Monoton MonotonMonotonprodukt 07
In a recent interview, Konrad Becker said that one of his favourite pastimes in the late 70s was to tie the arm of his record player to a string, calculating specific intervals. That way he could listen to his favourite parts of a record in a loop, thus making a soundtrack that would play for hours on end, while his perception would change to the point that “the language code [lost] its meaning and a new meaning [emerged].” The anecdote perfectly illustrates the figure who's always been fascinated with technology and its applications in different aspects of art and information, and who's actually much more widely known for his work as a theorist and agitator in the field of hypermedia than for the few record's he has released over the years. Nevertheless, those efforts, though few in number, are of exceptional quality: if Becker decided to make music, it was precisely to take all the concepts and existing ideas around him and turn them inside out. His idea was to boost the artist's anonymity, leaving the composition and performance to machines and, of course, spread the immense advantages of repetitive and monotonous music, as opposed to the supposed virtues of “traditional” music writing. All that, let's not forget, in a time when minimalism was still for connoisseurs and smart alecks only, industrial music was just an idea beginning to take shape in Throbbing Gristle's rehearsal studio, and the more abstract projects in cosmic music (like, for example, Cluster) were languishing or had simply disappeared, fed up with being ignored by the public.
We can safely assume that Becker, particularly interested as he was in everything that was going on in the margins of “conventional” music, was aware of some of those artists and movements: in fact, in the same interview he admitted to having started recording his own music inspired by “ the wave of independent labels and producers. Against the boredom of the majors this was so refreshing.” However, although he did sympathise with the energy of early punk and its idea that “'three chords are enough to start a band,” he felt “three’s already much too much and one tone should be more than sufficient.” That's why the first incarnation of Monoton, his musical alter ego, only used a drum machine, an echo chamber and a monophonic synthesiser. That was his setup for the recording of his first album in 1980, “Monotonprodukt 02”, which, between mechanic rhythms, extravagant melodies, special effects, voices stripped from any emotion and the odd “real” instrument, paved the way for his masterpiece, which would arrive only two years later.
“Monotonprodukt 07” announces his greatness from the start, from “Tanzen & Singen”, which grows connected to a circular arpeggio, shaken by noise eruptions and vocal fragments, while a drone slowly evolves in the background. There, in those nine minutes, are the keys Becker uses to shape the record: hypnotic and almost motorik-like rhythms ( “J.S.C.A.”, has a distinct Neu! vibe), synthesisers driven by their mechanical spirits, industrial (the beautiful “Tonfolge”, “Tanz Auf Dem Strom”), omnipresent echoes, which at some points drown in an ocean of resonance ( “Sägezahn”, “Hz. Waltzer”), distant voices, like fragments of a conversation or randomly overheard orders ( “Wasser”), and a system of additive composition, consisting of the superposition of clearly differentiated but complementary layers. Tools that are as simple as they are effective, which push the listener towards a world of hypnosis and environmental tension ; towards an unstoppable maelstrom, in the interior of which time stands still or, better yet, goes by the rhythms of a dehumanised machine.
Although it was released in a ridiculously limited edition of only 500 copies, and was greatly overlooked at first, the legend of “Monotonprodukt 07” slowly grew until it became a holy grail for electronica aficionados. An album unique in its kind, for which people paid indecent amounts of money, until Oral reissued it ten years ago. And now it's back again, on the format it was meant for: a double vinyl LP in a beautiful sleeve sublimating the geometric sleeve of the original. Nothing is good enough for a masterpiece like this: a title which, with its preference for minimalistic frames, the manipulation of pure sound waves, and the extensive use of electronic machinery, directly anticipated the sound of labels such as Raster-Noton, Atak, and Mego. An album that casts its shadow over the productions of Basic Channel, with a shared love for dub and echo chambers; over the endlessly looped landscapes Wolfgang Voigt created as Gas, and which later became a trademark sound for the Kompakt family; over the rusty, decomposing atmospheres built by artists like Philip Jeck or William Basinski. The complete history of the most experimental electronic music is condensed here, in sixteen tracks which, thirty years after their original release, still sound glorious.