If you’re an active buyer of vinyl and cassettes, you’ll know that over the past twelve months, Jeff Witscher has established himself on the electronica scene with brutal force. He hasn’t flooded the underground market, but he has been keeping busy distributing his experiments with modular synthesis all over the blogosphere, with the precision of a metronome. In any case, as it’s more than likely you’re not an active buyer of vinyl and cassettes –some of them in editions as limited as 50 copies–, maybe the name Rene Hell, Witscher’s most common moniker, doesn’t ring any bells. But his weight on the new bedroom electronics scene is almost as big as Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) or the Emeralds threesome: the man is a synthesiser purist with plenty of vintage baggage that allows him to update –and thus making listening to it a lot easier for those inexperienced in this kind of affair– the influence of the cosmic sound of the seventies.
His first album on Type, “Porcelain Opera” (2010), already proved Rene Hell to be a fundamentalist of the analogue with a fascination for sinister moods. With every release, the man has relaxed somewhat and started to offer brighter material, less grim, even graceful, albeit without forgetting about the theorist weight of things and the meticulous reconstruction of the sonic templates of the past. In fact, the title of his second Type release, “The Terminal Symphony”, indicates up to which point he is preoccupied with the academic. Like other synthesiser pioneers –and in this case it’s more about Wendy Carlos than Klaus Schulze– Rene Hell feels closer to classical music, its ceremony and solemnity, than to escapist space music.
When listening to it in one go, “The Terminal Symphony” sounds lighter than its title and intentions would suggest, but that’s only because the man is very skilled at making something that is, in truth, a very complicated work sound accessible. There is a latent impressionism on some of the pieces –“Juliard Op. 66”, “E.S. Des Grauens In Fifths”– that could be reminiscent of Isao Tomita’s work on the Mellotron playing music by Debussy or that of early Suzanne Ciani with the synthesiser on the most abstract parts of her “Seven Waves”. But beyond that, Rene Hell looks for connections with the most dense branch of primitive laboratory electronica –“Baroque Ensemble Coda” sounds a lot like “Silver Apples Of The Moon” by Morton Subotnik. “Oxford Meter End” is purely German and recovers the electro-acoustics of Stockhausen and Conrand Schnitzler– and clearly indicates what audience he’s aiming at: nostalgics of the golden age of synth, electronica connoisseurs, veterans of dance music, demanding fans of popular totems like Vangelis (“Detuned Clarinet” is sometimes reminiscent of “Heaven And Hell”; I’m not sure if it’s a joke about his alias) and Jarre (“Quiet Detail Muse” is like the B-side of “Equinoxe”). And he knows that that audience, with arguments like these, will receive him with their arms spread wide. Give the man a hug.
Rene Hell - The Terminal Symphony by _type