Music

Peter Grummich: Switch Off the Soap Opera

Mike Schiller

Peter Grummich is a master manipulator of minimalist mélange. He busts out some solid beats, too.


Peter Grummich

Switch Off the Soap Opera

Label: Shitkatapult
US Release Date: 2005-06-07
UK Release Date: 2005-07-18
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

I've never quite been sure what I'm supposed to do with the highly specialized subgenre of minimal techno. On one hand, it tends to lend itself well to dancing, given that there's a very good chance that the beat you hear at the beginning of a song is the same beat that you'll hear at the end -- there's very little variation, and nothing that constitutes anything approaching a left turn, in the rhythms inside a single minimal techno track. Put simply, you'll never trip over your own two feet trying to dance to it. On the other hand, that sort of lack of shift can become tiresome on the dancefloor, pushing many to prefer headphones as the proper way to enjoy these minimalist sounds. Via headphones, the music becomes a meditative exercise, as the steady beats drone on into infinity, eventually becoming background noise for whatever situational sound the listener might also be experiencing.

Of course, there's always the third option: the car commercial.

Listen to "Incoming (There's No Way Out)" off of Switch Off the Soap Opera, the latest LP from techno-minimalist stalwart Peter Grummich, and there's a very good chance that a Lexus comes to mind. Or perhaps a high-end Mitsubishi. As an album opener, it's got that mix of constant beats, mellow synth-pads, and come-and-go rhythmic elements that the big executives at Automaker Central love so much. Even as "Incoming" is the first track, however, it is hardly representative of the rest of Switch Off the Soap Opera; rather, the other 70 minutes are custom-made for those trusty headphones.

The defining characteristic of much of Switch Off the Soap Opera is a reliance on slightly off-kilter beat/synth-pad combinations. Where a beat might be completely steady and ready-made for a good old-fashioned head-nod, the melodies behind that beat are most likely fighting the beat in favor of something a little bit more freeform. Conversely, there are some off-kilter beats here that, surprisingly enough, fight against more traditional melodic (though usually still rhythmic) elements that are desperately trying to keep those beats on the rails. It's this treading of the line between off-kilter and traditional-to-the-point-of-generic that allows Switch Off the Soap Opera to remain a compelling listen throughout its entirety.

Treading that line most skillfully, then, is the title track itself, which contains one of the aforementioned straightforward beats, a beat that quietly, subtly dominates the entire track. As that beat glides along, seemingly unaware of any possible peril that might be around it, a masterfully gated synth line shows up, making the track feel oddly unbalanced. As some more abrasive, power-drill style rhythmic elements appear, the track becomes the aural equivalent of seasickness while still retaining an inherent danceability. It's through the study of this sort of oddness that a song that barely changes over the course of over five minutes can manage to retain the interest of its listener, and Grummich appears to know this as well as anyone. When a song veers too close to the edge of sanity, as later tracks like "Camp Tipsy" and "Bread and Butter" occasionally do, Grummich is sure to quickly introduce or re-emphasize something that grounds it. On the other hand, just as the listener becomes overly comfortable with a track rooted in straight-up dance, Grummich surprises by replacing a sound ("You Don't Know", where an icy keyboard is replaced by a warm piano) or providing an aural kick in the pants via a beat change (the end of the creepy "A Roboter" is nothing short of discombobulating).

As if to emphasize that he is an artist not to be pigeonholed, Grummich ends the CD with three exercises in beatless ambience. "Awaking Naked" is a rather lovely set of chord washes, while "Alien Radio Duststar" and "The Kids Playing in the Park" feel rather like two parts of a single abstract journey into space, complete with lots of bleeps and, um, "spacey noises". Together, the three tracks complete the portrait of Grummich, an artist as multi-faceted as any in the modern electronic scene, though subtly so. The different sides of his musical persona aren't so much completely different as they are one aesthetic viewed from many different angles. Switch Off the Soap Opera is more interesting than it is exciting, really, but it's absolutely worth a look from anyone for whom the words "minimal techno" don't inspire recoiling in horror. At the very least, it's so much more of an accomplished album than its car commercial of a first track implies.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image