Rechenzentrum: Silence

Arriving four years after Rechenzentrum's last release, the CD-DVD Director's Cut (Mille Plateaux), Silence adds some new moves to the modus operandi of Berlin video-audio duo Lillevan and Marc Weiser. Though the group still creates arresting, symbiotic fusions of sound and visuals, this time around the video treatments—morphing black-and-white drawings given basic animated treatments—are more static compared to those on Director's Cut. Admittedly, that's by design, as Lillevan's point of references for the new work are 14th-century Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev (Silence's cover displays his Christ the Redeemer) and Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker), who produced a 1966 black-and-white film treatment of Rublev. Even so, the images are nowhere near as compelling as the music; if anything, the reserved visual treatments prove constraining as they temper the expansive visual evocativeness the music would engender if heard alone.

Another change—not such a good one, as it turns out—in Rechenzentrum's approach is the presence of vocals on a small number of songs. Rather than enhancing the group's sound, the vocals tend to normalize it and ultimately seem like banal add-ons to otherwise idiosyncratic soundscaping. As before, the group's sound is nightmarish, exotic, disturbed, and alien though, surprisingly, Rechenzentrum sometimes flirts with more familiar genre tropes (believe it or not, it even approximates some mutant variant of Booker T. and the MGs on “Expedition Existenz” and, during one uncharacteristically bright moment, a pounding techno-funk episode appears); the presence of a additional musicians—quarter trumpeter Franz Hautzinger and percussionist Maurice de Martin most prominently—helps broaden out Rechenzentrum's avant-garde mix of ambient, jazz, dub, and electronics and gives it a slightly more spontaneous feel.

The trippy psychedelia of “Terra Incognita” drops the listener into the center of a menacing lost continent, after which muted trumpet noises bleat over a funereal dirge drenched in congealing atmosphere. Occasionally, dance elements emerge but they're often viral rhythms with next to no connection to club culture; instead, they're rhythm patterns from some as yet undiscovered primal zone where such “dance” motifs function as Dionysian accompaniment to ritual sacrifice more than inducements to club ecstasy. Elsewhere, dense clusters of string drones sway atop a grinding shuffle while wrinkled paper patterns fidget spasmodically. A lurching tech-house pulse and clanging bell tones synchronize with liquidy ink blot patterns and silhouettes; Hautzinger's horn adds an almost jazzy dimension when it soars over the group's heaving drones and agitated rhythms.

Silence is hardly a disappointment—how could it be when it's sonically so distinctive?—yet, at the same time, it doesn't captivate as much as Director's Cut, which sounds definitive by comparison. Four years on, Silence seems, well, quaint and, measured against its predecessor, underwhelming instead of visionary. In short, it feels as if time has passed the group by: rather than being at the forefront, Rechenzentrum feels, on Silence at least, like it's now lagging behind.

January 2008