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Jul022010

Rene Hell - Porcelain Opera

RENE HELL - PORCELAIN OPERA

Type Records

A paragon of productivity, Vienna-based musician Jeff Witscher has been releasing music under all manner of guises since 2006, concentrating on that loose amalgamation of sounds called experimental electronic noise. As befits his somewhat shadowy lo-fi presence, much of this music has been on cassette only. Here however, Type records have provided a platform for him to steer into more melodic territory and into the relative mainstream. His noise aesthetic is still very much at large on “Porcelain Opera” but it is offset by an authentic beauty that shines through most of the compositions on this 33 minute album.

With artists such as Daniel Lopatin and Jonas Reinhardt championing the cause of the dusty analogue synthesizer, there is no doubt that this sound has gained some critical ground recently. Unlike the more austere minimalist ambient sound that has taken something of a bashing from me on this site, there is a sense that the artists pushing this particular direction do so without constraint, throwing sonic paint in a joyous and reckless manner across their canvasses. It’s no different with Witscher, but unlike Lopatin his ideas are not rooted in the escapism of past innovators. It’s hard to avoid the influence of Roedelius, but there is a unexpected and random aspect to this album that enforces the notion that it was recorded live and on the fly. Given the sheer number of pieces he’s released recently, this isn’t surprising.

In terms of narrative the album jumps all over the place, reinforcing its chaotic nature. Opener “Razor P+”  features disembodied snippets of vocals arcing over an arpeggiated synth line that occasionally burst with a distorted flourish. Before you get time to settle into it though, an almost mindless dribble of electronic lava seeps over proceedings, almost entirely unconnected to the previous piece. This musical non-sequitur sets the tone for the rest of the album, demanding your attention yet at the same time content to go in another direction to the one you expect.

“Prize Mischief Hold” continues the theme of auditory pandemonium, but here a sliver of deep melodic bass does eventually emerge after a series of electrical spasms that Witscher issues from the depths of his machines. Despite the complete lack of rhythm there is a hermitic funk to this music - I can see him rocking backing and forth in time with the sinewaves that he emits. This is given further evidence in “c.g mask”, as a see-saw melodic line spirals off into whirls of undulating mind funk whilst other jagged, spectral voices and noises hover with uncertainty. It’s quite visual and takes advantage of the full dynamic range as trickles of sound cascade alongside faint echoes of electronic squeals. At times the album gives the impression that he is conducting literally from within the machines themselves, manipulating the circuits and transformers.

The longest track on the album is the terrifying “l.minx”. It’s nothing less than a litany of mutated circuit-based hiccups and grinding clashes topped off with a climatic chorus of binary chatter disemboweling itself into oblivion. Yet amongst the noise is a strata of melody that keeps it alive, expiring gently afterwards. “Gas” finishes the album with Witscher’s own particular melodic leitmotif, hazy arpeggios constantly hinting at a key change but content to flutter, moth-like, around a central theme.

What’s beguiling about “Porcelain Opera” is whilst completely electronic in their components, Witscher has allowed his human touch to pierce each song, be it in the subtle melodic whispers or the halting crashes of change that occur abruptly. More importantly, his machines seem to have a particular life of their own, as the sounds he generates certainly have character. It’s not an easy piece of music to identify with at times, yet Witscher does evoke an unusual warmth with his ideas, helped by the mischevious nature of his compositions. That in itself is something all too often missing from the academic world of experimental electronic music.

Toby Frith

Reader Comments (1)

Toby Frith has written an excellent review of the Rene Hell material ghosted by sound/noise pioneer Jeff Witscher. Along with two earlier releases - Monolake - Silence and Mark Van Hoen - Where The Truth Is, 2010 is turning into a banner year for innovative, refreshing, and more organic electronic music. Not only does Porcelain Opera encompass melodic cathedral washes, our man Hell delves deep to bring up some challenging, soul searching bombast. This is an odd critter. One that could possibly be tame enough for a petting zoo, but equally wild as a horrendous beast on the plains of a vast tundra. Give it a spin.

July 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfuturestar

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