Ursula Bogner: Sonne = Black Box

Though Faitiche head Jan Jelinek presents Ursula Bogner's Sonne = Blackbox with a poker face, word has it that the project is, of course, entirely the brainchild of Jelinek himself. It's a clever trick and one that enables the German producer to prevent the album content from being broached in terms of the material he's released under his own name; there's no question the Bogner project is light years removed from Jelinek's Farben and Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records days. To go along with the music, a biographical portrait has been fashioned that presents Bogner (1946-1994) as a German pharmacist, artist, and musician who took courses with Herbert Eimert, founder of Köln's Studio für elektronische Musik, and assembled a private cache of recordings over many years. The release of Sonne = Blackbox came about when Jelinek met Bogner's son by chance, learned of her recordings, and compiled the pieces archived on reel-to-reel tapes and hi-fi cassettes into full-length album form. We're led to believe that she composed the fifteen pieces between 1970 and 1985, and the conceit holds up in the early electronic character of the album's explorative sketches.

Reminiscent of one of Radioactivity's vignettes, the title track (supposedly produced in 1972) plays like some early computer lab experiment in its pairing of modulating electronics, treated vocals, and a naggingly insistent piano part. Elsewhere, the material comes across as early in-studio explorations of the kind performed at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with Bogner giving birth to warbly sci-fi mini-soundtracks (“Nach Europa”) of whooshes and convulsions and synthesized sing-song chants originating from distant galaxies (“Trabant”). Listening to such material, one naturally thinks of Bogner and her electronic constructions and tape-manipulated pieces as the German counterpart to the UK pioneer Delia Derbyshire. At the same time, Bogner's work can be seen as having laid the groundwork for the paths taken by progeny such as AGF. In fact, vocal fragments intertwine with fluttering tones and theremin-like warble during “Shepard Monde” (1971) in a way that anticipates the lab work done by AGF decades later.

Regardless of authorship, Sonne = Blackbox is a constant treat for the ears, and it should also be noted that the thirty-five-minute recording is accompanied by a 126-page booklet containing drawings and photos (supposedly from Bogner's life) plus texts by Jelinek, Momus, Andrew Pekler, and others, with all of the related materials houses in a deluxe card-box.

December 2011