US: 3 Feb 2009
UK: 26 Jan 2009
Germany release date: 26 Jan 2009
Maybe Raster-Noton is just playing its listening audience for suckers. Either that, or it really is the most forward-thinking label for electronic music right now, and with a toe still dipped in accessibility. This past year has seen the label offer explorations in sound as far out and harsh as Ryoji Ikeda’s Test Pattern, while simultaneously delivering the broken-machine decay of Kangding Ray and the minimal pulse of Byetone. Uwe Schmidt, a genre chameleon whom you might best remember as Señor Coconut (yes, the one who recorded the chintzy exotica album of Kraftwerk covers), adds his input to this esteemed series with Liedgut (Songs), the latest from his Atom™ alter-ego.
As it’s primarily concerned with Germany and philosophical deconstructions of music, it’d be easy to write off Liedgut as one man’s journey down a forbidding rabbit hole of pretension. It’s possible, and likely, depending on the perspective of the listener. Personally, I’m still not sure whether a piece with loopy little trills ricocheting all over the place, like the “Mittlere Composition” trilogy, is brilliant in its pseudo-classical way, or a sign that Schmidt is just giggling at us. He’s certainly getting the last laugh by forcing every listener to check his/her cell phone during “Interferenz”, in which the familiar impulse sound of the interference between a mobile signal and a speaker is used for melodic and rhythmic effect.
When Schmidt can’t say everything through musical trickery (or obviously, as on the burst of titular white noise on “Weißes Rauschen”), we’re treated to precise recitations of vocoded poetry. The four-part “Wellen und Felder” (“Waves and Fields”) suite looks at music and its methods of transmissions, Schmidt’s gentle robotic drone intoning over distantly reverberated pads. It all sounds grand, thanks to the endless bits of microsound and synth wheezes. When Atom™ climactically declares, “erschufen wir das Funksignal” (“we created the radio signal”), there’s a palatable sense of progress and transition. Unfortunately, the next major piece, “Funksignal”, dials things back down after an initially uplifting surge. It’s one of the few (but still noticeable) compositional flaws on the release.
By the time the sequels to “Weißes Rauschen” come around, there are singsong melodies to celebrate white noise. It’s ludicrous in a way, and also a beautiful celebration of deep marvels and possibilities inherent in sound, music, and language. The final third of the album is its most lush and conceptually free-flowing, with filtered noise coalescing into almost traditional rhythmic structure and glistening major-chord stabs providing an uplifting and inspiring bed for Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider to appear (also via vocoder, of course). Forming a conceptual loop, Schneider is dissolved into white noise. It only makes sense for Schmidt to bookend an album about the minutiae and romantic properties of sound with aural representations of all frequencies playing equally.
One’s appreciation of Liedgut ultimately comes down to whether you can appreciate the kind of meta-sound – or “nonsound,” as its official motto states – that Raster-Noton purveys. Like releases by contemporary Alva Noto, Liedgut is full of bite-sized traditional beauty swimming in post-modern compositional and sonic territory. Schmidt has some heady ideas, and it’s hard to pass off German electronic music that lists influences including Schubert and Nietzsche without attracting smirks. But, no doubt, Schmidt is smirking with us.