2011 10 Favourite Labels
Spotlight 3

Félicia Atkinson
Bee Mask
Gui Boratto
Peter Broderick
Benjamin Broening
Chicago Odense Ens.
Dday One
Lawrence English
The Field
Nils Frahm
Douglas Greed
Jim Haynes
Hess + McFall
High aura'd
Hior Chronik
King Midas Sound
Leyland Kirby
Knox & Oberland
Tom Lawrence
Planetary Assault Systems
Two People In A Room
Christina Vantzou
Marius Vareid
Wolfgang Voigt
Water Borders
Wenngren & Bissonnette
Eisuke Yanagisawa

Compilations / Mixes
Above The City
Air Texture Vol. 1
Burning Palms
Emerging Organisms 4
Live And Remastered

Antonymes/ S. D. Society
Late Night Chronicles
Old Apparatus
Option Command
Benoît Honoré Pioulard
Kevin Reynolds

Wolfgang Voigt: Kafkatrax

As one of the figureheads of the Kompakt empire (and the recently revived Profan), Wolfgang Voigt can pretty much release anything he wants—a good thing in many ways but potentially a bad thing too when there's no one to challenge the merits of a potential release. So I'll admit I came to Kafkatrax with some degree of trepidation, especially after the release of last year's set of electronic piano-based indulgences, Freiland Klaviermusik. Any fear, however, that Kafkatrax would be a major let-down from the creative force that produced the Gas catalogue are quickly laid to rest upon hearing it—while hardly a landmark recording, Kafkatrax nevertheless turns out to be a pretty entertaining and engaging collection. The hour-long disc compiles tracks previously issued in a recent limited edition set of EPs (titles like “Kafkatrax 2.3” and “Kafkatrax 3.0” alluding to the second and third EPs in the series) issued in hand-painted vinyl.

In simplest terms, the recording backs severely doctored recitations of Kafka's writing (originating from a Kafka audio book CD) with lean techno backdrops. Though the choice of Kafka wasn't entirely arbitrary—Voigt acknowledges that the author was a literary preference during his teens—Voigt's concerns are primarily sonic rather than literary. That is, he could just as easily have used the recited text of any author's work, be it Heinrich Heine, Goethe, or John Grisham, for that matter, and achieved much the same effect—though it must be said the claustrophobic swirl that results is consistent with the prison-like mazes that Kafka protagonists such as Josef K. typically find themselves entrapped within.

In the beatless introductory track, the vocals swell into an unintelligible swirl, such that any possible identification of Kafka's text becomes well nigh impossible. It's almost as if Voigt wants to lay the matter to rest at the outset so that the listener won't approach the subsequent tracks with false expectations, the message being that one shouldn't expend energy looking for Kafka's words but should rather treat the radically shredded vocal elements as raw sound elements set within clubby techno settings. In true Profan spirit, the instrumental elements are kept to a minimum, a template established in the first beat-based track, “Kafkatrax 1.1,” where a skeletal house groove is smothered by a hailstorm of voices and chattering ringtones. Yet despite working with a restricted set of sound materials, Voigt spins mutiple variations on his theme and consequently holds the listener's attention throughout: “Kafkatrax 2.1,” for instance, takes the listener for an eight-minute ride, with incessantly babbling voices accompanied by a jaunty rhythm track and a melancholy keyboard motif; a thudding kick drum and shimmering keyboards compete for dominance with guttural voice elements during “Kafkatrax 2.2”; and, oddly enough, “Kafkatrax 3.2” resembles nothing so much as the “Chilean” techno released by a figure like Gustavo Lamas, a connection that's all the more suggested when a cicada-like flutter punctuates the bass-crawling pulse. Voigt's voice treatments are in themselves captivating, with the producer chopping them into fragments, slowing them down, and layering them into dense thickets (up to five octaves, we're told). Belches, murmurs, and croaks fill the air, animated by snares and kick drums stripped to their primal essence and sometimes augmented by keyboard patterns, and such extreme levels of density are achieved that the album's tracks often induce a state of quasi-hypnosis in the receptive listener.

November 2011