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Asmus Tietchens / Asmus Tietchens & Richard Chartier - h-Menge / Fabrication

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Artist: Asmus Tietchens / Asmus Tietchens & Richard Chartier

Album: h-Menge / Fabrication

Label: Line / Die Stadt

Review date: May. 1, 2008

A listen to almost any Asmus Tietchens album reveals an unwavering devotion to finding extremes within limited parameters. I can't claim to have heard all of the dozens of albums and collaborations, but even Litia, his 1983 Sky Records foray into industrial dance music, forewent typical dancefloor build and release to focus on the pure texture of that tension. It fails as a dance album, but for those with their ears to the speaker instead of the beat, it's a remarkable deconstruction. The point being, even when operating within clear and necessary signposts, Tietchens finds ways to limit the scope further, or to at least make that scope feel limited by highlighting the resultant claustrophobia created by limitations.

The release lies in Tietchens' deft and selective exploration of those parameters. A tour through his back catalog, a large chunk of which has been reissued by the Die Stadt label over the past several years, shows a variety of approaches to electronic composition, from Formen Letzter Hausmusik's haunting electro-acoustic wanderings to his recent Menge series. On the surface, this is his most rigorous project, based entirely on sine tones and white noise. Compared to his more industrial-leaning output or his Kontakt der Junglinge collaboration with Thomas Köner, the sound palette is defiantly struck.

The Menge releases haven't been about building and developing so much as juxtaposing chosen frequencies and timbres. Perhaps due to its being the last in the series, h-Menge heightens this strategy, with the tracks having more noticeable through-lines than their predecessors. The busy, near-horror design of "Teilmenge 47" gives way to the ominous drone of "Teilmenge 45,” followed by the warmer, ostensibly placid "Teilmenge 44A,” the trick being that the disruptive, high-in-the-mix hallmarks of “47” reappear prominently on “44A.” This isn't to say that those prior releases were undeveloped, but there's a particular logic to the sequencing within and between these tracks that unlocks Tietchens' often difficult work.

Electronic music has a complicated interaction with its past, an idea elaborated upon by Jon Dale in a recent review for this site. Unlike in rock music, a throwback or revival in electronic or experimental music feels particularly pointless. A forced living in a perpetual present is fine, but any artist interested in using tradition as something more than window-dressing must understand that a meaningful negotiation with the past is necessary. Tietchens is one of the few artists who pick up this ball and run with it, eased perhaps by his own longevity and continuity. Those disruptive clatters on "Teilmenge 47" are directly descended from his ’80s experiments. The rough machinery of his earlier work is buried within strictly digital soundscapes, not superficially, but completely, thereby creating another meaningful tension in his work. It's easy listening only in the sense that all the pieces undeniably fit into place.

Tietchens has such a conceptual mastery over his material that his collaborations risk a lack of solvency. Fabrication is a difficult project, as Richard Chartier brings an equally singular personality to the proceedings that, unlike his collaborations with Taylor Deupree and William Basinski, doesn't initially appear to be completely congruous with the more Sturm und Drang elements of Tietchens. Also extremely prolific, Chartier's work consistently frustrates, in that his lengthy excursions are predicated upon absence. The albums are the slow fade, the songs heard through the wall, and while he often reaches the sublime, such efforts can collapse into a joyless stasis. Patience is key.

Fabrication is the continuation of a 2003 project called Re'Post'Postfabricated, in which Chartier invited artists such as COH, Matmos, Byetone and Tietchens to rework his 1998 CD Postfabricated using sound files he distributed. Further collaboration ensued, and the result is a satisfying 51-minute bridging of personalities. As might be expected, Tietchens' more dynamic scrapes and blips are for the most part severely muted by Chartier's deliberate approach, but rather than frustrate, Fabrication invites the listener to discern what exactly appeals about their individual works. Though new territory isn't really explored, Tietchens and Chartier's generous attenuation to each other helps Fabrication avoid discordance.

By Brad LaBonte

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