Rechenzentrum: Director's Cut
Mille Plateaux

It's not uncommon for a 2003 recording, electronic or otherwise, to include a video file, but it's typically regarded as an extra and of secondary importance to the music. To cite one example, Rechenzentrum's second recording, 2001's The John Peel Sessions, includes the quicktime movie 'ibm tonfilm.' However, the group has now made a bold leap forward by releasing its Mille Plateaux debut Director's Cut as a 2-disc set, one a regular music CD and the other a full-length DVD. Frankly, those familiar with the band will view this as a natural step, given its personnel and the nature of its in-concert presentation. Formed at the Documenta '97 festival, the Berlin-based group is a trio, comprised of musicians Marcus Weiser and Christian Nikolaus Conrad, and Lillevän, the group's video artist. By including both a CD and DVD, the band reinforces its conviction that sounds and images are equally important elements. According to Lillevän, the band regards video as an instrument, while music is broached visually. Images are regarded not as mere adjuncts or afterthoughts but as symbiotically integral to the music and indissolubly connected to it.

Musically, Director's Cut is epic yet nuanced, and evidences an exquisite sensitivity to detail. Its 65 minutes of music are textural, atmospheric, and cinematic. Texturally, sounds accumulate to create an incredibly intricate, dense web. While occasionally there are beats and rhythms, the music isn't anchored to a singularly recurring pulse. It's stately and moves at a typically measured yet propulsive mid-tempo pace, and unfolds continuously, with one track segueing into the next. You'll find no vocals here, and the samples have been transformed so fully and integrated so seamlessly that sound sources will be largely unrecognizable. The sole concession to conventionality is the stylistic move into microhouse territory (“Nelson Reshoot,” “Benshi,” “Synchron,” “Happy End”) and dub (“‘Tiefenschärfe,” “35mm,” “Paramount”). Natural instruments like bass and drums are occasionally identifiable (“35mm'), as are the familiar sounds of an electric piano (“Benshi”) and trumpet (“‘Projector,” “Hommage”). The tracks are instrumentally rich; “Tiefenschärfe,” for example, teems with the sounds of rain, strings, bells, scrapings, percussive echoes, and sax accents. Dynamically, the group stays within a mid-range, avoiding extreme volume contrasts. One exception is the noisier track “Bleichbadüberbrückung,” with its klanging gamelan tones and grinding sounds, but it's a brief prelude to “Nelson Reshoot” which metamorphoses into Luomo-style microhouse alongside Thorston Kohlhoff's languid trumpet playing.

Of course, it's most appropriate in this case to consider the music and visuals together. The album and its tracks solidify the film (and hence visual) connection in their titles (“‘35mm,” “Paramount,” “Projektor”). Images, typically amorphous and abstract, often mutate in synch with the rhythmic pulsations of the music such that visual interference complements the textural qualities of the music. Director's Cut begins with the eerie “Gaujaq Totale” whose flickering images establish an ominous ambiance that's perfectly matched by music that's equally dramatic. Amidst nightmarish scrapings and violin glissandos, a distant out-of-tune piano plays a simple, ghostly melody. Think of “Gaujaq Totale” as the soundtrack to an evisceration or execution. “Benshi” starts with Vladislav Delay-like sound effects which then become Luomo-like once the house beat emerges. Visually, blue droplets appear against a blurry brown background, and the glitch sounds of tearing are visually mimicked by a tearing onscreen wipe. The propulsive microhouse beat of “Happy End” gradually intensifies to match the white shape that rises from the bottom and eventually fills the screen, while “Paramount” conjoins its dubby funk of maracas and bass to grainy, blurry shapes. In other cases, representational imagery is used. “Projektor” shows film sprockets intermittently, while “35mm” depicts blurry silhouettes of moving figures and architectural imagery against a dub bass and hard-hitting snare backing. The plane images and airfield in “Lye” inevitably create an ominous mood of portent in these post 9-11 times.

It wouldn't be an overstatement to call Director's Cut groundbreaking, given the deeply immersive experience its presentation affords. Of course, detractors argue that the drawback of even the most abstract video imagery is that it delimits the music by visually concretizing it, even though in this case the visuals are abstract enough to ensure that a lesser demarcation of potential meanings is inscribed upon the music. Others, more positively disposed to the idea of a visual analogue to the music, stress that the video dimension provides a more complete experience that's indelibly enhancing. Regardless of one's position on the matter, there's no denying that Director's Cut offers an incredibly evocative multi-dimensional experience and sets an impressively high standard that the group's colleagues will be hard pressed to match.

September 2003