Album: opus spongebobicum
Author: Blond Adonis
Publication: Heathen Harvest
There is a cool refreshment about Opus Spongbobicum, the latest release by Frank Rothkamm, a musical wunderkind who currently makes his home in New York City but was born and grew up in the grim country of what used to be dichotomized as West Germany/East Germany and guess who came out on top? Anyway, this album of quiet, piano solos, sonatas, what-have-you is a simple-yet-complex work of genius by a man whose life has been music. It's long overdue that classical music make a “comeback”, so to speak. I mean, sure there is a big audience for performances of symphonies, string quartets, opera and the like written by long dead composers and performed by some of the best musicians in the world. But as far as the genre, there is really no new stuff being written.
It seems to have gone out like a candle with a short wick in the midst of the 20th Century. The last great gasps of musique classique seems to have been taken in the middle or first half of the 20th Century, with such luminaries as Debussy, Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein, representing the lighter side of the genre, such as his updating of Romeo and Juliet, the award-winning musical West Side Story, in which we saw choreographed gang fights circled around the forbidden love between a boy and girl each representing the other gang.
Then there was Elliot Gould, the mad genius of the piano who had great potential for so much more but burned out instead of fading away. Now comes Frank Rothkamm, seemingly out of nowhere. Born in the small German town of Gutersloh, Frank began his piano lessons there. Then his family moved to Nurtingen in Southern Germany. After about age 12 Frank started composing his own music. It wasn't just any music but his own, unique brand of music. Paul Hindemuth gave young Frank an eye-opener during his formative years which greatly impacted his approach to music. Soon he abandoned all conventional notation and developed his own method of composing. Using this method, he devised, composed an opus that he submitted to the regional state competition, the Jugend Komponiert or “Youth Composes”. The work was summarily rejected: the judges of the competition didn't even consider it “music”, which a seemingly more enlightened mass audience today realizes is a relative judgement and that there are no “rules” to making music.
It was in 1985 that Rothkamm moved to Cologne and during his day job at a mental clinic, developed his own musical language – a language using algorithms using human knowledge coupled with the burgeoning computer logic (BASIC language, a now-archaic form).
Ten years later Frank is in New York, collaborating with DJ Glove and they released Tuning, the debut album on Frank's own Flux Records. It was made entirely from the sounds of a woman tuning a piano, you can imagine the intelligence and creativity it took to put this seemingly unlistenable noise into an avant-garde classic. Over the next 10 years Frank moved back and forth between US coasts – from New York to California and back. Unfortunately many of his early archival material as well as a lot of his old equipment was destroyed in the “California Witch Fire”, in 2007.
Currently, Frank still commutes between the West Coast and New York. In 2008 he bought a Wurlitzer piano from a Los Angeles thrift store (Hollywood has some of the best thrift stores). He will continue to play that thing until his arm falls off, repetitive stress injury or not.
Anyway, the music on Opus Spongbobicum is a breath of fresh air and not at all out of place in an indie world. It could easily be played/listened to right next to something by Stereolab or Sonic Youth.
The songs on this album are not even named, they're just 40 short pieces that are pure bliss to the ear and make great ear candy. Hopefully Frank Rothkamm will continue to keep putting out his brand of beautiful and unique music. The world is in great need of cathartic music both loud and jarring as well as quiet and soothing.
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