ACTIVITY CENTER – Lohn & Brot

Absinth

Michael Renkel and Burkhard Beins run Activity Center since 1989, working over the years with a bunch of instruments, gadgets, devices and disparate treatments – usually placed on tables – so we’re not terribly wrong when we define their fields of exploration as heavily influenced by the preparations they love to use. For this recording, which follows 1999’s Möwen And Moos, the “orchestration” is mainly characterized by Renkel’s nylon string guitar played with hundreds of atypical techniques and Beins’ usual array of astutely utilized percussion, stringed stuff such as an “eBowed and propelled zither” and electronics (also manipulated by his companion).

Lohn & Brot is a long-lasting record at 70 minutes, yet the adjective that keeps remaining in the mind for this music is “fresh”. This derives from several factors. The first is that both the whole program and the single pieces do not remain stuck on the same ideas until corrosion but – either via surprising discoveries or plain aborted experiments – the scenario is changed after a few instants. In that sense, the continuous dynamic shift of the opening track “Arbeit : Material” epitomizes the duo’s researching spirit and open-to-instant-suggestion ears. Small bumps on wood weigh similarly to a series of glittering rasgueados on the zither, microscopic clattering and carillon fragments preceded or accompanied by unyielding harmonics whose duration is manually prolonged through the electric gadgetry. A mixture of luminousness, grubbiness and pulse that results extremely sympathetic, its acknowledgement unproblematic.

“Passage” and “Transit” are two short links between extensive improvisations. They’re infused with a sounds-from-a-forest quality that makes them welcome even as autonomous statements. “Zone : Produkt” – the longest chapter at almost half a hour – starts with deeply resonating, sparely percussive touches then mutates to become a determined analysis of molecular improbability, lengthy acute frequencies and swift stops maintaining our attention busy throughout. The auditory channels are constantly stimulated: initially quite gently, then more vivaciously, the junction of motionless stability and noisy intoxication basically faultless. Time flies and still no tiredness, especially in virtue of the artist’s irrefutable talent in placing the sonic incidents, further enriched by a peculiar combination of sincerity and incongruity, the best example being the succession of minimal shimmer and synthetic farts found around the 20th minute, flowing into a splendidly organic blend of drone and acoustic mayhem in what’s perhaps the disc’s finest moment.

The conclusive “Station : Prozess” is a cross-pollination of toneless emissions, speckled overtones and hallucinated serenity caused by obliquely sliding strings and glissando insanities of the third kind, mixing – at the very point in which I’m writing – with the faraway echoes of a ceremony taking place on the opposite hill, marching band and firecrackers included. A bizarre, entirely human concoction that ultimately leaves us ready for another spin, like if what was just heard had never occurred.
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