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Frank Bretschneider

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  • Frank Bretschneider, whom I have known previously as Komet, released a number of cleverly constructed glitch beat compositions on the Raster Noton label, elaborate but logical arrangements of clicks and pops similar to labelmates CoH and Alva Noto.  It would appear he has ceased to use the Komet alias in the last 6 years, but releases under his given name have continued.  “Isolation” is one of two albums from 2015.  Its sound is quite different from the output of Komet. There is no rhythm to speak of.  The music found here is somewhere between drone and minimal noise.  A satisfyingly full and round analog synthesizer tone is present from the moment the album begins, a fat sub bass which should clean out your ear drums and test your speakers.  The album opening can actually be quite startling if the volume is up loud.

    As minutes pass, the tone bends and slowly modulates, adding and subtracting resonance and white noise.  The changes are unhurried, but the sound is never completely static, and I find it easy to listen to.  There is only a single tone at a time; I doubt there is any layering.  The monophonic nature of the music is not a bad thing, however.  It enhances the physical effect of the sound.

    The effect of this album is quite physical.  There is such a constant presence of uncommonly deep frequencies that It is a literal massage, and vibrates the room.  I find it rather soothing, although it might make it difficult to sleep.  Ultra-low frequency drone is a style which has only been fully explored in a nearly lost catalogue of limited DIY releases from tiny labels.  I am therefore always grateful to come upon it.

    This music is interesting to me because it seems largely free of direct emotional expression, containing none of the trappings of openly spiritual or meditation oriented music, focusing instead on providing a tool for the listener, a sound which has a particular physiological effect on the body, but can be used by the listener for whatever purpose they choose.  In this regard it is like Coil’s “Time Machines”.  The monophonic use of analog synth ensures that the music is detached and maintains an unearthly, gliding movement.

    Apparently, the album was actually composed for an art installation at a former German prison in 2012.  This is the first time it’s actually been released, however.  Heard in this context, I imagine the album would seem significantly more chilling and disturbing.

    I loved this album.  It is the rare listenable drone album.  It has a powerful bodily effect which forcibly alters whatever mindset the listener is in prior to listening.  It is devoid of pretense or cliche, and presents instead a physically pleasurable sound.

  • While a Raster-Noton release is usually easy to identify, their individual artists have been difficult to differentiate in the past. Ryoji Ikeda’s informational density, Alva Noto’s finely sculpted distortion, or COH’s tightly hypnotic loops have all emerged with time as the label’s aesthetic has broadened. Frank Bretschneider, one of the labels founders, has been a signature recording artist. As recently as 2013’s Super.Trigger he has worked within the classic sound of the label; clipped, unadorned noise, saw, square and sine waves gridded to varyingly abstract approximations of techno. With Isolation, his second CD on the Line label, he works with a similar set of sounds, but stretches his raw frequencies into thin webs of drone.

    The CD’s contents were originally created for an installation at Bautzen II, a former Stasi prison in Eastern Germany, which has held political prisoners as recently as 25 years ago. Seeking to mimic and explore the solitary experience and sensory deprivation of incarceration, the pieces are severe, empty and without resolve. On the abrasively pitched opener “White Light” and more conservative sounding drone piece “Cycle Circle” the pairing of a stable bass note with searing high end successfully mimics the close quarters of a cell; floor and ceiling. With headphones, as recommended by the artist, this does make for a tight, airless listen. On speakers, the acoustic space of a room is curved out starkly, outlining the remaining emptiness.

    The finest moments break free from a sense of additive composition. Mobiles of sonic material are suspended, spinning slowly while the listener watches its rotation, revealing parts previously unseen. This is best exemplified on the stunning “Neon Night.”

    The CD’s title—Isolation—echoes “Isolationism,” an outdated term to describe ambient music stripped of emotion and consisting of little musical content. The work of Main, Final and Thomas Koner, who all appear on the 1994 collection Ambient 4: Isolationalism, shares much in common with Bretschneider’s Isolation. While the political, historical and social context of the prison must have certainly impacted the initial reception of his these pieces, it is has a different experience outside of the installation.

    High frequencies, white noise, and sustained sub bass tones have softened over time, neutralized for most listeners of underground music. The initial audience may have found the unsteady sine waves of “Oscillation Feedback” to carry an unsettling menace, home listeners may find an ascetic comfort. While the extra-musical information suggests a working method attuned to harsh isolation, intended harshness can be easily subsumed by the contemporary listener’s ear.

    This observation I doubt is lost on Line, whose commitment to documenting sound installations is in strictly auditory terms, knowing well that sonic art is not sufficiently translatable to disc or any other medium. Documenting aspects of great work in the compromised but beloved CD format seems to be their priority, and in this case they’ve been successful once again.

  • Presque inaudible (stricto sensu) en écoute simple, cette succession espacée d’infrasons, de bruits blancs, d’effets de masse, de chuintements ou d’aigus persistants, était à l’origine une installation sonore destinée à illustrer les conséquences de la privation sensorielle à laquelle ont été soumis des prisonniers (politiques pour la plupart)
    (mcd, magazine de cultures digitales, France)

  • Composed as part of a 2012 installation at a former East German prison, it should come as no surprise that Isolation is at times an intentionally off-putting, disturbing, and unpleasant piece of music.  The prison, housing political prisoners and using more than questionable methods of interrogation, was in operation from 1956 to 1989, and stands as a testament to the darkness that pervaded Eastern Germany during the Cold War.  Bretschneider’s work is an attempt to capture the sense of isolation and disorientation caused by the prison in audio form, and it is a resounding success.

    Bretschneider utilizes a variety of compositional techniques in these five pieces to symbolize the multitude of experiences that lengthy incarceration and state sponsored “enhanced interrogations” could generate.  On the opening to “White Light,” he does this via extreme frequencies and their associated psycho-acoustic properties.  The first few minutes are a tinnitus-like buzz that could induce migraines at a loud enough volume, and mixed with a low frequency rumble that gives just the right amount of uncomfortable physical vibration.

    “Cycle/Circle” also features extreme sub bass that, on a loudspeaker set-up are more easily felt than heard, and via headphones lead to an odd sensation that is almost akin to dizziness.  But I should be clear that, even though Bretschneider is using these heavy frequencies to convey physical sensations, these are still pieces that bear the mark of a true composer.  Even though “Cycle/Circle” is all heavy vibrations and physical sensations, he weaves in understated tones and sounds that add a distinctly cold and austere sense of beauty.

    Another technique he utilizes to great effect is passages of silence or near silence that enhance the titular sense of isolation, such as the hushed first half of “Neon Night” that, while not empty, it is extremely sparse.  The 11-minute “Vertical Time” conjures the timeless monotony of incarceration via subtle hums and mechanical drones that result in an intentionally mundane, yet complex bit of repeated tones and vibrations.  The concluding “Oscillation/Feedback” is completely descriptive in its title, with the first half being shimmering oscillations of high-pitched noise similar to that of “White Light”.  The concluding minute and a half, however, is a blast of pure digital noise that sputters apart brilliantly, akin to the final moments of insanity that could precede this sort of solitude.

    Frank Bretschneider’s Isolation is intended to be a disquieting, at times disturbing, piece of sonic art, and he accomplishes this wonderfully.  Not in the sense of being a harsh noise endurance test, but something far more conceptual and composed.  When listening (as recommended) via headphones, the work does an exceptional job at conveying the unpleasant experiences of a lengthy incarceration via repetition and unpleasant frequencies, at least as well as a CD possibly could.

  • Some ascetic abstraction of the highest order here as Frank Bretschnider steps out (again) of the inner-circle of über-minimalist electronic music label raster-noton for this release on Richard Chartier’s ever-experimental Line imprint. There’s also a departure in style apparent on this release, which eschews the interlocking percussive architecture of Bretschneider’s recent trajectory in favour of stark/subtle textures, unsettling spatial explorations and haunting drones.

    The compositions here originally accompanied an installation at a former Stasi prison in Bautzen, Germany, that was notorious for holding ‘enemies of the state’ in solitary confinement, sometimes for years. In this sense, the piercing tinnitus tones, slowly evolving resonances and jarring segues of ‘Isolation’ are Bretschneider’s attempts to evoke the disorienting effects of extreme sensory deprivation. The big surprise for me though, given the grim inspiration, is just how beautiful the album’s incredibly focused arrangements sound.

    The album starts off generally more disconcerting and claustrophobic, with ear-burrowing high-pitched frequencies cutting into an oppressive low-end hum, a hum that almost guts you when it is brutally switched off and then on again. Yet, by the time we get to ‘Vertical Time’, the same hermetic pallet becomes nuanced to the point in which it is capable of evoking vast arctic tundra, intergalactic voids, or some incredible feat of introspective visualisation a la Jack London’s ‘The Star Rover’. It’s a challenging but potentially mind-expanding listening experience, not unlike a more clinical and less ‘new age’ Eleh.

  • The Raster-Noton co-founder investigates the effects of sensory deprivation upon incarcerated prisoners’ auditory perceptions in this visceral and unsettling suite of psychoacoustic probes.

  • Isolation, desde luego, dentro de ese ámbito: compuestas para que sirvieran de acompañamiento a la instalación “Zwei zellen/Hörgan bautzen II”, que reflexionaba sobre las condiciones de una prisión de la Stasi particularmente dura, las cinco piezas que contiene el disco juegan con los conceptos de aislamiento y de privación sensorial, y de cómo vivir en esas circunstancias afecta a los sentidos y provoca enfermedades como el tinitus. Sensaciones que Bretschneider intenta reflejar por medio de una paleta de sonidos básica y minimalista, compuesta por tonos puros y drones ligeramente manipulados. Frecuencias generalmente bajas, que llegan en oleadas y que se van acoplando a un ritmo pausado, alargado en el tiempo, en el que apenas sobresalen picos de intensidad. Piezas que en apariencia parecen sencillas, incluso ligeramente monótonas (algo que posiblemente busca reflejar lo lento que pasa el tiempo en una celda de aislamiento), pero que en realidad poseen un intrincado juego de capas en el plano de fondo, lo que provoca que la percepción de la música cambie en función del volumen al que se escucha. No les voy a engañar: el resultado es un disco de naturaleza claustrofóbica, un ambient de tintes aislacionistas, en el que apenas hay espacio para la luminosidad (apenas algunos destellos al final de la segunda pista, “Neon Night”), y en el que no resulta fácil entrar. Pero que, precisamente por eso, refleja a la perfección esa idea de soledad extrema y desesperanzada sobre la que giraba la instalación. El horror, el horror.

  • Frank Bretschneider traduit cette vie ascétique contrainte en termes sonores, il est d’ailleurs l’un des compositeurs auquel on pourrait penser quand on imagine une musique traduisant l’isolation. Celui-ci étant connu et reconnu pour ses sons froids et chirurgicaux. Il s’exprime donc ici avec une grande aise et nous place en tant qu’auditeur dans une certaine angoisse, où les sons que l’on perçoit se meuvent autour de nous et on ne sait pas s’ils sont réels ou s’ils sont le fruit de notre imagination. Aucune pulsation ne viendra nous guider, nous sommes condamner à errer à travers ses mirages sonores qui apparaissent aussi bien insidieusement, qu’en ruptures. Et à la fin de ce disque, on s’étonne d’avoir tout de même trouvé le voyage intérieur autant agréable.

  • Nun ist Bretscheiders Musik zwar stets alles andere als “leichte Kost”, aber so konsequent auf die Untersuchung reiner, in weiten Teilen zunächst statisch anmutender Klänge jenseits des Wohlfühlspektrums hat sich er sich bisher selten konzentriert. Auch wenn “Isolation” auf dem US-Label Line erscheint (wie vor einiger Zeit schon die wundervollen Subharchord-Etuden “Kippschwingungen”), wurden die 5 langen Stücke für die von Thomas Ritschel und Moritz von Rappard in der Bautzener Stasi-Gedenkstätte inszenierte Installation “Zwei Zellen/Hörgang Bautzen II” entwickelt. Und es gelingt Bretschneider tatsächlich, abstrakte Frequenzgänge mit Bedeutung aufzuladen. Man kann sich – vorzugsweise unter guten Kopfhörern – in die kalte Einsamkeit des MfS-Gefängnisses einfühlen, dadurch einen Isolations-Tinitus erleiden oder aber im zarten Zirpen der Schaltkreise eine transzendentale Fluchtidee ertasten und somit unter noch so bedrückenden Umständen vielleicht doch eine Zukunft erhoffen. Aber die düsteren Stasi-Jahre sind längst vorbei, auch daran wird hier in hoch ästhetisierter Form erinnert. *****