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Conrad Schnitzler and Bjørn Hatterud - Hirschgebrüll

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Artist: Conrad Schnitzler and Bjørn Hatterud

Album: Hirschgebrüll

Label: Fysisk Format

Review date: Aug. 8, 2011

What a life. Conrad Schnitzler, who died on August 4 of stomach cancer, can lay claim to being one of the fathers of non-academic German electronic music. But he wasn’t so much a pater familias as the brilliant but nutty uncle in the attic. He founded Kluster (later Cluster) and was an early contributor to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, an inveterate collaborator (with Gen Ken Montgomery, Giancarlo Toniutti and his son Gregor, among others), and a prolific solo artist. But he never engaged the mainstream in the way that Edgar Froese or Ralf Hutter did, leaving groups as quickly as he joined them, impelled by creative restlessness and sheer cussedness. The common denominator in his vast body of work is an appreciation for electronic sounds unto themselves, as opposed to using electronics to replicate other sounds.

In recent years, Schnitzler lived in a little town outside of Berlin where he reportedly fought with neighbors who objected to where his dogs shitted, sold homemade CDs to fans around the world, and reportedly gave a stack of exceedingly collectible LPs away to his plumber because he hated packing them too much to sell them on eBay himself. He finished his last album four days before he died and left this parting message on his website: http://www.conrad-schnitzler.de/neu.htm). To save his friends the trouble of visiting his grave, he’s concocted a memorial plan that is an extension of his global living project. Why make people travel when you can mail a piece of yourself to them? As much as is possible, Schnitzler lived and died on his own terms.

So it makes sense that his collaborations in recent years have not necessarily involved sitting down with someone in a studio and hashing out some new jams. On the just-released Con-Struc, for example, Schnitzler gave Christian Borngräber and Jens Strüver some sounds from the library he’d amassed over a lifetime of tinkering with electronics and let them make an album out of them. Hirschgebrüll is a more mutual effort. Norwegian electronic musician and critic Bjørn Hatterud, who records under the name Maskinanlegg, initiated a trade of junk tracks, which Schnitzler took quite literally; the first CD-Rs that he sent Hatterud were fished out of the studio garbage can. Each man made new tunes out of the other’s tracks, and they gave the lot to Maja Ratkje to stitch into a finished sequence. The music ranges from sparkly to grimy, and this press picture attests as well as any description I’m going to offer to this album’s playful spirit. But here goes anyway.

Hirschgebrüll doesn’t fit neatly into any timeline of electronic music. It certainly doesn’t sound like any sort of Krautrock revival, nor does it sound much like any contemporary noise or techno outing. The only contemporary analog that comes to mind is Pan Sonic’s later work, which has a similar tendency to let a few elements stand in stark relief. But this music feels less labored over, more like part of a discussion in which a speaker makes a point, then moves on. That conversational element also figures in the duo’s use of melody. They don’t foreground tunes; they make them dip in and out of the moving patterns and fixed terrain like little comments that draw you into someone else’s chat.

The first of its 10 numbered tracks juxtaposes scouring metallic washes with pulses one might expect from an inebriated but impetuously amorous cricket. The next passes a series of squelches and shortwave-like frequencies over an ultra-simple beat that sounds paradoxically unwavering, but not quite lockstep; it breathes rather than loops. Elsewhere the play is more between timbre, texture, or a particular effect. “Track 7” contrasts two kinds of echo, with pure, lancing tones bouncing off of longer, more complex sounds that bring to mind a radio heard from the far end of a big, empty mall. But where the old-school industrial types might have put a spooky, end-of-the-world spin on such material, this feels more like a moment of heightened awareness on a leisurely walk. Hirschgebrüll never feels like it’s trying to be more than what it is, which is two guys having fun making something. It’s just one more chapter in a creative life well lived, and it’s best not to take it as something especially significant because it happened near the end of that life. It’s just a good example of how that life was lived.

By Bill Meyer

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