Frieder Butzmann - "Wie Zeit Vergeht" (Wie Zeit Vergeht)
He’s been called a father of German experimental music, but stateside, Frieder Butzmann remains largely unknown. It’s certainly not the first time that renown in Germany didn’t quite translate across the Atlantic (I’m looking at you, Mr. Hasselhoff), but in an information age when even the most obscure practitioners of eccentric sound are searched out and subjected to retrospective revisiting, the small size of Butzmann’s internet footprint is a surprise. In his homeland, Butzmann’s long had a reputation as a musician whose personality is as offbeat as the art he makes, a Dada-inspired alchemist of electronic oddities. Once a surfer on the weirder fringes of the Neue Deutsche Welle, he’s become an influential figure, a good-humored and unassuming elder statesman with years of aural adventure under his belt. On Wie Zeit Vergeht, Butzmann takes on another German with a penchant for rebelliousness, repurposing the words of Karlheinz Stockhausen in concert with recordings made on STEIM‘s modular Black Box synthesizer. The results are wide ranging and unpredictable, just the sort of stuff that’s been Butzmann’s forte for decades.
Wie Zeit Vergeht takes its name from an article Stockhausen wrote for the journal Die Reihe in 1957, in which the composer introduced his concept of the “spectrum of time.” Butzmann draws text from a collection of Stockhausen’s essays and lyrics, slicing, dicing, and modulating the words in a style that’s more about communicating the spirit of the source material than relating its intellectual content. Some phrases and sentences survive unscathed and understandable, but others get put through a wringer of effects or are delivered in oddball voices, their meaning obscured, if not fully obliterated. Butzmann’s electronics are even more volatile than his treatment of Stockhausen’s text, with the original analog recordings digitized and reassembled in seemingly random succession. Butzmann’s not a man who concerns himself with technical savvy or formal precision, and that’s quite obvious on Wie Zeit Vergeht, as the album, from its first minute to its last, flitters about almost constantly, like an overzealous bee amid a field of flowers. Colorful, frenetic collage abuts darker, drawn out weirdness, with Butzmann’s anything-goes ethos the only constant.
The German language isn’t especially suited for some purposes (rapping and overdubbing South Park, for example), but it works well in this context, its stereotypically inflexible and officious character undermined by Butzmann’s playful embrace of the silly and the surreal. Wie Zeit Vergeht isn’t close to being perfect, but that’s kind of the point, as Butzmann’s obviously not one to court a polished sheen at the expense of having a little fun. He’s a serious musician who doesn’t take things too seriously, and even if his work isn’t as bracingly new or necessary as it might’ve been in West Germany a few decades ago, there are still some artists who could learn a thing or two from Butzmann’s musical joie de vivre.