Sogar, Apikal Blend
Released: January 2003
This is Sogar's (aka Jürgen Heckel's) third disk--his second for Taylor Deupree's wonderful 12k label. How good is Heckel? After my review of the previous Sogar album, Stengel, appeared on this site, none other than noted 12k artist and Line label founder Richard Chartier emailed me, annoyed that I'd heard the disk before he had. I was impressed with Sogar's second album, just as I was impressed with his debut, but neither of those works are quite in league with this new one, which must be hailed as a milestone in the 12k camp, for it manages to do something that, really, only Shuttle358's Optimal.lp and Frame have done before: appeal to those who think 12k music is "too minimal for its own good."
First, let me first explain that I am a huge fan of just about everything released on the 12k label. I think recent releases by Taylor Deupree, Motion, 0/R, and Christopher Willits are sublime works that bristle with life. However, I also know that a lot of people simply find these works boring, filled with too many snaps and crinkles and not enough music. Apikal Blend, I think, is different. Sure, it has snaps and crinkles, but it also has a beat, a rhythm, and an edge to it that grabs at your heart as well as your head. It's the kind of work that will make 12k's detractors reconsider their opinions and make 12k's fans jump for joy.
The individual tracks on all three Sogar albums share one thing in common: a base structure. Tracks begin in chaos--swirling pools of noise that bristle and burble out of silence. Then Heckel gets to work--he pairs down those sounds to their common elements, then separates and regroups those elements into a discernible pattern. In every Sogar track, there is a moment when this separating and regrouping stops and a true song emerges. This song then oozes out in all sorts of directions, but all of these directions seem organized and orchestrated by Heckel's magic computer wand. That is, until the end, when he puts the wand away and frees the songs from their order, allowing them to float free again in a bath of noise. In his first two works, this carving, pruning composition method was designed more for texture than rhythm and melody; the songs were like Zen landscapes, existing for their own sake. The listener, I think, was, if not incidental in this process, at least of secondary importance.
On Apikal Blend, the focus is less on contemplation and more on communication, on connecting with listeners through rhythm and melody. Of course, these songs maintain a decidedly fractured sense of rhythm and melody, one where repetition and mood are either in flux (like the distorted guitar loop on "Isolohr") or moving in new directions (like the frantic buzz saw groove of "üi Spalt" or the amazing if-Tangerine-Dream-and-Autechre-had-a-baby mutation of "Harm_Red"). Despite these fragmentations, the songs are consistent and consistently listenable. If anything, this granular sense of rhythm is simply more interesting than traditional rhythm structures, if only because the beats change and mutate in so many tiny, barely perceptible ways that a listener is continually discovering new beats, no matter how many times he or she might listen to the work.
That, of course, is the very point of granular synthesis--the idea that microscopic control over sound enables the artist to transform a work in ways that were simply not possible using earlier methods. Most of the 12k catalogue is proof of the rich possibilities opened up by various forms of digital signal processing. What makes Sogar's disk stand out is that it is both firmly grounded in this aesthetic and, at the same time, firmly grounded in the basic rules of popular music. The beat might be weird, but it's there; it might be a struggle, but you could dance to it. I'll give it an 8.2, Dick!
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