Sogar, Stengel

Michael Heumann The Library Discography Haunted Ink Haunted Ink Review Archive The Inkbottle

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Released: 2002

In my review of Sogar's debut, Basal, I note that the artist, Jürgen Heckel, uses electricity itself as the basis for much of his music. That is, he not only uses traditional instruments like guitars and synthesizers, but he also uses the static and noise that pops out of cables, speakers, or anything else electric. His music, in short, is the most electronic music you'll ever hear. That work was a standout release for Taylor Deupree's noted 12k label. Heckel's sophmore release, Stengel, released on the new French label, List, is every bit as interesting as Basal.

How do I describe the sounds on this work? Well, the tracks all blend together, floating in and out of one another, giving the listener the impression that the work is really only one, long song, not twelve different tracks. Of course, there are a number of artists who follow this pattern--Pink Floyd, to cite an obvious example--but one thing that the Pink Floyds (or even the Marumaris) of the world usually don't do is maintain their continuous streams with an ever-present, continuous, high-pitched tone. At every point along this work's 62 minutes, there is a piercing tone hovering over all the crackles, scrapes, and other melodic noises. That sounds annoying, doesn't it? Usually, a continuous presence of that sort makes me cringe. For some reason, however, the continuous tones on Stengel do not have that effect on me. Perhaps it's simply because, although continuous, the tones are not constant. They change pitch, alter tempo, or otherwise reshape and transform themselves to correspond to the surrounding sounds.

Or perhaps it's because those tones simply fit the mood of this record, a mood of pensiveness, of anxiety, and of repetition. The work is saturated with odd sound combinations that are ground into each other, churned around, and then repeated again and again as that wailing, piercing cry hovers over everything else. Each song is set up about the same way: the pierce (which never goes away) hovers, while, below, tiny grains of sound bubble out and collide with one another until they form a certain pattern. Sometimes the pattern is quite beautiful; sometimes it sounds like a busy bug zapper on a summer evening in Louisiana. Whatever the patterns sound like--beautiful, ugly, or jarring--becomes the motif of the given track, which is repeated over and over for about five minutes.

The work's structure, then, is all build-up, with little release. The only real release comes at the end of each track, as the individual grains of sound that came together to create the pattern separate and disappear; even then, however, the piercing tone remains (though, usually, in some altered or modified form). This structure is most apparent on "st.10," where, towards the end of the track, all those little grains of sound suddenly multiply and start to overload the signal until you're left with something that is almost noise, though noise projected from a million, tiny, overblown speakers. Just as the noises erupt and overwhelm you, they disappear, and all that's left is a revised version of the continuous tone.

This is, in short, a disturbingly wonderful work. It's not a work that stands out as a masterpiece upon first listen, largely because first listen usually leaves more questions than answers. However, the more you listen, the more you'll grow to appreciate the many ways that this work tugs at your emotional registers, forcing you to not only feel the mood of this work but to listen to the many ways that that mood is expressed.

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