tobias c. van Veen takes a fond look back at techno's Christian Morgenstern, who tragically passed away this past weekend at the age of 27.
Wired Wanderings & Reminiscence on the
Death of Christian Morgenstern
Today is not a good day. Last year James Stinson of Drexicya passed away; today we learn of the death of Christian Morgenstern, 27, who recorded dark & moody techno for Germany's Kanzleramt and for his own label, Forte. I found out about Morgenstern's death this morning from the Editor here at Dusted, who asked if I had known the man. I had never met Morgenstern. But in 1997 a lucky trade brought the album Miscellaneous II: New Issues for Pale People onto my decks.. it was music for the time of the underground. I wrote back to my Editor with a few words on how it had affected me:
“Miscellaneous II is very dark, moody, deep, almost subterranean; in other words, meditative & brilliant. Consider he did this when he was 23 .. he took the moodiness of Detroit, the industrial harshness of Germany, and incorporated a range of unorthodox sounds (in fact my favorite track of the album has ghosted, barely audible spliced-voices murmuring in the background while warm pads drift over an array of hums and rattles ... a hard hi-hat punctuates the mix and the kick is deeply sunk into the reverb box..).
He wasn't a prolific artist. But back then you didn't have to be. The mystery surrounding Morgenstern was part of the general milieu of techno music back then – faceless, underground.. no personalities.. just all about launching these amazing sonic missives into the aether, like underwater sonar, trying to find a response.. “
It remains unfortunate that I never did my duty by pinging back a response to Christian. Although it still remains easy enough in the microcultures of music to speak to the artists involved, in the '90s the contact was profound, for it meant that this small cultural resistance known as "techno" had made an impact, forging links across the globe. But half the time I'm never sure what to say in the circumstances. One just wishes to seek out and touch at the appropriate moment – not much needs to be said, sometimes, when the language is music.
Miscellaneous II, like the best techno albums, is a coded communique. It contains a blunt mix of up and down; it investigates issues of pain & pleasure; it speaks of the machine and the mood, for it drives the body while questioning the mind... Industrial & grinding, if not abstract and darkly trance-inducing 4/4 thudders capture the manic depressive essence of Kanzleramt at the time, and the ways in which popular rave motifs of trance music were being deconstructed by techno producers – especially those particularily demented Germans, who pulled the dark element out of the warehouse. Techno became a commentary on the rave scene at this moment. As Achim Szepanski noted in an essay many years ago, rave culture became a "pleasure-prison" (it works rather well in German: Freizeitknast) & the more critically inclined techno producers – consciously or unconsciously – captured the melancholia of losing the liberating power of rave culture to the imprisonment of pleasure (and ravage commercialism). There is a deep, dub-influenced techno track on Miscellaneous II, over-laden with feedback, distanced and echoed percussion & a deep house 4/4 groove... a two-step, minor chord drives the loop, which works through a series of alternating percussive sequences and escalating build-ups of noise... although the noise never destroys the track, and the mood is positively relaxing... this track is a paradox, and the use of violent sonic elements in a dub refrain echoes perfectly the milieu of middle-late '90s techno and its relation to the culture that it spawned and which, in turn, spawned techno's own future.
Miscellaneous II is a prescient album. While the darker, industrial tracks carry an electro heritage that stretches back to the late '70s, a few of the house tracks contain chordal slices & dices, as well as high-pitched crackles, hums and glitches that pre-date today's vogue microsampling & aesthetics of failure by about seven years. Miscellaneous II thus stands as an album to measure today's techno producers. In its diversity & breadth of aural vision there are few others. Morgenstern is at the top of his form, pulling out the joy from melancholia, exploring forms of techno, house and electro, and stamping every track with inventive sounds, incorporated & thieved markers of other genres, and a moodiness that speaks to a human element in the machine. Despite the faceless of aura of '90s techno, this album said: here is a message... listen in...
I own most of Morgenstern's 12"s on Kanzleramt, although I am sorely lacking his later work on his own label, Forte. Each time a new stage in this discussion plays out a tangent, side-argument, or contributes towards the main thrust – the sadness and loss of a subculture that nonetheless seems to be moving into the future through its own technological reflection... Which also means expressing the joy & profound amazement of life through the unfolding rhythms of techno; and this was Morgenstern's greatest gift as a conductor of the electric – turning the dark to the light, and doing so in such a fashion that the mood of the loop struck before the 4/4. Morgenstern made me forget I was listening to techno – it lapsed into an alien music that spoke in tongues. It had something to say.
Today I am in the leap of solitude. Today is a day for meditation and rest, to lower myself into extended drones, and to resolve the moment, this time, particularly with so much infinite care, to listen again to that time by pulling Miscellaneous II from a dusty techno crate. Immersion.
Christian Morgenstern discography:
06.24.03 – 2:26PM
By tobias c. van Veen