In 1998, London-based Janek Schaefer broke onto the electronic music scene after he was paired with Pan American on Fat Cat’s Splinter Series of Split 12"s. On his record Out, Schaefer, a trained architect, established himself as an “electronic composer” almost entirely based on the sounds of his Tri-phonic Turntable. On Above Buildings as Schaefer moves away from the Tri-phonic, his work suffers as the album is a seemingly endless, expanse of minimalism which is little more than lost at sea.
The Tri-phonic Turntable, a Schaefer invention, has three arms, multiple sound sources, variable speeds and reversible play and makes for a rich, slowing unfolding audio experience. While Above Buildings is multi-textured, its lack of vision and lethargy make for a burdening listen, painfully lacking in any real gratification. Maybe this record would work within the context of the Schaefer live experience, or in some other multi-media installation format, however, the listener has neither of these benefits and thus Above Buildings must be judged on sound alone.
As someone who finds great beauty in the simplicity of minimalists schools of electronica, I’ve been most patient with Above Buildings. Each listen, I keep expecting something to seep into my consciousness or to find a flash of aesthetic beauty which makes me want to listen to this record again, yet each time I come up empty. Only on “Tone-arm Two” a sandy, needle-scraped, multi-phase work are Schaefer’s virtues apparent. Yet, that work is the product of the unbridled emphasis on the Tri-phonic’s second arm. Elsewhere, Above Buildings moves away from Schaefer’s creation in favor of silence, so much absence of sound that one often thinks the entire record has come to a close. While, washes of silence can be most effective in revealing the most sensational aspects of a composer’s work, Above Buildings fails because its anxiety never moves us anywhere. Silence leads to timid noise leads to silence leads to silence leads to timid noise leads to silence. (And, dreadfully, reading that sentence is almost as satisfying as listening to this LP.)
On Above Buildings Schaefer chooses to dawdle about; biding his time by buzzing, scratching, chopping, creaking, and simmering, but above all boring and draining the listener.
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