THOMAS KÖNER – La Barca

Fario

Firstly released on compact disc in 2009, La Barca (also an audiovisual performance) was reissued in a limited 2-LP edition comprising the entire content of the first as well as a selection of previously unpublished tracks, perfectly complementary and functional to the rest of the program. Having followed Köner’s output since the very beginnings, and enjoyed masterpieces such as Permafrost and Unerforschtes Gebiet I think I’m entitled to say something not entirely encouraging. In fact, although this record is instilled with evocative poignancy and impressive reverberations, a completely positive response to it is delayed by a series of question marks arising every once in a while during the listening session.

For starters, the sonic foundation is principally derived from sluggish looped fragments of grief-stricken melodies and orchestral snippets. Whereas the emotive consequence is incontestable, this working method puts a musician who made of his originality a trademark too close to other realities who do this kind of job better than the German. Specifically, certain sections seriously summon up ghosts of William Basinski and, especially, Keith Berry. Not exactly what we were looking for.

Then there is the thorny matter of field recordings. The whole work is defined by the echoes – manipulated or less – of various levels of people across the world speaking in their native language. Some of those idioms are comprehensible, others are more obscure and fascinating. To this, the composer adds touches of spiritual exoticism and daily life routine that risk to drag the music down to a lesser level. Muezzin calls are a dime a dozen these days, and the intercom messages captured in Rome’s subway reminded me that tomorrow I have to take those awful trains again. What this reviewer means is that nearly two hours reiterating the same concept can be excessive, even if a master like Köner is doing it. It’s still relevant enough stuff, mind you; but the man has definitely delivered superior opuses.

Last but absolutely not least: if a label decides to publish music by an artist who is celebrated for the use of low frequencies on vinyl, the latter must be of the highest quality. The copy in my possession – not a promo, it was bought – thrice emits horrible farts due to that black substance’s inability to contain the above mentioned lows, and in the fourth side (the one with the unreleased sections) there’s a lengthy section that’s impossible to listen to because of the constant sticking of the needle on defective grooves. An objectionable way of enjoying loops. The right solution would be publishing a third version of La Barca – on double CD at the price of a single.

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