DIE WILDE JAGD – it translates as “The Wild Hunt”, Anglophones, which will surely be the only possible connection to Swedish troubadour The Tallest Man on Earth we shall ever explore – is the sonic project of producer and songwriter Sebastian Lee Philipp.
Across three albums from 2015’s self-titled debut, through 2018’s Uhrwald Orange and last year’s Haut, Berlin’s Sebastian Lee Philipp has moved ever further leftfield from a Teutonic synth and motorik informed beginning, out through a hard-edged psychedelia into songs growing ever more longform and dark, tenebrous even; Haut was comprised only of four tracks, compared to the debut’s 16.
And with this fourth album, the move into longform is complete and, beyond a certain atmospheric consistency, Die Wilde Jagd are an almost completely unrecognisable prospect from the band which first signed for Bureau B only a little over six years ago.
It’s entirely fitting, of course, that Sebastian be plying his trade at Bureau B, the Hamburg imprint which is very much the go-to for all things German and electronic, be that modern or back catalogue; be that quirky synthpop or krautrock originators, such as Conrad Schneider, Faust, Cluster et al.
The story behind ATEM – ‘Breath’ is this: it’s a composition especially commissioned by the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands, which self-styles as a boutique event, and “Europe’s leading underground festival for heavy music of all types, unrestricted by genre”; this year’s event, held in April, featured Alcest, Hangman’s Chair, Full of Hell, GGGOLDDD, and scores of other acts. Something of a salon, then, at which like minds across disparate genres can meet and correspond, listen and mutually amaze.
ATEM was performed at the festival this year on the night of April 16th, and this 45-minute piece was performed and captured for this recording that very evening; it gets a limited release of 500 only on vinyl, so if dark drone suites are your thing, be so appraised. You’ll find ordering details right down the very bottom there.
The piece was written for wooden organ pipes, cello, percussion and electronics, which combination is powerful in its fusion; and was performed on the night by Sebastian himself, Lih Qun Wong and Ran Levari.
Sebastian plays synthesizers and an instrument developed specifically for the performance: a wooden organ pipe operated by air compressor. Lih Qun Wong contributes cello and voice, and Ran, who’s played drums in Die Wilde Jagd since 2017, handles the percussion.
Speaking of ATEM, Sebastian says: “As human evolution enters new realms of reality, I find myself drawn to explore the basic essences of life: the things we are made of, that we take for granted and are, yet, still full of mystery.
“The parallels between breath and music are undeniable: pace, rhythm, volume and dynamic fluctuations influence us deeply. Breath is the elixir of life and the fuel for one of the most primitive vibrations: the human voice.”
It eases into being so gradually, does ATEM, as you’d imagine a piece of three-quarters of an hour might; it’s all about the sound of the space as it opens, the sound within near-silence: breath, a hollow quality, a susurration that’s either waves or amniotic experience, maybe both. There’s the vestiges of a voice; an exhalation savage, like chill wind, blows through.
Slowly, so slowly, tones strengthen; hums that describe a cavernous space, within which Lih hisses and whispers, and sings pure tone, a sibilant presence, nightmarish even; that familiar horror trope of a humanoid creature which you can sense, but which you can’t see, uttering dark, stuttering conceits just beyond your understanding. Drone tones begin to yaw and plead, like foghorns through an ink mist. Water begins to splash; the almost-song you’re deep within is indeed cavernous, and there’s you and some other as yet unidentified being sharing that blind space. Or is the sound of yourself you can hear, disassociated? Pinch yourself; yep, you are awake.
By now there is structure to your aural surroundings, of a bass drone artifice with phasing, octaving overtones; although ominous, there’s some scant comfort to be taken from a basic knowledge of the shape of your incarceration, voluntary or not. A more humanistic angle arrives, tentatively, in occasional cello, lamenting, resounding amongst the damp and the dank.
Tones build, chafe, waver collapse; there’s a cry, a soul-deep, existence-deep cry. And the drone abides. It begins to fray, now, fray into various tonal strands, and at 16 minutes in there’s the first patterning of percussion in the distance, which gives the cello heart to begin a funereal melody. There’s metallic clangings, the rattlings from a collapsing manufactory. The progress of the piece finally emerges into a pulsing electronica minimalism, puts down roots in the German tradition, moves, slowly as first, finding its muscle, dripping still, and sawing; dark, less discomfiting, like a cloudy, spiced wine of unknown origin and strength, you can feel it in your veins.
It clicks and moves, and there’s that release now of travel, the between-state unfurling of the mind in the moment, Lih’s cello ever more purposeful in a stirring motif woven into the click and the thrum, timpani whipcrack. There’s a miniature climatic moment around the 32nd minute, when everything quickly overtops, raises hairs on napes, recedes again; fair trembles in quick, sawing cello attack, shimmers of electronics, in which gradual, two-chord pulse it powers through, deepening, layering, deepening.
Bureau B outline the record as being “an audacious trip into the depths of evolution, organism and metabolism, and [the] science of breathing and its essential role in life”, and you would find it hard to nit-pick with that. It forms something of a trinity with other longform releases of recent times: Harvard professor Yvette Janine Jackson’s two-sides-of-vinyl Freedom, an articulation of the Black American experience both in the hell of slave transport and since, representing privation, sorrow and pain; over at the other side, there’s Matchess’ forthcoming set for Drag City, Sonescent, which plays with songs happened upon in the meditative state, half-remembered and fragmented among alpha and theta waves. That’s blissful.
As for ATEM? Well, any suggestion of a trinity would be flawed, as it leans far more to the former than the latter, tonally; it’s occluding, cavernous, occasionally eerie and pretty damn arresting; it’s concerned, I’d venture, more with the muck and the liquids and the struggle of the mechanics of existence, rather than the pastel-shaded miracle we paint in reassurance for ourselves. I wouldn’t, say, venture self-administering any psychedelics while immersed in it; I would however, fully recommend that immersion. A dark, longform masterwork.