Frank Bretschneider Frank BretschneiderExp
Sound is measurable. It can be translated into numerical values. As a physical phenomenon, given that it is nothing more than a wave movement, the audio signal is quantifiable based on its longitude, frequency, and amplitude. In digital form, it is quantified based on its source code. Beyond its psychological connotations and cultural coding, sound—and by extension music—can be reduced to mathematical equations. Formulas that can be used with different media, for example video, to control parameters assigned arbitrarily—movement, speed, colour, etc.– and to thus establish a simultaneous, direct and synchronic relationship between what we hear and what we see.
This process is usually called visualisation –yes, just like that wonderful function you have on your iTunes or WMP– and it is one of the most frequently-used resources today in staging live electronic music, although its theoretical origin goes back to Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and its factual development in the work of Oskar Fischinger. It was Fischinger who declared: “The true artist should not be concerned with whether or not he is understood by the masses. He should only be concerned with his Creative Spirit and satisfying the highest ideals, fully trusting that this will be the best contribution he can make to Humanity.”
This quote is relevant to the subject at hand because, paradoxically, the visualisation of sound is currently the refuge of a high percentage of electronic music producers for lowering the pressure of a thoroughly pop stage tradition that practically no one seems willing to give up. The fact that electronic live acts are not intrinsically spectacular visually speaking –an individual and his or her machines, nothing more– continues to be hard for an enormous part of the audience to swallow. The music doesn’t seem to be enough. And so the visuals are added, almost always later, and almost always unjustified. There is nothing better than something to look at to calm the wild beasts. And this is still where we’re at.
There is, nevertheless, a small group of artists whose works, taking up Wagner’s concept of total art, cannot be conceived of without thinking of the interaction between sound and image. Frank Bretschneider is one of them. And “Exp”, is his seventh album—the fifteenth if we count his five pieces in LP format with Komet and his collaborations with Taylor Deupree, Peter Duimelinks and Bovine Life– and it is also the work that is most strongly committed to his Creative Spirit. This is both his greatest virtue and his main flaw.
“Exp” is presented in a double CD format. One of the discs contains a total of thirty-five audio cuts. The other is a film especially for the first twenty cuts, presented in a single, dazzling sequence. The problem lies precisely in this choice of format. The way I see it, a single DVD –or data CD, in this case it’s the same– would have been more appropriate, both for the fruition of Bretschneider’s work and symbolically, showing the indivisible unity between audio and video in “Exp”. As it’s presented, the work is off balance. The eighteen minutes that the video lasts don’t seem sufficient, especially considering that three years have gone by since “Rhythm” appeared. And the music doesn’t entirely work. Not because it lacks quality -it is an impeccable synthesis of, shall we say, the “Bretschneider sound”, with a spare timbre, dub connotations, funk beat, hyper-complex constructions- but rather because the duration of the songs seems to depend entirely on their possibilities in the visual area. So the listener finds thirty-five sketches, which are superb, but sketches; the same thing already happened with “Aerial Riverseries” (Whatness, 2002), where the lack of development and continuity is frustrating. Too many good things are suggested and very few are concluded for the delight of the listener. One thing is sure, though: it must be great live.
* Listen and buy it here