Upon hitting play on the new Schneider TM disc the following thoughts rose to my mind: “Good Lord, why are they doing construction in my neighborhood at this hour of the morning?! And what are they doing to produce such heavy, trundling sounds? And why hasn’t the Schneider TM record started playing yet? Is there something wrong with my CD player? Oh wait, those grinding, humming, and banging sounds are not local construction workers, they are, in fact, my old friend Dirk (Schneider TM) Dresselhaus.” But my confusion is understandable, because I have been having some difficulties with loud, early morning construction and maintenance around my neighborhood in the last few months, and Herr Dresselhaus knows exactly what I have been going though. Apparently, Dresselhaus’ Berlin neighborhood has also been less than peaceful lately; it seems that the vaguely annoying smashing and bashing in my neck of the woods was a bit more intrusive in Dresselhaus’ corner of urban Germany, and it took its toll on his state of mind. Whereas my solution was to spend a great deal of time standing on my balcony in my bathrobe asking the construction workers unhelpful questions, Dresselhaus first went all to pieces, and then after he pulled himself together, started recording his auditory torment.
Construction Sounds is the result of this process, and its name is pretty darn appropriate. It is not clear how much of the material on Construction Sounds is actual found sounds recorded in Dresselhaus’ home during this tumultuous period, and how much is the result of Dresselhaus’ own ingenious knob twiddling, but that does not really matter very much as far as I am concerned. What matters is that the tracks that comprise Construction Sounds really do sound like their namesake; we hear cranes, earth movers, dump trucks, and all manner of noisy industrial equipment moaning and creaking throughout these pieces. We hear on Construction Sounds the sound of all of these massive steel creatures cycling up, tuning into one another, and preparing to perform some unimaginable work. Steel girders bend and sway, and rebar sticks out every which way. There is something definitely beautiful about this stuff, especially in the opening title track “Construction Sounds”. You imagine Dresselhaus curled up in the fetal position in the center of his bed, covers pulled over his head at about 7:30 AM, listening to these mechanical behemoths build some type of towering religious monument to their own might, while they are supposed to be building apartment blocks or something. There seems to be a strange combination of anxiety and wonder in these tracks, as if the somewhat familiar sounds of urban construction are turning into something else, morphing into something inhuman and colossal.
Schneider TM is certainly not the first musician to try something like this. Folks like John Cage, Brian Eno, and Einstürzende Neubauten have been experimenting with ambient, found sounds and industrial techniques for ages, so it is not like Dresselhaus is really exploring new territory here. But he does succeed in conveying a distinct sense of atmospheric dread; as if we were cave men creeping out of the forest primeval, encountering these industrial beasts for the first time. Construction Sounds is affective and compelling, but it is difficult to say how much replay value it will have for the average listener. There is nothing catchy or fun about this stuff. Indeed, it is definitely one of those records that makes you wonder if “music” is really the right word; maybe something like “sound collage” or “auditory art” might be more appropriate. But right now I don’t feel very interested in this type of definitional hair splitting. Construction Sounds is interesting, emotional stuff, in spite of the fact that it is addressing themes and concepts that have been ruminated over many times before. Yes, it’s hard living in the big, noisy city. I feel for you big guy. Buy some ear plugs and get some sleep.