As I walk around the house picking up pieces of gathered dust in the corners of the rooms with my bare fingers, the frame of mind is on the persnickety side. Nothing works as it should, world-weariness is knocking at the door, weather is shifting to bad yet again, the laptop’s hard disk can’t get optimized for lack of space… you know the score. It’s in moments like this that life circumstances have their way of letting us remember that we are not totally unaided. Bright brains came to Earth for something, didn’t they?
Therefore I decided to finally give a few spins to a duo of Rothkamm releases lying on the table since ages (well, last year) in the vain attempt to find a new batch of proper words to enshrine the work of a genuinely wired man as necessary. The opening item is a movie called Birth Of Primary Cinema From The Spirit Of Sound. The underlying theory, which no word of mine can synthesize here, is explained in fine detail in the “theory” section of the DVD. It deals with the inverse proportionality between the increase of the quantity of information and its comprehensibility, a notion that the artist correctly relates to the progressive stuffing of infinitesimal (read “beyond comprehension”) audio and video data into contemporary Hollywood productions, but is applicable to most everything thrown up by the media nowadays, or even to music itself. Example: bazillions of “artists” on the web and no chance to understand: not just what’s good and what’s not but what the fuck is going on. On the whole, the half-hour consists of a series of location recordings coupled with thought-provoking metropolitan stills supposedly shot in the Los Angeles area (where Rothkamm lives). Some of the pictures are linked to amassments of fixed electronic frequencies boosting a state of blank-mindedness while gazing at the screen, insecure in our role of spectators and, at the same time, victims of the future. The final snapshot sees the protagonist alone on a desert beach accompanied by an absurdly unmusical samba executed by an electric organ-cum-cheap-drum machine, a paradoxical conclusion for a mutely remarkable opus. Ultimately, “Primary Cinema” is a concept equivalent to the one according to which primeval human species developed their perception of a danger through sound; in essence, we are the ones who ought to build up the “movie” within our psychophysical systems when looking at a decodable image, yet are all too happy to let someone else decide about the noxiousness of a predetermined information – usually, that which leads to uncomfortable truths.
After that, the 73-plus minutes of Amerika – a solo recital on a 1954 Wurlitzer Spinet Piano co-released with Bad Alchemy – may appear as the ironic culmination of a period of profound reflections, or the German utopist’s will to throw the listener back to an age in which the elaboration of organized acoustic signals (translation: memorizing a record) was still possible. There’s a problem: the material is far from being easily classifiable – not that there were doubts – and so bumpily various and rhythmically unstable that we tend to perceive the breathy gaps in Rothkamm’s now dissonantly enigmatic, now coolly impertinent (and occasionally hyper-minimalist) variations as inevitable episodes of anxiety in anticipation of some kind of harmonic catastrophe. There is a smell of dusty ancientness in the air – think “elderly piano teacher getting frustrated by the student’s disinclination to follow a given instruction” – which kills any pernicious tendency of a psyche fancying a bath in über-modernism; a sense of old-fashioned attractiveness prevails, allowing the audience to enjoy the nearly childish yet technically evolved digital abstruseness of a man whose sensibility is at such a high level that the next step can only result in unconditional cynicism. Needless to say, we’ll be among the first in the queue of the followers, also because Rothkamm’s dedication for looking for outside-the-rails melodies complemented by edgy counterpoints is quite close to this writer’s own methods of expressing “the urge”.