Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire
When someone returns to recording for the first time since 1983, one can't help but wonder whether the artist will pick up where he/she left off or issue daring new material radically unlike what was produced earlier. In the case of Peter Baumann, a member of the pioneering electronic outfit Tangerine Dream between 1971 and 1977, Machines of Desire harks back less to the visionary days of Phaedra and Rubycon and more to the controlled concision of Stratosfear (it's worth noting that Baumann's creative output didn't end with his departure from the group as many solo albums followed his years with the German outfit ) .
Machines of Desire came about in an interesting way, sparked as it was by a reunion Baumann had with Tangerine Dream leader Edgar Froese weeks before his death in January 2015. Experiencing a re-awakened creative urge in 2014, Baumann contacted Froese and met with him in Austria in early 2015, a meeting that likely would have led to a collaboration of some sort had Froese not passed away. Despite that loss, Baumann carried on and gradually brought Machines of Desire to fruition.
The typical piece is about six minutes in length, melodically structured, and free of improvised passages. Tight rhythm sequences work hand-in-hand with multiple layers of synthesizer patterns to establish a given track's character, whether it be cryptically gothic (“The Blue Dream”) or mysterious (“Echoes in the Cave”). In places a grandiose quality emerges that's contained by Baumann's preference for short running times; concerning presentation, the productions are refined and polished as opposed to raw and rough, and at a modest eight tracks, the album doesn't overstay its welcome. Different moods and styles are explored throughout the recording. “Searching in Vain” plods forebodingly, its mood offset by rapid flute-like flourishes and a xylophone that, like it or not, calls Gotye's “Somebody That I Used to Know” to mind; the urgent “Crossing the Abyss,” on the other hand, advances with militaristic force.The album title, by the way, alludes to Baumann's belief that humans are driven by desires, whether it be for love, recognition, intimacy, purpose, or understanding. Though uncertainty dogs our every waking moment, existential despair can be alleviated by the simple fact of being alive and all the pleasures, big and small, that come with it. The listener, of course, can choose to ignore such philosophical musings if he/she wishes and simply attend to the album's purely instrumental presentation; at the very least, track titles such as “Valley of the Gods” and “Crossing the Abyss” serve perfectly well as evocative prompts without any supplemental intellectual baggage. Is Machines of Desire a visionary work on the level of Phaedra? Hardly: it's more workmanlike than innovative, though it does admittedly present a credible enough portrait of Peter Baumann circa 2016.