscillate and slowly mutate. It reminds at times of Aleph-1 by Carsten Nicolai, but where Nicolai sticks to a rigid metronomic grid, Steinbrüchel give each sonic element its own life and pace. Upon casual listening, very little appears to be going on. Bell-like instruments ebb and flow on the smooth surface of quiet darker undercurrents, forming a pulsating sonic mass that radiate tranquility and meditation. Their identity is skillfully blurred to leave only a raw aural skeleton. At times, like in B, this miniature orchestra can be dissonant but never fatiguing. Each sound has a specific weight that is purposefully balanced, like in a delicate edifice that could collapse at any time. In D, a fragile sine wave comes to the surface and ask to listen closer. Elsewhere, like in C, it is difficult to distinguish Steinbrüchel’s clicks and crackles from the surface noise of the vinyl. Those micro-events give a great coherence and sense of focus, even though it is impossible to define any of the four pieces in terms of melodic or rhythmic signatures, as everything is masterfully blurred, making each listen an altogether different aural experience.
With A\B\C\D, Steinbrüchel has created a work of awkward and immense beauty that cannot be easily defined or grasped, but that is nonetheless wonderful and essential.
Late 2010 a new EP by Ralph Steinbrüchel was released through Bine Music (distributed by Kompakt and A-Musik). The 12″ vinyl release is called A\B\C\D which stands for Acoustic\Balance\Contour\Design. Steinbrüchel, who is well-known for his work on various labels like 12k, room40, Line, and/OAR and his own Synchron, again delivers a perfect experimental EP.
A\B\C\D sits perfectly on the 12″ format. This experimental work is based on acoustic micro loops which Steinbrüchel layers in different combinations. He sometimes seems to use the clicks & cuts method which also creates the well-placed crackles without disturbing the crystal clear sound of his alienated acoustic sources. The widest range of frequencies seems to be produced in the final track which also comes up with the most melodic parts and a straight rhythmic fundament. It definitely stands out a bit on this record. During the 22:04 minutes of the EP Steinbrüchel shows his competences of sound design at the highest level and with A\B\C\D he created one of the most interesting and outstanding EPs in 2010.
To stream the EP in its entirety just open the wonderful Kompakt Player. But don’t forget to purchase your 12″, it’s a limited vinyl release. And you won’t regret adding this thing of beauty to your record collection.
Vital Weekly (NL)
Quite a surprise here. Firstly because we haven't seen much Steinbruchel on vinyl lately and secondly its on Bine Music, a label which we know for some rhythmic inspired music and that is not always the case with Steinbruchel (well, not anymore that is). Perhaps the third surprise is the fact that is a 12", so perhaps its aimed at the 'dance market' anyway? Ralph Steinbruchel's music may not move many feet but I must say that these four tunes are nicely lightweight chapters from the big book of ambient glitch. Piano like sounds, glitchy, repeating but not always sequential loops, and mild laptop processing bringing in that low end bass sound. In some way it seems to me that these four pieces are extensions of each other, one going in the next, further expanding on the theme, rather than bringing four very distinct different pieces. Breezy summer tunes on a winter's day - well, the sun is shining, and spring should be coming. Think a bit of Taylor Deupree from some years ago, when things were a bit more poppy. Steinbruchel puts the winter aside and a big smile on my face. (FdW)