ALBUM REVIEW: Conrad Schnitzler/Frank Bretschneider – ‘Con-struct’: beguilingly far out in sound deconstruction

ALONGSIDE its work deep in the Deutscher experimental vaults, Hamburg’s Bureau B has also been running an excellent modern series entitled Con-struct.

Initiated by label head Jens Strüver when he was given permission to access the bosy of Tangerine Dream founder Conrad Schnitzler’s unreleased work, the aim of the Con-Struct series is “the idea of con-structing new compositions, not remixes, from the archived material” amassed by him.

Over the past few years the series has seen work from Stefan Betke, as Pole, and Schneider TM; today, as well as the first UK release of Conrad’s 1978 LP Can (read our review here), comes high minimalist Frank Bretschneider’s entry in the series.

Frank was raised in Karl-Marx-Stadt, then behind the Iron Curtain in the former East Germany, listening to pirate radio and smuggling Beastie Boys. And he does seem to bring a different value set to proceedings; those who are familiar with his stripped-down, skittering compositions for that triumvirate of deep tronica imprints Raster.Noton, 12k and Mille Plateaux will know that to give him the Conrad Schnitzler archive as a structural sound source is to expect a very outré feast.

He had this to say of his journey towards the current album: “I read the name Conrad Schnitzler for the first time in the article about Tangerine Dream in the Rowohlt Rock Lexicon from 1973; back then, at 17 in the GDR, an indispensable guide. 

“The first time I heard his music was only in 1980, when his wave track “Auf dem Schwarzen Kanal” was played on the radio: an RCA 12″ disco remix. Then the man was gone and stayed under the radar again. Maybe his material was too obscure or his approach too radical to be noticed by the general public. It wasn’t until 1988 that I heard from Schnitzler again. 

“Only after I heard Wolfgang Seidel at the NBI around 2002 with one of his tape concerts, I came slowly closer.

“‘I’m not interested in having publicity or a public feedback,’ he declared in a 1996 interview …  I was always fascinated by this almost extinct way of being an artist in its full independence.

“I had the idea of flowing music in which patterns develop, shift, dissolve and finally reorganize … sometimes they orbit, sometimes they collide, but they never stand still. As Conrad Schnitzler says in his Context manifesto: ‘The sounds don’t come to stay.’”

So what of the album? Bretschneider has conceptualised the titles, seemingly around movement and circuitry: “Kurrfactor” (distortion factor); “Schwingkreis” (resonant circuit); “Phasenscheiber” (phase shifter).

The opening few tracks are right out in Radiophonic deep space, furiously redolent and abstract; if you’ve heard the Daphne Oram and Vera Gray Listen, Move and Dance series, you’re touching down on the right spheroid. These are fascinating arrangements of sound.

 We’re talking atmospheres, shifting from more ambient arrangements through deep clickscapes, fast-cut bells and resistor squeaks, granular glitch and all manner of instrumentation that fleetingly seems to exist. It’s very enveloping and very hard to organise lexically.

“Grenzfrequenz” seems to sum up the enterprise: “border frequencies”.

Somewhere within the deeps of track 4, “Emitterfolger”, a rhythm emerges and holds, like an isotope reaching a stable half-life. The ghost of a particularly bathetic dance music ghosts in here, all blood and flesh scorched out in pure rhythmical and sonic concern. It fades again, abstracting and running, before reasserting during “Phasenschieber”, which, were it not for an absolute starkness, an alien systems purity, be heading more for that city’s Basic Channel arena. Gongs cannonade and fade, shudder.

“Grenzfrequenz” has a sheet-metal texture and otherscape you can almost taste; “Ruhestrom” (quiescent current), although I hesitate to term it so, is mellower, has this pylon hum and primeval roar. It’s close to the itchy, environment-specific works of Richard Skelton. “Monoflop” again chatters out, lurching at the dance floor, notational interference fogging its progress.

Well, it’s a proper helluva journey. It asks much of you. There are many, many, instances of sonic astonishment which carousel past you in a split-second, as another texture appears. And another. It’s almost too fast to process. The shifts, decays, reassertion is constant. 

While I’d definitely advise against playing this album while operating heavy machinery – it seems to wholly rearrange the thought processes, it demands and gives, but within a place it takes you to; it’s also an incredibly thrilling journey.

Conrad Schnitzler/Frank Bretschneider’s Con-struct will be released by Bureau B on August 7th on download, CD and vinyl, and may be pre-ordered here.

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  1. […] reissuing lost gems and offering that sound gallery out for reinterpretation by the likes of Pole, Frank Bretschneider, et […]

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