- Top 100
April 25, 2012
By Greg West
Together and apart, Wolfgang Voigt and Jörg Burger have been pioneers in minimalist electronica since the nineties. The Cologne (Germany) based duo has produced work ranging from ’96 trance classic Las Vegas (as Burger & Ink)—to Voigt’s minimalist, LSD inspired work as Gas—and to Burger’s 80s UK indie-pop inspired soundscapes. At first listen, their body of work seems disparate—but it’s all united by a sparse minimalism that pares things to their essence—a consistently avant-garde approach that reflects the shifting boundaries of ambient music.
On Mohn their minimalism turns sombre—tapping directly into that part of the brain that is always dreaming, whether the body is awake or asleep and that lies somewhere in between hope and terror.
The duo describe Mohn as gothic ambient “opium for the people” (in fact, ‘mohn’ is German for ‘poppy’)—and the name fits. The album is liquid and mind altering, the metronymic beat of a slow heart, the ebb and rush of an altered mind. Voigt and Burger leave behind the clear edges and sweeter harmonies of previous works to delve into darker realms. If their early breakout collaboration Las Vegas is a sensate road-trip through a neon-lit cityscape, Mohn the album is sitting around a campfire deep in the Boreal forest where the wind whispers strange fairy tales and the aurora rages overhead.
Take Saturn, the album’s second single—it’s probably the most straight-up trance piece on the double LP, but it’s also perhaps the best example of what Mohn does so well. It opens with a synthetic, downtempo bass-line, it’s asymmetrical but familiar, and it leads you straight into a sweet hook, an almost familiar melody. They lead you in, somehow apposite yet dissonant, poised at the heart of a track that’s soon layered by chimes, rattles, stringy synths—and eventually even classic acid house frills that seem whispered from an adjacent room. They pull the divergent sounds ever closer, and in the moment the eight minute track seems both to be fleeting and to last forever. Gestalt slowly unfolds as you give yourself over to the music—until the music fades to a new set of apposite notes, leaving you introspective and forlorn.
Somehow, much of what Mohn does seems to play on memory. None of their samples are bare or overt, everything is lo-fi and layered, but the duo artfully connect and estrange the genres past, weaving dropped threads through the album and evoking new dimensions from familiar territory. Ebertplatz is a subway station in Cologne, that manifests here as it’s future self on the track Ebertplatz 2020—like a subway station, the track is at once prosaic and profound. The harmonies and the interplay between the tracks elements, crystalline synths, electric drums, oscillating reverb and slow waves of chords, feel as simple and obvious as the background to the dream, natural, until an attempt is made to pin them down or to recall them. So many of the individuals parts are individually familiar but are sieved through analog distortion. Pulled and slowed they become nostalgic—set against each other, they cast themselves anew. The massive sonic space that Mohn creates is the same alteration of space and time that comes when you loose yourself in contemplation of a familiar or beautiful object, the minutes that seem like seconds watching the ocean or a sunset. Visions we remember as significant, but can’t articulate. There’s a moment to, at the end of this track, of sudden simplicity—a synthetic crescendo that would be banal or generic—except that you come to realize it’s been the core to long minutes of engrossment.
It’s a magic trick Mohn employs throughout the album. Dialectics collapse through sonic deconstruction. Schwarzer Schwan sees snare beats dissolve into the slow hum of a gothic choir. Soft-edged synths and reverbs guide the listener through a scene of abysmal vastness, where terror and sweetness are balanced on the edge of a knife. Wiegenlied (lullaby) ends the album with a sound that seems to grow like a fractal or a Carnatic rhythm, morphing from spirals of sounds to irregular pops of percussion that ease into a rhythm and series somewhere between the heartbeat of a companion that pulls you toward sleep, and the chasing footsteps of a nightmare. It’s a beautiful and accomplished release that haunts but also reconciles.
Released April 24, on Kompakt as CD, or double LP.
Want a little more Europe? Check out Si Edwards Main Room Column from this week, where he talks about a great venue in one of my all time favourite cities—the gritty seaside town of Marseille.