Siegmar Fricke and A Thunder Orchestra - Energy Is Eternal Delight (Calax Records, 2021)
For their debut outing, Calax Records present to us this treasure trove of a record from the iconic Siegmar Fricke and A Thunder Orchestra, with their conjoined sound representing the pinnacle of early 90s electronic music.
Its remarkable what has been achieved in electronic music over the past 40 years, and with each passing day more and more light is shed on timeless productions and concepts that keep the boundaries of possibility ever expanding to this day. With new technology came innovation, scope and ideology, where sonics and wavelengths began to physically and spiritually form via the usage of drum machines and synths, as new horizons started cropping up all over which fed into an ever extending loop of inventiveness. Each individual who became enamoured with the powers of these new imagined futures looked to bend the sonics to their will, reflecting what they heard around them deep within their own craft, absorbing and refracting back into the enriching kaleidoscope of tone and texture. The furthermost reaches of sound moved from what seemed like an impossible distance away to being right up close, the gap narrowed by all manner of releases that spanned across a plethora of genres, all of which served to embolden minds and expand collective visions of what music is and what it can be. The innovations are almost countless, with ignitions occurring all across the globe within differing scenes that demonstrated just how much technology had opened up a Pandora's box of endless inventiveness, with this notion reflected in movements such as Techno, Electro, EBM, IDM, Industrial, Ambient and beyond. For some musicians, there was possibility in furthering their own pathway via the inclusion of varying strands of thought within their releases, in that crossroads became frequent and the dynamics in audial frequencies become elastic in their feel, allowing for multiple genres to feel at home within this world being crafted. Many discographies of musicians from this period still have profound impacts upon the current crop, with releases sticking out across the board that contain so much inventiveness and strong conceptual ideologies. These strike up a chord within us, the music playing out to some kind of lived in context or imagined futuristic environment, abounding off the physical plains and pushing through into the realms of fantasy and memory, recalling the moments we felt placed deep within a certain place or mood. Finding an elastic consistency that binds the conceptual meanderings together is no easy feat, but for some it helped to define their outputs to within an inch of their lives, with an ability to reach out beyond a pre-concieved sound and bring forth a set of ideals brimming with originality and a knack for the unexpected. These period in electronic music's history was all about the wow factors, the unbridled joy of turning a corner to find something new and invigorating, to connect with expressionism that did wonders to the imagination. Many records from this period are revered for their depth in audial quality and scope, with the boundaries defined within the music still expanding and multiplying to this day, taking in and accommodating more minds by the minute. Be it a single, an EP, an LP or a compilation, so many works continue to speak at a volume worthy of the current musical landscape, where the broadness of inventiveness remains as wide and bountiful as it was 30 or so years ago, placing the music far outside its original confines and moving it forward into the here and now.
One medium we didn't touch on at the end of the introduction paragraph is the medium of cassette tapes, which have overseen a revival of late in regards to their treasure trove like quality. Tapes come as a self-contained vessel, two sides of sometimes seamless material that reflect a range of styles and feels, be it a compilation of an artist's favourite cuts, rough demo tracks, or long drawn out compositions that encourage the listener to leave the sides running from start to finish. There's less of a clear cut ability to skip tracks neatly, in a sense locking the listener into the momentum of the setlist that binds the mind very much into getting to know each and every detail. Its an accumulation of experiences that feels like a vinyl or cd, but has its own sense of purpose, its own world, constructed to provide two long play atmospheres that chime to different contexts and moods, and it remains a format that encourages a form of listening that in some ways has been lost to its original historical context. One artist who really embodied the heart and soul of cassette tape culture is the German musician Siegmar Fricke, who dedicated himself to the format with a universe worth of material that spans from the early 80s up until the present day that contains so many game changing moments. Fricke began his career experimenting with electronic sounds during the post-industrial/musique concrete era, which then flowed into the beginning of his outputs under his own name and various aliases and group projects. His label, Bestattungsinstitut, was founded in 1989, and became highly regarded for its inputs into the blossoming German experimental scene of the era. Fricke's personal sound was a deft blend of industrial tinged electro and ambient, navigating between rustic and forlorn urban settings with a boldness and enthusiasm, with the tunes displaying the full spectrum of his fascination with electronic sounds and their endless potential. Whilst some records pushed beyond his experimental style and into perhaps more recognisable musical areas, he never lost sight of his genre defying roots, with his eyes constantly searching for areas where the tone or texture could be manipulated, where the environments could lurch between the familiar and the instantly unrecognisable. In. many ways it shows the level of dexterity that existed not only in Fricke's application but in his creative visions, with the universe he constructed one of real significance and meaning, providing multiple soundtracks to our imagined wonderings through spaces we are aware of and areas which we need a guiding hand to make it into the light. Releasing these tunes on cassette tape means that listeners were locked into the comings and goings of every second that passed by, which helped in making a believable audial presence that we could buy into and get invested in, and with each new tape the environments that Fricke looked to construct became just that little bit more compelling. The music released under his own name traverses so many plains, from the rich melodic electronics of 1992's 'Wash & Go', through to the aquatic and metallic murmourings of 1997's '*KO/USK' record with Giancarlo Toniutti, or the gorgeous sub-basement vibrations of the 2008 'Clinicaut' EP, through to the gorgeous house leaning 'Time Compression' record from last year, this is but a mere snippet of Fricke's musical outline, with these four records highlighting the vast scale that persists within his music. Aside from his own works, Fricke released a lot of music with fellow enthusiasts of universal wonderings and cassette orientated releases, with these group projects including Ambulatorio Segreto (with Miguel Ángel Ruiz and Stefano Barban); Efficient Refineries (with Ruiz); Delta-Sleep-Inducing Peptide (with Dieter Mauson); Doppelwirkung (with Michael Wurzer); and [A.M.B] (with his wife, Heike Boehm). Since 2009, he has largely recorded music under the Pharmakustik name, which have enabled listeners within the 2000s to be exposed to his wondrous representation of machine music, where the layers and textures remain as razor sharp and dynamic as ever. In all, Fricke remains as one of electronic music's most consistently genre defying figures, a musician and a soundscape practitioner who frequently switches between the foundations of audial features and brings forth aspects and feels that ascend beyond the realms of comprehension and understanding, but strangely feel so grounded at the same time. Its the noises of the background, the foreground and the mid ground that stick out, but Fricke captures an essence that runs through the machines and the world around us, taking the rhythms of the elements and the systems that bind us all and funnelling them into recorded segments. Its music that lurches from the conventional through to the profoundly obscure, but the way in which Fricke shifts from chapter to chapter in his never ending narrative keeps us onside, willing to be directed towards whatever path he has selected for us to enjoy and dwell deep within. We only scratched the surface of his works here, but we highly recommend you go and check as much of it out as you can. You won't be disappointed.
In 1990, Fricke teamed up with A Thunder Orchestra to release the subject of today's review, 'Energy is Eternal Delight', that originally came out on the Portuguese imprint SPH. A Thunder Orchestra is an alias of the producer Dirk De Saever, who like Fricke explored the nether regions of electronics for possibilities and exotic tones, with a small but significant discography showcasing his depth of talent. De Saever was more EBM and New Beat orientated, with both genres explored over his other names, including the excellent Danton's Voice alias, that spawned a number of deep and gritty EPs such as 'Yoshua', 'Magic Mushroom' and 'Kick Your....' . He released a number of records under A Thunder Orhestra name, including the 'Untitled' EP and the self titled LP with Vidna Obmana, both of which are more industrial leaning and well up for inviting you into a concrete world. For a wonderfully comprehensive overview of his works under his own name, be sure to check out the fantastic 'Collected 1984-1989 (Long Play)' compilation album, which highlights his abilities within the EBM and New Beat genres. Its all well worth checking out if you are into challenging but highly enjoyable electronics that groove and mesmerise in equal measure.
In traditional cassette tape fashion, Fricke oversees Side A whilst the Orchestra take on Side B, and the results are suitably breathtaking, with both sides capturing the spirit of diversity and spectrum orientated sonics. The record feels like a boxed up piece of music history, representing a time and place where possibility was there for the taking, a moment where so many strands and thoughts collided into free flowing streams of consciousness. Fricke takes a more melodic and groove laden approach, as per a fair few of his releases during this period, but the sparks of experimentalism crop up all over, with the vocal work in particular adding a delightful sense of personality to his side. Not only do we hear the original cuts, but there's two additional pieces to boot! A Thunder Orchestra oversees an equally compelling side, as the sounds manoeuvre between quirky key driven rhythms and spacious expanses in equal measure. Both sides do the business in showcasing their respective producer's talents, and we think now the time is right to focus on the music itself, so without further delay, lets get into this wonderful piece of free flowing heaven.....
Up first comes 'Go Skate or Go Home!', and the rhythm that arrives first is suitably up tempo and groovin'. Pretty soon into the percussive momentum, the melodics arrive in sharp fashion, with the keys stabbing right down from the drums and into the core, creating a semi-rave type feel that immediately places us in a certain imagined place, as the sonics underneath sweep up and down to craft climaxes and shifts. The melodics shift between the short pulses of the stabs and the spacious sections where a singular beeping noise rings out from a metallic room, making its presence felt to all the elements that swirl around it. The vocal work is sparse but adds feel and weight to the cut, operating on its own level above the melodics that helps to shift the cut in new and exciting directions. An inspired opener. 'This is John' arrives next, and this one begins with with the cymbals and hats leading the way. We soon arrive at the main drivers behind the track, with the piano line and vocal sequence crafting a unique feel indeed, with the words coming across as not exactly conveying a narrative but merely acting as an instrument, with the female vocal line adding weight to the concept of these two people talking to one another. The drums move and shift underneath, with the double time applications of the drums and vocals creating once again the idea of motion and movement, feeling and easing their way across the tundra of sound as mountain ranges and hills create rhythmic diversions in the forward thinking notions. The breakdown around the 3:20 mark sees an acidic line weave its way into the progression, allowing the instrumentals to breath more and carry the track onwards and upwards, as we find ourselves placed very much within the middle of it all. A great cut. 'Parking In France' comes next, which begins with the deep swells of the chords calling out to us. The drums and delightful bass line quickly flow into place, creating a intricate underbelly that crafts a solid foundation for the drums to do their thing on top, creating a sense of vibrancy that feels alive and deeply enriching. The keys on top are euphoric and not overbearing, appearing at all the right moments to lift our spirits higher and higher, as the vocal samples again provide an additional level of complexity to the progression, with our minds being swept up by the flow. Up next comes 'On The 3-hour-jam', with this one starting off with the charming key line guiding us towards a very long vista. The initial key line moves away as the undertone elements push themselves to the front, with their flowing feel keeping us locked into the pulses and flickers of keys and chords, with the overall feel one of intricacy and intimacy. Its a gorgeous scene indeed, painted with care and affection as Fricke's eye for detail stands out strong here, allowing space for all the elements to breath easy and shine to the best of their abilities. The movements from segment to segment are meticulously prepared and pulled off, the transitions spreading themselves out over long distances in order to squeeze as much as possible from from their outlines, with the drums that arrive within the final third of the track again adding further depth and weight to proceedings. The varying key lines see themselves out, content to pass through the membranes one final time before drifting off into the void to live through the rest of time. Gorgeous stuff.
Up next comes 'Rap Signals', and this one begins in similar surroundings to the previous cut. The drums start things off, lightly occupying the bottom ends of the cut with their incessant groove and feel, with the track picking up as the kicks align themselves within the rhythmic structure. Before long, we are joined by the vocal sample and bass line that really elevate the feel, with chopped up crash like samples thrown in for good measure which start to pull the track in very interesting directions indeed, with the drops in energy and reduction in tone allowing for the cut to flow very elegantly between differing states of mind. The additional keys that align themselves within the backdrop add further weight to the flow, and we are all for it. What a trip. 'In Good Shape' arrives next, and this one is a real beauty. The drums swell from an origin point far away before floating right up to our immediate vision, and as we get to know the rhythmic patterns a bit better the melodies blossom into life, and its the most captivating of scenes. Fricke captures that 5am-sun-coming-up feeling, as the chords and vocal line intertwine as they float downwards in a euphoric cascading type manner, with variations occurring within the main drivers that further immerse us in the track. The breaks in the melodics serve to further our engagement with the track, awaiting the chords with baited breath as they slide back into view, transporting us to the heavens above with their sublimity and soft warm embrace. A very special track indeed. Up next comes a remix of 'This Is John', which begins in similar territories to the previous cut. The piano line leads the way with the vocal line more subdued, with the drums picking up steam ahead of time, with their placement and feel more cavernous and scaled to provide a more big room feel. The choppy nature of the next segment provides a space for the flute to come into view, which creates a weaving presence in the track as it moves and dips on top, filling the gap between the moments where the piano line appears. The big difference in feel comes with the hyper speed piano line that comes into view around the 2:30 mark, with the delicate key line that appears on top the icing on the cake as we disappear into the wonderful interplay that opens up before us. The track then descends into a dubby segment, with keys absent which allows the drums to go into overdrive, with the vocal sample that resonated so strongly within the original cut now returning for a cameo appearance, reminding us of the power that this song contains. To finish up with Fricke's side, we have 'Strikes', and this one begins with the fullness of the keys to get us going. Their structure gets the blood pumping, with the waterfall like keys cascading and chiming on top of the drums and main chordal arrangement, with the two melodic sequences calling out to each other across the plain, with an eerie otherworldly like key sequence running across the tops of the cut. The switches between melodic sparseness and fullness is a real delight to be involved within, the flow of the track expertly considered and layered, with the vocal sample speaking over the cut with meaning and vision. A powerful way to end Side A.
To kick off A Thunder Orchestra's side, we have 'Birch', that begins off in suitably EBM territories. The chords and keys weave around the distance beat, with variations occurring frequently within the mixture that bring us further into the fold, enticing us to explore deeper and deeper into the soundscape, with the overall feel one that utterly mesmerises with its ebbs and flows. Vocal snippets call out from over the instrumentals, as sweeping chordal swells add to the overall framework with an engaging menacing feel, with the overall tone of the track being manipulated to see it dip down into the foundations of the core sound. Around the 4 minute mark, the track really dives into the bass layers, with the thudding sequence reaching out and taking over the direction of the cut, with our heads caught firmly in the middle of the ensuing onslaught of melodic tendencies and rhythmic convulsions. A solid as hell opener. 'Coming Closer' arrives next, and this one sees a more sombre tone being introduced. The strings create a foreboding atmosphere, with short stabs creating a dynamic feel between drawn out sequences and driving intense interjections, and before long the whispering voice adds the final piece to the jigsaw. The tonal presence of this track is off the wall, as we picture in our mind a narrowing hall way with a door at the end, which when opened sees us falling down into a abyss of the unknown. Truly extraordinary. 'Reaching Out For That Brand New Little Nothing' comes next, and this one begins with an immediate structure gracing us with its presence. The keys are playful and rhythmic, aligning themselves very well indeed with the drumming patterns that reside underneath, creating a symbiotic feel that resonates from the depths right up to the tops of the cut. We are invited in to look around, to get to know all the features and elements, with the softly spoken key solo and singing voice that come in from either side of the pan capturing our attention. The track switches it up towards the final act, with the drums moving into overtime that provides a wonderful contrast to the solid lines of the keys. 'Show You The Way' comes next, and this cut starts off in the deep down places. The bass line leads the way with its solid placement and sequence, with drumming elements moving into place around it, its linear nature acting like an anchor to all the features which move in and out of the space. The vocals immediately capture our attention on the right hand side, their placement and content intriguing and evolving as we become firmly imbedded in the comings and goings of the track, its short and sweet nature leaving a lasting impression on us. 'Columbarium' comes next, and this one speaks very softly indeed. The light arpeggio keys twinkle behind a sea of fuzz, waving to us across a vast expanse, with their presence bought closer to us with the introduction of the deep set drums and bass, which invites a new synth line to come into the picture as time passes by. The overall picture is deeply involving, leaving a lot of space in which we can get involved, a feeling that persists from the deepest kick to the highest synth line. The track continues to entrance us as it passes by, never letting down until around the 3 minute mark, where it begins to unwind and traverse back down to the original key line, with the fuzz making the scale of the track feel enormous. Beautiful.
'Dropsical' comes next, and the vibes from the previous cut are retained for this one. The fuzz remains very much in the foreground, with all the melodic features set back on the horizon line, their flurries and movements flowing along the tops of distant mountains, mapping out a soundscape that feels warm to the touch. The bass notes are kept very much in the front, creating a pulse that provides a sense of groove, and just like that the track plays itself out. Wonderful stuff. 'She Lives In A Dream' comes next, and we move back into a more prominence state of mind with this one. The strings create an intense atmosphere, with the vocal line coming into view in dramatic fashion, clearly speaking over the strings with meaning and passion, describing a women who lives deep within the passive recesses of her mind. Its a simple yet incredibly powerful composition, the weight of the words being added to by the mystifying strings section that pounds away underneath, with the movement of the vocals into a whispered segment adding further to the sense of narrative. To wrap things up, we have 'Retribution', and this one takes the tone down one final time. The cosmic aligned synths weave and ebb around the bottom ends of the cut, content in leaving their form vague and unclear for the meanwhile, with their presence added to with the excellent drumming pattern that fades into view. The drums swing and sway with the somewhat non-existent groove, with the melodics allowed to speak freely through the spaces in which they provide, with the foundation these two sequences provide meaning that the introduction of the main key line is expertly pulled off. The track climaxes here, before slowly winding down with additional snares thrown in for good measure as the tone reduces itself further and further, slipping away into the annuals of time. Well, that was an experience.
As listening experiences go, this one is up there as one of the most balanced, thought provoking and engaging we have ever embarked upon. Both sides showcase the absolutes of these producers abilities, with the styles remaining consistent but both taking us on a journey through the wonderful spectrum of flavours that make the late 80s and early 90s stand out to this day. Fricke crafts a fluidity through his key work and drumming patterns, evoking very much the spirit of euphoric rave experiences but adding in lots of excellent vocal work that gives the compositions a real sense of character and personality. A Thunder Orchestra on the other hand moves between very powerful stripped back productions that highlight the possibilities of evoking mood through spacious yet foreboding atmospheres, keeping us locked in for the duration with his interplays and excellent mood building. Both sides are journeys through the most meandering and complex of soundscapes, with both producers highlighting just how willing and capable they are in bringing together differing strands of electronica and seamlessly blending it all together into a record that speaks volumes. A wondrous and engaging piece of music, an album we should all have in our lives as we wonder through life's rich and unpredictable tapestry.
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