Album: FB01,FB02,Moers Works
Author: Adam Blyweiss
No doubt a person's words, image, and surroundings may conjure up assumptions that don't so much taint as color said person's reputation. We acknowledge the genius legacy of Einstein, for instance, yet through solely the most superficial of observations—his Bartlett's quotation on imagination versus knowledge, or more likely archival images of the clutter encompassing his chalkboards, workspaces, even his wardrobe and mane of hair—one might at first blush peg him as some scatterbrained, quixotic uncle/grandfather figure.
The chinks in the character-armor of supermodernist philosopher-cum-musician Frank Rothkamm require more effort to discover, but studying his art in conjunction with the life, technology, and quasimystical principles behind it makes it easier (and maybe a little sadder) to wonder what portion of him is mad scientist and what portion simply mad.
Everything about Rothkamm is just so, and yet haphazardly so: He is German-born, New York-living, and Hollywood-recording. His overarching vision merges Fourier analysis, Kant's championing of intuition, and Turing's computational theories—all different ways of using parts to synthesize the whole.
His name is aligned with no less than eight recording and production aliases; at one point he had ties to mainstream acts like DJ Spooky and The Cranberries. Now, however, his movement-in-progress beckons loud and exclusively. To that end, Rothkamm is painstakingly seeing through to completion artistic renderings of his supermodernism: organizing his back catalog online to show the path and purpose of its nonlinear development, performing pieces controlled by and for odd combinations of vintage electronics, and building specialized music- and code-generating black boxes.
One such box—IFORMM, software of Rothkamm's retrofitted design that he has elevated to the title of instrument—figures prominently in FB01 and FB02, the first two-thirds of a trilogy featuring the sonic results of complex mathematical manipulations of sine waves. (FB03 was slated for release earlier in 2007.) Equally important here is the human-machine interface, as Rothkamm's ideal performances are both multitracked and executed near a sleep state to simultaneously defuse real reality and promote his virtual, random one.
The results mostly feature colonies of bright tones ping-ponging across and into deeper, darker washes. The closing portion of FB01's "Atmospheric Composition" and the opening of FB02's "Silence of Mute" may be Rothkamm's most cohesive work there, the former banging over and eventually melting into a low bass drone that forms a bridge between the releases. There's no real rhythm to grasp on these albums for more than a few seconds, nor is there much of a musical story to be told unless you lull yourself into the belief that you catch John Williams' famous five-note alien communiqué from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (this reviewer hears it twice) or simply hear arcade games talk to each other after closing time (an Atari emulator is involved here, so we may not be far off). Cohesion isn't really the point, however, as these are really digital headphone-trip compositions.
FB01 and FB02 represent deconstructivism reconstructed, musique concrète ground up and recast. Rothkamm so wants his future and the music therein to be in his words "utopian and scientific" that he essentially converts the technologic into the psychotropic, sound meant to be synonymous with song if not triumphing over it altogether.
Moers Works offers welcome examples of structure in Rothkamm's work without needing to hunt down individual efforts in house, leftfield dance music, and multidimensional stereophonics. This collection exposes his past life as a German tape manipulator, a good twenty years before he converted to supermodernism.
"Arpeggiator" shows that Rothkamm could make room for melody even in the absence of formal time signatures. "Industrie," "Wasser" and "Quartett" respectively relay bracing sonic monologues from field recordings of various machines, forms of water, and string instruments. The magnum opus "Rauschmittel" (U2 sample and all) and moody meditations such as "Ich" and "Relikt" prove that Rothkamm once shared family-tree branches with The Orb, Meat Beat Manifesto, even Negativland. While tracks like "Rückkopplung" presage at least the algorithmic atmospherics underpinning his FB triad, many of the compositions on Moers Works are downright traditional—at least what passes for traditional in the realms of weird music. The relative ease with which these older sounds engage the listener makes it that much harder to tell if Rothkamm's new manifesto or its IFORMM soundtracks can find a foothold of legitimacy.
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