Much like the soundtrack to a day spent trapped inside a refrigerator, each of Thomas Köner’s minimalist drone albums kept in the three-disc tri-fold release Nunatak/Teimo/Permafrost are rather limited in their sonic palettes, mostly confined to a bipolar frequency range of loose and windy highs and subharmonic lows that won’t even be heard on your MacBook’s tinny little speakers. To hear Thomas Köner, and to like what he does, one must commit. And, without considering any of the work’s previous acclaim, therein lies the fun of this triple release.
There’s not a point in really mentioning specific tracks and their names, rather the mood they uphold is what’s important. In fact, on the first disc, Nunatak, there are no track names, only 11 songs called “Without Title”. For that matter, nowhere in the packaging are the song titles for any of the discs mentioned. I only learned the titles for Permafrost and Teimo by reading the ID3 information.
The actual packaging is splendid: Type Recordings gives us Köner’s work in a metal-colored tri-fold digipak, which unfolds to reveal various halftone-patterned scenes of arctic explorers, huskies, glaciers, mountains and bleak empty ocean water. It’s a sublimely enveloping experience to have ambient music packaging free of abstract moodiness or psychedelia. With the grayscale images that grace the physical discs and the digipak’s imagery, the off-black text elements, the minimalist photography, here we have a package wholly representative of its content.
Perhaps the simplest criticism of Köner’s work in this series is that there’s little distinction between the three discs, or even between some of the songs. It’s true that Nunatak ebbs into Teimo and so forth, but the movement is made by the songs, the slow progression of gurgles, wisps, and foghorn-like dark ambient croons. There are moments of occasional near-silence, thin synthesized howls and, across discs, a glacial, natural pace. Permafrost‘s eponymous track is characterized by long passages of white noise-built winds, the sound of a tundra, only to lead into “Meta Incognita”, which reprises the palette but bores sonically deeper in tone, mulling over hollow ends until the third disc’s closer, “…(Untitled)”, a three-minute low-pitch buried-under-ice sort of field recording. All of it stays pretty much the same, but as it plays, it remains interesting. After all, this is a natural ambient album without the aid of percussive rain, no bird calls and no drum machines of which to speak. It isn’t rhythmic enough to become tiring. It isn’t melodic enough to remember. One might almost wonder if it isn’t all generative, built with careful stitches of sampled sequences from Native Instruments’ old ambient monster Metaphysical Function. Alas, it is not. Much of the album is built on electronically manipulated acoustic sounds, mainly, at least in the case of Nunatak, gongs.
I first mentioned that this review be considered without recognition of Millie Plateaux’s releases of Teimo and Permafrost. That’s an important detail to note, as there are two good reasons to own this collection and each reason is contingent on the purchaser. For those who’ve owned any of the albums previously, now is the chance to have to have the full progression: two hours of frozen love. For those new to Köner, this is the perfect release with which to begin. Without any gaps, the collection is seamlessly built: a pre-Stars of the Lid drone wonder.
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