Like Richard Meyers before him, Jeff Witscher has looked to the underworld for his latest pseudonym, the most recent in a series that’s included Impregnable, Secret Abuse and Marble Sky. As he’s done in the past, Witscher has taken on a new name to mark yet another aesthetic divergence in his output. As Rene Hell, Witscher wields the sumptuous synthesized sounds of Kosmische Musik with clarity and cleanliness, making a sizable break from his previous work as he looks toward the 1970s to find his future.
Since 2009, Witscher’s issued a handful of Rene Hell cassettes, largely on his own Agents of Chaos label, but Porcelain Opera is the first CD/LP under this moniker. Porcelain Opera is a finely-tuned effort, its brief 33 minutes an exercise in confident economy, not so much focused as carefully corralled. Witscher puts forward each track as a Petri dish in which particular strains of sound commingle, with over-arching atmospheres created through careful abstract movements within predetermined parameters. Springy rhythms underpin much of the disc, overlaid with hazy tones, fragmented vocal echoes and other electronic emissions, making for a foreground in flux, sounds fading in and out in uncluttered and even-tempered fashion.
The album steers clear of any nouveau new age melodrama, and Witscher’s often nonlinear composition allows for little tugging of heartstrings. This dismissal of the emotional can cause the album to feel cold and clinical. There is beauty in the gentle drift of “IV 18:54” and an ominous darkness to “Prize Mischief Hold,” but Porcelain Opera is not an album with a propensity for immersing the listener in thrall. The sense of the cosmic that gave Kosmische its name is rare on Porcelain Opera, an album that inspires more intellectual curiosity than spellbound captivation.