PROFANAfter almost eight years out of the limelight which were dedicated to building up the Kompakt empire, of which he is the ideological and operational leader, from the shadows Wolfgang Voigt seems to have picked up a creative career that almost always has been characterised by following its own rules. His pioneer character, his role as a prospector of aesthetics and catalyst of scenes explain the renewed interest in his older work. And maybe we should go right there, to the genesis of those revisions, to find the origin of the new creative impulses of Voigt, who shows himself to be interested in exploring the tonal capacities of the piano –with a suffocated and rigid bass drum as the only seasoning, for old times’ sake, and at the same to give the all-time fans something to hold on to - with contemporary colours and a post-dodecaphonic accent.
There you go, in times of a general falling from grace of “minimal” techno, the man who laid the foundation of the Cologne sound and one of the main inspirations of that same “minimised” aesthetic (see the legacy of Profan or the series of influential 12”s he published under his Studio 1 between 1995 and 1997) looks at the most dissonant classic-contemporary school for inspiration. The gesture could be interpreted as a sideways flight in search of an appreciative context and an audience outside of techno, but it’s enough to let your memory work, look back on his body of work to realise that Voigt’s interest in academic music isn’t new at all: just go back to the telluric world of Gas to find echoes of classicism –manipulated demonstrations of classic works by Wagner or Schoenberg– blurred between those narcotic ambient textures.
Voigt’s concrete interest in the expressive possibilities of the piano isn’t new, either. In fact, “Freiland Klaviermusik” (“piano music in the open air”) is nothing more than an extension of the “Freiland Klaviermusik EP” that announced the reactivation of Profan in the summer of 2008. The album includes the tracks of that EP plus eight new compositions based on the tones of a synthetic piano (a choice with which he rejects any possible acoustic phenomenology that would come of the use of the piano with a resonance box), pieces inspired by, according to Voigt, studies for “mechanic piano” –or pianola- by Conlon Nancarrow, a small body of work but influential (in spite of its belated appreciation, people such as György Ligeti, Pierre Boulez or James Tenney ended up succumbed to Conlon’s creativeness when it comes to rhythm, multiple tempos and polyphony used as a generator of textures), which the man from Cologne seems to find highly inspiring, both because of the innovative use Nancarrow made in his day of a machinery that was already obsolete at the time and because of the feeling of unpredictability (which was false, as those are pieces designed to be reproduced via mechanic equipment, of deliberately perforated notes on the surface of a piano roll) that his work breathes, abstract and hyperkinetic compositions that needed an execution too precise and fast to be interpreted by a musician of flesh and blood.
Voigt stays away from the complexity and dynamism of Nancarrow, placing, over an opaque bass drum, attacks of piano forte that oscillate between the rawest repetition of rhythmic intention –a precussive use that establishes connections with the “prepared piano” of John Cage, although here that use is more primitive and stripped-, the post-dodecaphonic serialism or the tapestries typical for the North American repetitive school. On “Alleingang” the bass drum is reinforced with an insistent staccato of heavy keys, both tones serving as one grill over which three sequences of notes are laid that repeat themselves –albeit not perfectly- clashing in what could be a proportional canon. “Zimmer” is similarly structured, although here the tone of the piano is adulterated to get closer to the electronic imagery, and everything responds to a more precise, tense and mechanical pattern. “Feld” plays the card of atonal serialism, sounding like a somewhat clumsy student would practising a Stefan Wolpe or Jean Barraqué score. “Geduld” achieves a faint temporary groove, although later the accumulation of tones generates chromatic illusions similar to those that came up when trying to interpret Terry Riley’s “Olson III” with the sole help of a piano (that feeling of quasi-texture repeats during “Schweres Wasser”, a track that starts moving in a somewhat more melodic area in which one, if one tries hard enough, could see the phantoms of ragtime or Art Tatum’s stride piano). “Verwaldung” and “Brucke” insist in the technoid tone, while “Kammer” dares to look for spaces of freedom via a resonant bass drum and a pinch of free-jazz imagination evoking memories of Cecil Taylor. On the opposite front, pianistic jokes –without rhythms, i.e. beatless - like “Mondlich”, “Dunkler Weg” or “Mecha” - sound like pure hazardous music, not so much like conscious improvisation but more like some kind of “ Erratum Musical ” that suggests, well, not so much.
“Freiland Klaviermusik” is a tough piece of work to listen to, which sometimes works, and sometimes not. An astringent record, discordant, with a grotesque and psychotic touch, and which will be received in very different ways: it could be irritating, it could be perceived as an inexperienced style exercise, reductionist and simple - but it could also awaken one’s curiosity, depending on the mood of the listener. Deep down, these are pieces that can be enjoyed more when one forgets about pure reason, blocks out any thought and waits until the insistent hammering and the random storm of keys ends up causing the numbing of the senses. It’s not a record for everyone, but it can’t hurt to have a listen.
Luis M. Rguez
* Listen here