Stefan Goldmann: The Transitory State / Voices of the Dead

Stefan Goldmann radically separates himself from the dance music crowd with this two-part collection, with the first disc (his debut album) The Transitory State giving the genre an idiosyncratic twist, and the second, Voices of the Dead, an electroacoustic set that inhabits an entirely different universe altogether (the latter will also be available as a limited edition box set of five seven-inch discs). Both are audacious and ambitious affairs that testify strongly to the Berlin producer's gifts and show him clearly aspiring to be something significantly more than your standard “minimal" practitioner.

The first album gathers tracks from releases on Innervisions, Perlon, and Goldmann's own Macro that appeared during the last three years, and six of the ten appear on CD for the first time. Wasting no time distancing himself from the competition, he begins the disc with “Lunatic Fringe” whose conventional minimal techno pulse is joined, fifteen seconds in, by swathes of female choral voices that sound hijacked from a classical work by Penderecki. The two elements don't comfortably merge—the beats are uptempo and metronomic whereas the voices dreamily stretch themselves over the groove—yet the effect is fascinating nonetheless, especially when the juxtaposition is so unusual. “Radiant Grace” likewise opens rather straightforwardly with an ascending and descending fretless bass hook anchored by a simple tech-house beat pattern. But the melodic blanks in the equation are quickly filled in, not by synth melodies as one might expect but by orchestral strings and the recurrent sound of a bassoon surreptitiously poking its head out of the background (adding to the audacity, Goldmann spends the track's last minute in bass solo mode). Though they're refined examples of the form, other tracks hew to the more conventional genre script, such as the pumping “Aurora” and The Bribe” and the banging “Phraselab” and “Blood,” which serve up muscular exercises in driving techno, and “Sleepy Hollow,” where iridescent melodies rain down upon a tight jacking pulse. Even in these cases, however, Goldmann distinguishes the material with imaginative sonic detail, such as the off-kilter melodies that meander alongside the synth-heavy stomp in “Beluga.”

One can't help but admire his ambition: not only is Voices of the Dead an uncompromising set of ten electroacoustic pieces, it's the first in a planned trilogy, no less. Though one of the pieces (“Turret”) founds its way into Richie Hawtin's DE9 Transitions mix, the tracks are anything but dance-oriented. Instead, they're unsettling settings whose “voices” draw upon, in his own words, “the heritage of an endless line of ancestors brought forward through the centuries.” Experimental soundscaping's the order of the day and, as such, won't be to every listener's taste. Electronics, synthesizers, and samples come together in ten pieces that are primarily nocturnal in character—dreamscapes that may not qualify as nightmarish but are certainly disturbing. Beats and rhythms are absent, and in their place sweeping tones, prickly textures, and ominous rumbles similar to the kind of real and imagined sounds one might hear when lost, alone, and disoriented in a pitch black forest at night. One piece that's truly is nightmarish is “Markers of the Black Lit Path,” which features percussive patterns that skitter like mice and violent electronic interjections that shatter the quiet, leaving reverberant trails in their wake. The fifty-seven-minute collection ends with “Katorga,” fourteen minutes of atmospheric groans, scrapes, and poundings that evoke the post-apocalyptic ruins of a destroyed city. Voices of the Dead is the kind of collection whose five seven-inch discs one might expect to find issued by Hymen in a wooden, casket-like case. Needless to say, The Transitory State and Voices of the Dead present two radically different portraits of the artist.

November 2008