Apparat – Krieg Und Frieden (Mute Artists album, 2013)

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mute artists | stumm352 | 18/02/2013

Everyone will have, at some point or another in their lives, compared something to ‘being like War And Peace‘, probably without knowing that they’re referring to a novel by Tolstoy; they just know it’s a long book. Like a lot of important Russian literature, it is an expansive, long-form affair that progresses at a seemingly glacial pace over many years, almost at a real-time pace. Such works require a level of concentration and persistence that don’t quite chime with our modern need for quick fixes and instant fully-formed character deployment, something to read at the same time as listening to music, watching TV or walking to the train.

Sascha Ring, or Apparat, has made it his business to create advanced electronic music that, like the work of Tolstoy and the other great Russian authors, has real, genuine depth. His pieces – a label far more suited to his music than ‘songs’ or ‘tracks’ – have a sonic complexity and density that requires the listener to focus on layers upon layer of detailed textural dialogue. Apparat’s first album for Mute, The Devil’s Walk contained gossamer-like ideas intertwining with one another like DNA coils to create one of the most beautiful, ephemeral works in the whole history of modern electronic music, laced with lyrics that were at once hopeful and melancholic at the same time, something that would resonate with the transcendent nature of the Russian psyche.

Sebastian Hartmann is an uncompromising theatre director with a track record of staging difficult and challenging works as well as offering radical reinterpretations of classic plays; his productions include the controversial anti-war play Blasted by Sarah Kane, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, a stage realisation of the arid Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders, and works by Ionescu, Chekhov and Shakespeare. The ambitious Krieg Und FriedenWar And Peace – was staged for the 2012 Ruhrfestspiele festival in Recklinghausen, with imagery from Tilo Baumgärtel (from whose work the sleeve for Krieg Und Frieden is taken) and music by Apparat.

Over time I have come to the opinion that theatre, much more so than film perhaps, still offers some of the greatest opportunities and blankest canvases for the experimental musician. Nevertheless, Apparat’s music for Krieg Und Frieden includes a number of pieces that feel like they were written for a theatre audience’s need to hear orchestral reference points in a musical accompaniment. Those pieces – ’44’, both versions of ‘K&F Thema’, ‘Austerlitz’ – find Sascha Ring deploying the cello of Philipp Timm and violin of Christoph Hartmann from his live band to create austere, mournful and occasionally heart-wrenching melodies. These central pieces provide concrete proof that electronics may be capable of moving you but strings do it far more gracefully; here you find stately, regimented piano chords, music box simplicity and structures reminiscent of Irmin Schmidt, all mixed in with a sonic inventiveness that takes in drones and small, mechanical whirrings, clicks and feedback. The most obviously ‘stagey’ composition here (and by the way that’s not meant as a criticism) is ‘PV’, wherein layers of urgent melody rise up from a dark ambient soundscape before finally settling into a web of thunderous drums and skronking horn blasts. Add a trapeze and vast budget to proceedings and you have a perfect score to a Cirque du Soleil show that hasn’t been conceived yet.

Offsetting the overtly theatrical pieces are challenging compositions that evoke bleak, anguished imagery. At the cheeriest end of that spectrum is ‘Blank Page’, featuring shimmering textures, clattering gears, snipping sounds, horses perhaps and a vague sounds of birds get overtaken by discordant noises. Those noises are finally offset by a vague melody that increasingly asserts itself on the front line of the piece; that melody brings with it a howling restlessness that evokes memories of some of Robert Fripp’s most evocative solo soundscape recordings. At the more unsettling end is ’44 (Noise Version)’, which is noise with a lower-case ‘n’. This distant cousin of ’44’ consists of delicately deployed feedback and sullen drones that position this somewhere between the quiet, frozen stillness of Thomas Köner and the industrial ambience of The Hafler Trio around the time of How To Reform Mankind. This is the sound of electronically-processed wind howling across the cruel and unforgiving frozen Russian steppes. There is, within the distortion and feedback, an elegiac quality, barely perceptible, just audible enough to release you from the intense gloom.

Sascha Ring’s distinctive, strained soulful vocal colours two songs here. ‘Light On’ starts with sparse atmospheres and musings on desolate, deserted places, with skittering percussion and oscillating loops offsetting his Chris Keating-esque delivery, the whole thing coalescing over time into a sort of dense mutant dub rhythm. The album closes with a track that totally justifies the oft-abused ‘epic’ tag. ‘A Violent Sky’ is poignant ballad with jazzy percussion and Satie-esque piano clusters. This is the point where Sascha Ring finally flies free of any electronic rigidity into a warm, organic space that could provide a singularly inventive way forward after seven albums of clever electronica.

First published 2013; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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