Stefan Goldmann: Parameter

Parameter (in German with English subtitles) certainly lives up to its billing as a portrait of Stefan Goldmann, who not only records for Macro but co-founded it in 2007 with Finn Johannsen. It's refreshing to be able to see the person behind the music and to gain a sense of who he is and what his views are. For those who've only read about such places, there's also a minor thrill in seeing Goldmann being interviewed at the infamous Hard Wax record store and the Dubplates & Mastering studio, even if the places serve more as functional backdrops than settings within which Goldmann interacts. To a large degree, the forty-one-minute video is an interview realized on video rather than in print, with the subject's ruminations and answers to questions posed by Tobias Fischer (of Tokafi) interspersed with tantalizing excerpts of tracks such as “Beluga,” “Massenbach,” and “The Grand Hemiola.”

Listeners familiar with Goldmann's work will know that his eclectic discography includes innovative electroacoustic pieces and that one of his most memorable projects involves a version of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps re-created using brief snippets of existing recordings of the work. In Parameter, he elaborates on why he regards the Stravinsky piece and Miles Davis's Bitches Brew as the most important works of the twentieth century—the former for being a modular work whose constantly changing patterns point the way toward modern-day editing concepts, the latter for how it introduced the notion of the track by focusing on groove more than song structure, something that obviously served as a blueprint for techno, house, and DJ culture in general. Goldmann's audacious approach is clearly evident, also, in the brief bit of “The Grand Hemiola” that's included and that jarringly juxtaposes an orchestral recording and an electronic rhythm track. While much of the footage shows the casually dressed Goldmann within different parts of Berlin (including scenes of him within an abandoned, graffiti-strewn building), we see him behind the decks at Soju Bar in full DJ mode, too. In isolated moments, the video is as much a portrait of Berlin as it is of Goldmann, with numerous scenes (during the musical segments especially) showing the city in its industrial and natural sides.

It is, in one sense, an incomplete portrait. While the focus understandably is directed to what's happening now, little sense of where Goldmann came from is provided. Historical background is modest in amount and no imagery outside of the present day is included, which leaves the viewer largely in the dark about Goldmann's past. Perhaps a better balance might have been struck, too, between the amount of time devoted to his musings and the music. Only at the video's end do we get an extended (two minutes or so) presentation of music, specifically of him creating a piece in his studio. Here, too, the segment would have been more satisfying (specifically for viewers unfamiliar with the tools of the trade) had some clarification been offered as to the gear Goldmann's using (a DRM1 analog drum synthesizer appears to be one of the pieces visible) and what exactly is happening when he's pressing the buttons and twiddling the knobs. Still, whatever its flaws, Parameter is an inspired idea in that it offers a seldom-seen glimpse into the working life of one of its most imaginative and thoughtful producers. Macro, which has deservedly been described as “the world's leading avant-techno label,” is always pushing the boundaries in its musical productions, and does something a little bit the same in a different context here as well.

July-August 2012