Stefan Goldmann & Finn Johannsen: Macrospective

Weird in the best sense of the word, a protoypical Macro track overlays minimal techno rhythms with idiosyncratic melodic elements and in so doing separates itself from the dance music crowd. In the Macro universe, it's normal for a clubby beat pattern to be paired with atonal choir chanting (Stefan Goldmann's “Lunatic Fringe”), a clarinet's bleat (Slap's “Eden Now”), or a cello's groan and scrape (Raudive's “Paper”), and no better recording in the Macro stable captures the Berlin-based label's “avant-garde-techno” aesthetic than its first label compilation Macrospective. It's an unusual project in many respects, one obviously being the fact that that the five-year-old label's co-founders, Finn Johannsen and Stefan Goldmann, use the same set of tracks (sequenced differently, however) for their respective disc-long mixes, though their approaches to the material differ with Johannsen's a spontaneous, one-take affair and Goldmann's a more methodically conceived set. The mixes' comprehensive contents—both vinyl-based sets, by the way—are pulled from the label's catalogue, and consequently the listener is fully reminded of how diverse the Macro universe is. Goldmann brings an inspired imagination to whatever he does (such as stitching together 146 sections from over a dozen classic recordings of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps in order to re-create a “definitive” version), while Johannsen also works for the legendary Hard Wax store when not DJing or tending to label matters. Goldmann himself is represented by five pieces, while Raudive (Oliver Ho), Elektro Guzzi, Slap, Peter Kruder, and Tuomi, among others, appear too (Slap's “Eden Now” even appears in a Ricardo Villalobos mix, while Pépé Bradock, Oni Ayhun, and KiNK also do remix duty).

Johannsen's half begins on a celestial note with the ambient serenity of Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras's cover of Lieber-Stoller's “I Remember,” which sounds like some lost mid-‘70s collaboration between Brian Wilson and Brian Eno, with the latter's voice floating overtop a becalmed backdrop that sounds very reminiscent of the bonus Mount Vernon and Fairway EP included with The Beach Boys' 1973 Holland album. Pleasurable moments are many in Johannsen's mix: the aforementioned choir-techno combination that surfaces during Goldmann's “Lunatic Fringe”; Kruder's dynamic “Law of Return,” which exudes a delectable uplift in powering its uplifting theme with a hard-grooving pulse; the tangy, spider-like motif that crawls repeatedly over the thumping pulse in Tuomi's “Expense of Spirit”; and the live thrust muti-limbed trio Elektro Guzzi brings to “Android.” In Macrospective's second half, Pete Namlook's “Subharmonic Atoms” segues into the quirky Drexciyan techno of Goldmann's own “Prefecture” before “Law of Return” again elevates the mix with a dreamlike flow. The slinky “Expense of Spirit” likewise casts its spell over the mix, with Goldmann's clubby treatment giving ample room to Kristiina Tuomi's lush vocal rendering of Shakespeare's words, as does a Goldmann mix of Santiago Salazar's dramatic “Arcade.” Following a second appearance by his light-footed “Beluga,” Goldmann gives the recording a nicely rounded quality and sense of closure by capping it with “I Remember,” just the way it began.

There are subtle differences in the contents of the mixes, despite the fact that they're built from the same tracks. Johannsen, for example, has Raudive's “Brittle”—with a melodic part that in its skeletal minimalism is suggestive of early Philip Glass—stretch out for a full nine minutes, such that its naggingly insistent organ note repeats so often it verges on numbing; Goldmann, by comparison, reins the track in and gives as much attention to other elements as the keyboard. To be honest, as much as I appreciate the rationale behind two producers offering respective takes on the same material, I would have preferred two discs of entirely different selections rather than two treatments of the same. But that desire is a sign of greediness on my part, a hunger for more Macro material rather than two versions of the same thing, and in its own way a compliment. All such considerations aside, an impressive amount of stylistic (and oft-exhilarating) ground is covered over the course of the release, and one comes away with an enhanced appreciation for the richness of the Macro catalogue.

September 2011