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Frank Bretschneider + Steve Roden

Suite Nuit
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Suite Nuit
  • Frank Bretschneider and Steve Roden strike as unlikely bedfellows. Despite both seeming to sit neatly under ‘post-digital avant-electronica’ or some such sub-genre, cursory comparison of two decades of separate endeavours reveals significantly differing aesthetics—lowercase Steve’s scuttling sitting-in-a-room stasis vs. minimal Frank’s LFOs and Raster-man clicks’n’cuts action. Suite Nuit sees these chalk and cheese sonicians reconcile differences via a site-specific work originally presented in 2004 at Berlin’s Suite In Parochial, which convened sound and video artists to address the unique sonic, visual and cultural setting of the Parochialkirche. Retrieved, oddly, a full decade after the event by Line, co-curated along with VOLUME, it comes in the form of two pieces—one performance, one rehearsal—in which the duo blends strands of electronics and improvisation with rhythmic infiltrations, making for a diverse and unpredictable yet compelling recording.

    Generally Bretschneider makes with the ‘micro’ modular, while Roden fiddles with field-found sound in various forms from airy spaces to scuffling minutiae. “Part 1 live” begins with synthetic sub-thuds getting minimal techno kicks somewhere between R-N post-digital clip hop and BC crossover tech-dub submersions; the pair reshape a tonemass of pliable particulate structure that manages through esoteric transmutations to maintain internal linkages. A kind of liminal minimal techno develops via tiny synthetic bursts and discreet noise shards, bleep and skitter obliquely dallying with dance forms, glitching and teeming with insectoid pitches. From stumble down rhythmic scree, R & B then change tack to crackling soundscape with weighty low-end prods. A recrescence of percussive chatter and drones emerges, before halfway house sees the noise-scape widen with heavy reverberation, beat hip-gnosis and reversing loops. Gong-tones emerge amid more rhythm jitters and a wash of woody timbres, finally finding a warmer drone to run through still skittering beats and prodding bass. “Part 2 rehearsal” deploys similar settings and instruments to experiment more with tone and texture, varying style and structure, with improvisation bringing different outcomes. The bass heavy drones are retained, but for a kind of constancy amid mutability, little loops are launched around which a buzz and flutter rubs up against modular throb—a stream of sequences moving through, weightless, effortless, linked in their own internal logic. It drifts away from rhythmic center till feedback peals and soft tones come to beckon back beat chatter before cession to final ambient drone and field flutter.

    This space is the place for parallel trajectories of time and shape, inciding on perception of space and space for perception. Here—where two torrents merge embedding mathematic metamorphic pulse and twisted timbral atmo in a quiet riot of granular detail and twitching circuitry—is Bretschneider and Roden’s point of encounter.

  • Considered “lost” for the better part of the past decade, these two live pieces, commissioned for a performance in Berlin, has some unexpected moments for those familiar with these two composers.  Steve Roden and Frank Bretschneider blend their strengths of subtle electronics and improvisation, but also bring in some surprisingly conventional beats and rhythms, resulting in an unpredictable, yet diverse and gripping record.

    The first piece, performed live for the 2004 Suite in Parochial festival, immediately begins with a surprising use of beats.  The deep synthetic thuds, approximating 4/4 kick drums without fully sounding like a drum machine, lie somewhere between the electronic noise style of Raster-Noton and the submerged dub of the Basic Channel label.  The duo continue this bizarre techno sound via tiny synthetic outbursts and bits of noise, drifting towards bleepy skittering techno that never manages to go full on dance in its structure.

    From this misleading trip down rhythmic avenues, Roden and Bretschneider then choose to completely change things around.  Rather than beats, the performance becomes heavy with crackling drones and massive sub bass passages.  The middle segment features some stretched out DSP bell tones that sound nice in this context, but are a bit less distinctive than the rest of the performance.  The duo eventually mangles what could almost pass for a harmonica melody, and closes the piece on a rhythmic, synth heavy conclusion.

    The second piece, a recorded rehearsal, sounds like the duo working with the same settings and instrumentation, but the result is notably different in its style and structure.  They retain the bass heavy drones from before, but first focus on abstract synth loops:  a drastic departure from the beat centric opening of the live performance.  Organic clinking and dripping sounds appear, making for a more textural introduction.

    Compared to the performance, the rehearsal is less rhythmic and structured, instead seeing the two experiment with tones and textures.  The hints at melody from before appear as well, but contorted and processed to be even more deranged than what was heard by the audience.  The piece is just as dynamic as the other, but sounds even more experimental.  The final ten or so minutes of the piece drift into that glitch heavy techno sound that characterizes what became the actual performance.

    Considering that both of these lengthy pieces were performed solely by Bretschneider’s modular synth, with Roden manning effects, recordings, and various objects, the end result is far richer and nuanced than the instrumentation would suggest.  Having sat in some digital limbo for the past decade, these two related, yet thematically similar performances finally seeing the light of day is a very good thing.

  • Suite Nuit is an interesting document of the meeting of these two musical minds, dating back to 2004. Steve Roden is a Pasadena-based sound, visual, and mixed media artist who’s been releasing work under his own name and in be tween noise since the mid-nineties; in fact, as a full disclosure, his first album was something I discovered in ‘95 or so when I was still publishing a paper fanzine, and he and I struck up a correspondence that lasted some years. (This release has put me back in touch with him, a nice bonus!) Roden’s music has always struck me as inherently organic, equally informed by technique, process, and instinct. He’s called it “lowercase” in the past, music that focuses on the slightest of details and encourages — perhaps demands — active listening. Bretschneider has released numerous works in the last fifteen years or so, largely focused around severe, minimal electronics and how those interact with the concept of rhythm, whether in the microscopic beatmaking of his Komet project or the improvisational jazz inspiration of his album EXP.

    While Bretschneider can often be heard exploiting the tiniest fragments of electronic sound, Roden is more unpredictable, with a career that spans all sorts of tinkering, both visual and aural. The very hushed, lulling patterns that start off the second half (their “practice” session) feels more like Bretschneider’s Rand or his Komet alias at first, but then a series of strange drones layer on top that are no doubt the handiwork of Roden. This push and pull between their aesthetics is pervasive, and it’s at the core of what makes Suite Nuit sonically exciting. Those more familiar with either artist’s work will be pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns the soundmaking takes as they feed off one another. It splits the difference between Roden’s world of “lowercase sounds” and Bretschneider’s exploitation of computer sounds and error music. Despite all of the activity that is happening above and below the surface, there is something meditative about Suite Nuit that allows it to go down smooth and linger, like a massage for the ears.

  • There are scales of rhythm in which space is a bidirectional alliance between time and shape, influencing the perception of space but also the space for perception, as in Suite Nuit, where Frank Bretschneiderand Steve Roden are merged into two sonic torrents that envelop rhythms in a mutable speed, full of audible transmutations, mathematically crafted pulses and a wide range of timbres. The first piece is about constantly reshaping a massive flow of particles and malleable structures that maintain a close relationship while transformed in exotic ways. The second one is pure microsonicwonder, achieving an open trend in which granular details, spaced frequencies and subtle atmospheres become predominant. Such an intense work able to enhance listening by constantly giving sequences that move the ears through unfathomable paths of vibration, space and form, here inter-connected under their own laws.

  • Raster-Noton co-founder Frank Bretschneider teamed up with field recording/found-sound artist Steve Roden for this session of manipulated sounds and electronics, which was commissioned for a 2004 festival at a church in Berlin, and was recently unearthed and released. The recording features the 22-minute live session as well as a 30-minute rehearsal. Both sessions feature Bretschneider’s sine-wave/clicks’n’cuts electronic tones (typical of the labels he’s recorded for, such as Mille Plateaux, 12k, Raster-Noton and Line) along with Steve Roden’s found sounds and recordings. About two minutes into the live session, a minimalist groove is flooded with cluttered, scattered thumb piano notes. After shuddering and glitching out, insect-like high-pitched tones crowd around miniscule convulsing beats. The sounds of a distant crowd appear around 7 minutes, before more swarms of chattering beats and drones emerge. The noise-scape widens around 10 minutes, with heavy reverberations, but nothing erupting into full-on harsh noise. A hypnotic beat underlines subtle, backwards loops, and around 16 minutes, gong-like tones emerge amongst more nervous, shaky beats/tones. A wash of small, wooden stick-like tones is poured around, and the final minutes of the session feature a warmer drone sound along with the continually chattering beats and bass tones. The rehearsal session lasts longer and explores similar terrain, but doesn’t arrive at the same conclusions (such is the nature of improvisation). If anything, it seems like this one sprawls out a bit longer, taking more time for sounds to develop. It gradually seems to drift away from rhythmic elements, until waves of feedback and quiet tones usher back in the vibrating, chattering beats. These give way to ambient droning for the session’s final minutes, with a few obscured field recordings which make you wonder what’s happening in the scenes being recorded.

  • Two radically contrasting composers work out their differences in this 2004 collaboration commissioned for Singhur’s Suite in Parochial festival, now released by Line and Volume. The results manifest two extended pieces consolidating Roden’s signature, scuttling small sounds with Bretscheider’s super crisp, crackling tones and pulses.

  • Das Berliner Klangkunst-Forum “Singuhr” veranstaltete mehrere Jahre lang in der Parochialkirche in Mitte performances mit ausgewählten internationalen Soundbastlern. Anno 2004 wurden Frank Bretschneider und Steve Roden zur Zusammenarbeit gebeten, wieso die jeweils etwa halbstündigen Mitschnitte des Konzerts und einer Probe (die auch gut als eigenständige Arbeit durchgehen könnte) mit 10 Jahren Verspätung erscheinen, wissen die Götter. Inzwischen ist ja das subgenre “avant-electronica” stark segmentiert – die ästhetischen Vorstellungen von Bretschneider und Roden sind bei näherer Betrachtung deutlich verschieden. Nerds werden aber schnell feststellen, dass das Zusammentreffen der prozesshaften, von “found objects” und “field recordings” geprägten, extrem ruhigen lower-case-sounds des Amerikaners mit Bretschneiders eher objektorientiertem clicks’n’cuts-Denken dennoch kein “clash”, sondern vielmehr ein “merge” ist, sich hier also zwei Schulen nicht aushebeln, sondern ergänzen.

  • Prima di ergersi, assieme a Byetone e Alva Noto, a paladino della ricostruzione techno per mezzo del glitch – ovvero ciò che comunemente chiamiamo abstract-techno – Frank Bretschneider aveva già avviato una carriera improntata su una costante parola chiave: destrutturazione formale. Una tecnica applicata con successi alterni agli ambiti più disparati, dall’ambient generativo dei “Looping” alle geometrie del progetto Komet e dell’album omonimo, che arrivò silenziosamente ad abbracciare la sound art astratta nel senso più ampio possibile.

    Correva l’anno 2004, dunque in piena epopea microsound: promotore e regista dell’intera operazione fu in realtà il magnate Steve Roden, uno con cui chiunque voglia vantare un posto speciale nell’olimpo di questo universo sonoro deve aver collaborato almeno una volta. Quella raccolta nelle due parti del disco è una performance tenuta presso la Parochial Church di Berlino quando tutte queste forme sonore non avevano raggiunto l’attuale diffusione.

    Roden si presentò allora con un arsenale potenzialmente in grado di costruire ricami melodici tanto quanto profonde ossature di found sound, con Bretschneider impegnato invece nel calcolare al millimetro i contributi del suo Micro Modular. Per comprendere la vastità di questa tavolozza basta in realtà un rapido ascolto a questo “Suite Nuit”: field recordings di ogni genere, laptop sounds che hanno scritto la storia, richiami organici in forma di melodie e armoniche, beat minimali ma sempre pronti a costituire ossature forti.

    La prima metà dell’esibizione, della durata di venti minuti abbondanti, sembra così offrire uno spaccato dello stato delle cose i tutti i tratti somatici della sound art di inizio millennio: dall’immersione in liquidi post-dub dell’inizio alle possenti trame del laptop al cuore del set, con brevi quanto significativi passaggi microsonori a condire il tutto. Decisamente più uniforme nel suo minimalismo monocorde è la mezz’ora della seconda metà, embrione di certe trame post-minimaliste che sarebbero state riciclate (ed abusate) in quest’inizio di decennio Dieci.

    Un interessante documento che poco aggiunge alle carriere dei due, ma che traccia con successo una linea di giunzione tra passato e presente.