On 9 November 1989 an East German Communist Party official named Günter Schabowski spoke to assembled journalists at a press conference in East Berlin about the mounting crisis in his country. A few minutes before the conference began, Schabowski had been handed a note by his superiors giving details of new regulations whereby private individuals could travel freely from East to West Berlin. But he was unprepared for the question that quickly came of when the new rules were to take effect. The note he had received was unclear on the matter, so Schabowski assumed that the regulations were effective immediately, and told the press conference as much. The news quickly spread, and thousands of people began gathering at the Berlin Wall. By 10.45 that evening, the checkpoints were open.
I guess I wasn’t really part of the Waves Festival’s target market (market being very much the operative word here), which probably explains why I found myself being riled by practically every aspect of this event. In the first place, its corporate logo-infested identity did a great job of concealing its unique selling point (gah, it’s catching): the bringing together of artists from all over Europe to the city that stands at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe. Plus, if pan-Europeanism was the key, it was depressing to see how narrow and constrained the programme was. The most important musics coming out of eastern Europe these days incorporate significant elements of improvisation and radical performance practice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any challenging sonics in the endless ranks of twee indie boys and pale, waiflike girls who dominated the schedule. Not to mention the crap organizational arrangements which made being a paying punter at this festival a very dispiriting experience.
For reasons best known to themselves, most reviewers of Saturday’s line-up made no mention at all of Peterlicker’s appearance on the romantically named Opel Corsa Stage, opting to write instead about the empty bombast of British Sea Power which followed. This is my small attempt to redress the balance. Peterlicker, of course, are the latest group to hit the reunion trail, a little-remembered Austrian outfit from the late 80s and early 90s who just happened to include in their line-up a young Peter Rehberg. A track recorded live at their first ever concert, in Vienna on 9 November 1989 (also the night the Berlin Wall came down, fact fans), surfaced last year on Neonbeats, a compilation of Austrian new wave and post-punk music on the Klanggalerie label. That compilation appearance not only got the members of the group talking again, it provided the impetus for them to produce a new album, Nicht, and to play live again.
For a group who hadn’t played together for over 20 years, Peterlicker certainly went about their business with an air of confident swagger. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Pita were Franz “Hergo” Hergovich on voice, Der Standard music critic Christian Schachinger on guitar and Gregor Weissegger on bass, who together produced a sound that was utterly crushing in its totality. Schachinger and Weissegger were like evil axe-wielding twins, the former’s monstrously dense riffs hovering like black clouds over the latter’s doomy, effects-damaged bass progressions. Every so often Schachinger would hold his guitar up and knee it in the groin, each blow reinforcing the impression of barely controlled violence emanating from the stage. The studied, outwardly calm Rehberg issued wave after wave of electronic venom from his laptop, while Hergovich was simply a star. Coming over like a cross between the abject self-abasement of Michael Gira and the assaultive malice of William Bennett, this tall, well-dressed figure threw himself trancelike around the stage while delivering himself of abstract, tormented vocals. Basically, Peterlicker were out to obliterate everything in their path, and did so without any hesitation.
For those who remain sceptical of the static, anodyne approach favoured by so many contemporary Noise musicians, Peterlicker offer a wholly convincing alternative, one predicated on immense physical engagement and collective presence. Welcome back, guys, and please try to stick around this time.
Here’s a list of the concerts I enjoyed most in 2009. There’s not much of an order to these ten, except for number 1, which was an incredible evening for me for all sorts of reasons.
1. Jandek, B72, Vienna
2. Spiritualized, Krems, Austria
3. Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love, Fluc, Vienna
4. Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love, Blue Tomato, Vienna
5. Mats Gustafsson/Barry Guy/Raymond Strid, Blue Tomato, Vienna
6. Sonore/The Thing, Blue Tomato, Vienna
7. Naked Lunch/Universalove, Gartenbaukino, Vienna
8. Sunn O)))/Pita, Arena, Vienna
9. Bruce Springsteen, Ernst Happel Stadium, Vienna
10. Kraftwerk, Wiesen, Austria
Exceptional concert of crushing noise from the reliably hardcore Peter Rehberg and his partner for the evening, American percussionist Z’ev. Aside from this brief review of an album he made a few years ago with David Jackman a.k.a. Organum, this was my first acquaintance with Z’ev, whom I was vaguely aware of as some kind of Industrial metal-basher. No metal onstage tonight, though; instead Z’ev played the V-drums, and did so with great skill and panache.
Because the V-drums don’t require a huge amount of physical exertion to play, the American was able to lay down all manner of complex and interlacing stickwork, which ended up sounding like a vast and heavy cloud of noise. Z’ev’s playing was especially notable for the way it almost-but-not-quite resolved into a steady rhythmic pulse, leaving the listener with a distinct sense of unease and discomfort.
Over on the other side of the stage, Rehberg made plenty of contributions to that sense of unease himself with the squalls of sonic violence issuing from his Macbook. Indeed, such was the totality of noise in the room that it was frequently impossible to tell whether a given sound was being generated by Rehberg or Z’ev. Not that it mattered. The two of them barely exchanged a glance at each other for the hour or so they were onstage, yet behind this apparent lack of communication lay a supremely intuitive understanding of how to ramp up the tension to monstrous levels. Possessed by a malign sense of urgency, Rehberg’s hissing drones and Z’ev’s clattering percussion are made for each other.
Another cracking month for concerts. Top of the list is the visit of Six Organs of Admittance, playing in the grimy surroundings of the Kleine Halle at the Arena. Six Organs is more or less guitarist Ben Chasny, joined by various collaborators for both live and studio work. Chasny tends to get lumped in with the “weird folk” crowd, which is actually not a bad shorthand for his uncanny and hypnotic blend of acoustic guitar-driven, mostly instrumental music. Calling to mind mystical Eastern ragas alongside the primitivist fingerpicking style of the late John Fahey, Six Organs music sparkles with melodic invention. On this tour, Chasny will be joined by electric guitarist Elisa Ambrogio, whose playing is as thrilling to watch as it is to listen to, and Alex Neilson, one of the most gifted and inventive drummers of modern times.
Moving right along, there’s an unmissable evening of free jazz and improvisation at the excellent Blue Tomato club this month, featuring two of the key figures in the genre. American saxophonist Ken Vandermark is a workaholic who spends most of his life on the road. His fierce and passionate playing effortlessly combines the swinging Fire Music style of Albert Ayler with the more abstract European style of Peter Brötzmann. Like most free jazz musicians, Vandermark has a list of collaborators as long as your arm; he’s one of those who believes in improvisation and ad hoc groupings as essential elements in keeping the music fresh and vital. On this occasion he’ll be joined by the awesomely talented Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, sticksman with The Thing (see the March 2009 issue of Ether), Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and too many others to mention. This kind of duo concert, with two musicians facing up to each other onstage with no preconceived notions of what they are going to play, represents for me the perfectly symmetrical essence of free improvisation.
And rounding things off, a very different kind of duo, KTL, the guitar and laptop pairing of Sunn O))) mastermind Stephen O’Malley and Vienna’s very own Peter Rehberg. O’Malley is the master of the drone guitar, playing pulverizingly loud sub-bass frequencies that resonate deep within you. Rehberg, meanwhile, coaxes all manner of hectic and crystalline sounds from his laptop. As well as being a formidable presence with their own records and concerts, KTL have often created music for dance and theatre pieces. It’s a natural move for them, therefore, to make film soundtrack music. As part of this year’s Wien Modern festival, they’ll be performing their own score to the classic early Swedish silent horror film, The Phantom Carriage, live as the film is shown.
And the live soundtracks just keep on coming. This was the live premiere of KTL‘s score for Victor Sjöström’s classic Swedish silent horror film, although the music has been available on the DVD of the film for almost two years. I’m tempted to ask why it took Peter Rehberg and Stephen O’Malley so long to put on this show, but given both men’s prodigious work rates and the bewildering variety of projects they’re both engaged in at any one time, it would seem churlish to do so.
In any event this was a deliciously unsettling evening, kicking off at the appropriately late hour of 11.00pm. (By a curious twist, I’d also been at the Gartenbaukino the evening before, watching Lars von Trier’s freakishly compelling Antichrist.) Performing in the wide open space of Vienna’s largest cinema, Rehberg and O’Malley stationed themselves on opposite sides of the screen and proceeded to create a soundtrack of nightmarish proportions that twisted and shuddered perfectly in tandem with the expressionist anguish of the film. From time to time O’Malley would violently strum or pluck his guitar strings, producing harsh metallic tones which were then heavily treated. Rehberg, meanwhile, spat vicious and deadly drones from his computer, adding to the sense of emotional turbulence that pervaded the whole film.
The film itself didn’t really grab me very much, I have to admit. I found it very difficult to follow the plot, given the heavy use of flashbacks and the rather confused sense of narrative. I guess I need to watch it again, to which end the above-mentioned DVD would be a very desirable purchase, or even an ideal Christmas present, if anyone else is reading this.
This fourth album from Peter Rehberg and Stephen O’Malley finds the duo upping the ante considerably in terms of grim, hellish and agonisingly slow guitar- and electronic-led drones. Moonlighting from his day job as half of Sunn O))), O’Malley turns away from that group’s relentlessly sludgey twin-guitar attack in favour of more silvery, melancholy tones. Rehberg, for his part, makes scalpel-sharp electronic incisions to take the music ever deeper into uneasy listening territory.
In 1999 or thereabouts, Ed Pinsent and I interviewed Peter Rehberg at his home in Vienna. (The resulting article appeared in The Sound Projector 8, long sold out but downloadable from the SP website.) Back in those days, Rehberg and the like-minded souls whose music he released on the label he co-founded, Mego (Fennesz, Farmers Manual, etc) were seen by some as the vanguard of a new revolution in electronic music, eschewing the analogue synthesiser in favour of using digital music software to create and manipulate sounds which they recorded straight to hard disc. Their ‘instrument’ of choice was the Apple Macintosh, which had already revolutionised the ease of use of the personal computer. Since the mid-90s, a clutch of Vienna-based artists had been making a global impression, with the scene initially coalescing around the clubby, downtempo vibes of Kruder & Dorfmeister, Patrick Pulsinger and Erdem Tunakan. As the 90s wore on, the Mego crew emerged with a harder-edged, glitchy sound that could be heard on a regular basis at the Rhiz bar, Vienna’s new temple to electronic music.
An overwhelmingly loud and brutal concert from the metal band it’s OK to like (and certainly the only one I like). In fact this evening was more akin to a test of physical endurance than possibly any other I have seen. Here were Sunn O))) as they should be heard – just the two men on guitar, with no extraneous vocals or instrumentation. Playing – or, more accurately, improvising off – their 1999 début The Grimmrobe Demos, the duo issued a full 90 minutes of nothing but malevolent guitar drones and sub-bass frequencies monstrous enough to make your entire body quake.
There’s a lot of talk about Sunn O))) having a deadpan humour to their work, a certain quality of sending themselves up, but I can’t see it when the outcome is as relentlessly tortured and funereal as this. With their cowled selves only ever partially revealed through the impenetrable curtain of fog, their agonisingly slow onstage movements and their uncanny, somehow menacing salutes, O’Malley and Anderson seem less concerned with acknowledging a sense of the ridiculous than with presenting a coherent and disturbing vision of Hell.
Those who arrived early had the pleasure of seeing local laptop hero, and head honcho of Editions Mego, Pita aka Peter Rehberg, who forms one half of KTL with O’Malley. More or less reprising his April set at the Rhiz, Rehberg took full advantage of the much larger PA to generate ferocious coils of sound from his two Macbooks. That haunting and fevered third track from Get Out loomed particularly large again, sounding like a deranged part-animal/part-machine as it swooped and seethed about the place.