Gilles Aubry: Berlin Backyards

Pure: Ification

Obviously Aubry's idea of a typical Berlin backyard isn't a quiet and peaceful haven one retreats to as a respite from the noise of the city but instead a place where loud, industrial machinery churns relentlessly. Such equipment—air conditioners, trash compactors, recycling containers, electric power stations, all of which keep the city running—exhales convulsively like a living organism throughout the recording's forty-nine minutes. Aubry spent the winter of 2006 recording the city's backyards, and in the process became more sensitive to the setting as an interzone between the public and private sphere. The eight-part musique concrète composition the Berlin-based sound artist fashioned from his source material implicitly argues that the city's backyards operate according to rhythms very much like a human being's. The opening sections are aggressive, even violent in their indomitable churn and throb, and the sound is so intense it feels as if one is positioned within the machinery (as an indication of track one's character, imagine a microphone positioned close to the tracks of a subway car in order to best capture its screech). Though the intensity level subsides somewhat during the recording's middle section, allowing quieter noises such as water, footsteps, and voices to be heard, the activity level never flags, and soon we're thrust once again into the belly of the industrial beast. Traffic sounds of cars racing past appear alongside machine rumble and workers' clatter in the final section. It bears mentioning that, here and elsewhere, Aubry doesn't merely juxtapose field recordings or sequence them but instead arranges the materials into a large-scale conceptual whole that, in its way, becomes almost musical.

Pure's Ification is an oft-unsettling stylistic travelogue whose range extends far beyond the backyard. Uncompromising experimental electronic workouts sit side-by-side with modern classical and cinematic soundscaping in the Berlin-based artist's collection. Since 1992, Peter Votava has issued more than thirty CDs and vinyl releases of solo and collaborative works under different aliases, with Ification arriving six years after his previous studio release Noonbugs (Mego). Pure begins with “Fire,” an ear-piercing, molten overture of stabbing guitar playing (courtesy of Digital Hardcore artist Christoph de Babalon) that ensures the listener will be fully alert at the start of the trip. Slightly easier on the ears is “After the Bomb,” a long-form funereal meditation that blends shuddering haze, organ flurries, and percussive accents by Radian drummer Martin Brandlmayr into a cinematic set-piece of dramatic portent. “Approximation” combines the low, foghorn-like bellow of horns, the scrape of strings, and percussive flourishes into a six-minute setting similar in style to a contemporary classical composition. At this stage, the album moves into Mego-like territory with “Night Flight,” an epic, rippling mass of deep string swells and firestorms of electronic spatter; “Sonomatopeia,” dotted with electronic blisters of bass swells and Alexandra von Bolzn's demonic vocal effects; and “End,” which immerses the listener within a sixteen-minute cauldron of lethal bass swells and stabs (courtesy of Anke Eckardt). A final surprise comes at disc's end when the deathly post-rock of “Metal Sky” places the percussive inventions of Brandlmayr at the forefront. Pure presents a not always pretty but nevertheless remarkable sound world where the listener never knows what direction the next piece will take.

July 2009