Few mediums allow the artist greater flexibility than electronic music. Whereas a rock star or rapper or folk singer is constrained by the expectations of their genre in such a way that even the slightest deviations are construed as forbiddingly superfluous “side projects”, a DJ or producer can operate with relative impunity. The best electronic musicians find ways to slide between seemingly disparate modes in a manner that is simply impossible when your horizons are bound by more pressing generic limitations. Once an artist discovers their voice, it’s easy enough to use the infinitely malleability of electronic music as a medium to focus that voice in as many ways as can possibly be conceived with relatively little fallout in the way of their public or critical perception. Not so in the more placid realms of pop music, where even relatively benign experiments such as Kid A or Electric Circus can become lightning rods for their respective creators.
Which is an elaborate way of saying that while I was mildly surprised by the first volume of T. Raumschmiere’s Random Noize Sessions, the surprise was extremely mild. Raumschmiere is the musical alter-ego of Berlin-based Marco Haas. Anyone familiar with Haas’ more boisterous work—albums like Blitzkreig Pop, poised on the delicate knife-edge between punk rock and hard techno—might be taken aback by the decidedly more placid tones of this album. But while the album may seem less raucous on the outside, it is nowhere near the departure that a disinterested observer might otherwise infer. It may be quieter in execution but is no less dangerous in temperament than previous releases.
Random Noize Sessions is culled from six years’ worth of material, pulling together studio sessions and live recordings from 1999 through 2005. The result clocks in at just around forty-five minutes. The music itself is a loose, deconstructed variant of T. Raumschmiere’s usually violent rock-tinged techno. The most obvious comparison is probably to the Future Sound of London’s mid-period ambient material, albums such as Lifeforms and ISDN, informed by the unexpected application of random noise as much as any kind of rhythmic impetus. This is dark and troubled music, the aural equivalent of still pools in forgotten caves inhabited by eyeless fish. Album-opener “Radikal Meditation” brings this analogy to life with potent literalness: synthetic bloops and burbles, dripping water from stalactites onto damp cave floors, are surrounded by quiet, metallic waves of minimal melody.
It’s a forbidding exterior, even if the overall effect wavers over the course of the album. Occasionally something more tangible bobs up to the surface: tracks like “Die Alte Leier” and “GrobMotorOmsk (Holz Uber Kopf)” feature more pronounced rhythmical backbones, similar to something you might expect to hear on a Kompakt disc, while still hewing close to the project’s decidedly subdued mood. The result is ominous and intense; what the music lacks in aggression it more than makes up for in the realm of unease. It may not be the overt punk statement of previous albums, but it is definitely designed with as much intention to instill discomfort and stir sinister emotions.
The problem with any music of this kind—definitely a problem with which the aforementioned Future Sound of London wrestled, and a problem that T. Raumschmiere faces as well—is how to create consistently compelling music with such a doggedly minimal palette. Sometimes the results can be hypnotically confident, sometimes they are merely superfluous. The album is brief enough that it doesn’t quite wear out its welcome, and the listener comes away with the conviction that it exacts precisely as much commitment as is necessary to sustain interest without overstepping its mandate. Just enough to get the job done, but nothing really spectacular: sadly, every bit what the listener might expect from an inconsequential side project.