Listening to Punkt, the thought occurs to me that the experience of sampling German songwriter Harald “Sack” Ziegler’s discography must be very similar to that of a non-English speaking foreigner discovering Guided By Voices for the first time. It’s not a perfect analogy, but bear with me. Ziegler has apparently been around for over 20 years, releasing a large percentage of his output exclusively on vinyl or tape. If anything like America’s sprawling lo-fi scene exists in Europe (and for all I know it might, but I’m speaking theoretically), it undoubtedly sounds something like this: badly-recorded, occasionally slapdash and just plain bizarre. Some of these “songs” aren’t even a minute long—“Entenquak” is merely 48 seconds long, a small sketch, a chorus repeated twice over a bizarre tape loop that sounds like something left on the floor of an Einstürzende Neubauten reocrding session.
Now certainly to my knowledge Robert Pollard never had much use for drum loops. But Ziegler offers the same kind of manic inventiveness, a precocious prolificity crossed with a seemingly pathological unwillingness to develop most ideas past the level of the barest sketch. Anyone who’s ever shelled out serious money for one of those GBV boxed-sets—yeah, I’m looking at you, Mr. More-Money-Than-Common-Sense—should feel right at home here.
But with that said, I am infuriated by Ziegler for much the same reasons that I usually am with Pollard. Sure, there are lots of weird ideas here, but many of them are so rudimentary as to be just annoying. Many times he will introduce an interesting tape sample or looped melody part, but they never seem to go anywhere or do anything in particular—just the sound of them being odd for a minute or so is enough to satisfy Ziegler. “Barbie & Ken” is just over a minute long, featuring a clattering drumbeat accompanied by Ziegler and a small child singing something about, um, Barbie & Ken. I can’t really tell because it’s in German. The language barrier wouldn’t be that much of an impediment if a large percentage of the tracks weren’t sang in a faux-chipmunk falsetto. The nearest corrolary to these weird fragments is not so much GBV as They Might Be Giants’ throwawy recordings—Dial-A-Song remnants such as can be found on the Then collection.
While the vast majority of Ziegler’s output, at least insomuch as it is represented on Punkt, is damningly cursory and willfuly bizarre, it is not without a certain charm. When he drops the chipmunk vocals and allows an idea to develop past the fetal stage, he’s not half bad: “Gross Genug”, near the end of the disc, features Ziegler’s unadorned voice and a slight liano melody. It’s a nice track—very much so, in contrast with the lo-fi chaos that preceded it. But again, it’s all of one minute and 52 seconds long.
I just don’t know what to make of Punkt. This is lo-fi experimentalism at its purest and most unaffected, and unless you’re a junky for that kind of oddity, it will probably trike you as more frustrating than not.
// Notes from the Road
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