Antye Greie has made a name for herself as AGF in recent years for being one of the most forward-thinking (poet-)producers in electronic music. If it wasn’t the barely-there brilliance of Ellen Allien’s Sool, it was collaborations with Vladislav Delay; if not the meta-upon-meta levels of self-aware social experimentation on Dance Floor Drachen, then the very personal displays of sound manipulation on Einzelkaempfer. In short, she has relentlessly pursued creating a world where everything’s potential to be a song is exploited exactly to that end. Even if the music is too “difficult” or exhausting to listen to extensively, you’ll never hear someone fault her skills or creativity.
Her latest release is a testament to this. For Baustelle, Greie has collaborated with Gudrun Gut, a.k.a. Gudrun Gut, for their first full-length together as Greie Gut Fraktion. Gut was a founding member of Einstürzende Neubauten, the pioneering German industrial band in the 1980s, and since then she’s run the Monika Enterprises label upon which this release appears, not to mention the Oceanclub radio show in Berlin with Thomas Fehlmann. But it was another radio program that brought Gut together with AGF: Late Junction, a BBC show, commissioned them for work in 2008. Unsurprisingly, the two got on well enough to inspire further collaborations.
Baustelle is the fruit of such labor. Translated from German as “building site,” this album is exactly what it suggests given the title and its creators. The songs here were borne out of source material such as saws, pneumatic jackhammers, drills and pumps. From there, Greie and Gut worked independently from their home studios in Finland and Germany, respectively, to re-imagine the sounds as something like songs. They succeed, of course, and the oppressive feeling of the album and mechanical nature of much of this album will also come as no surprise.
“Cutting Trees” is about the most straightforward this album gets, a half-speed techno stutter gliding along as tense strings and an undisguised chainsaw cut into some arbor via your headphones. This is a clever opener; it shows the two sides of both of these artists and how they can separate typical club fare and their more avant-garde experiments. But on repeat listens, it also shows how they can foreshadow the marriage of these sides in the ensuing 10 songs.
The whispering vocals and broken English so frequent on other AGF releases reappear here on numerous tracks to alleviate the inhuman nature of these beats. They are only fleeting moments, however, and even then, you’re still left with lines like “Repeat / Try again / Make it work / Break it down / Build it up…” (“Make it Work”) or “Haven’t we seen this all before” (“Grossgrundbesitzer”), which hardly makes you feel any closer to this music’s mechanical heart. Drills pound away and push you back. The distance between the artists and the listener is significant, and while you accept the concept, one wonders if it’s even worth putting AGF’s truncated poetry over these songs. If the point is to provide relief, it fails miserably — if not, it succeeds by hammering the lack thereof home further. Pun intended.
I’ve done an awful lot of talking about AGF for this album, and in listening, it’s hard to hear exactly what Gut contributed (other than the concept, which seems obvious given her industrial background). You could’ve told me this was an AGF solo album and I wouldn’t have doubted. On the collaborative level, then, this is also something of a failure. Maybe she is a dictator, or maybe these two were working in total synchronicity. Either way, as something to be admired, to be talked about, Baustelle is great. It reinforces the notion that Greie can work with likeminded peers and produce something worth analyzing even more than what you see here. Perhaps counterintuitively, the only challenge left for her is producing something otherworldly from what is already melodic. Baustelle is proof that the world of found sounds and everyday white noise is not enough for this woman. It’s the highest compliment I can think to give a producer.