When I was a teenager I played tapes on my blue Walkman. I listened to and through music, and fell asleep with my headphones on. In the morning the batteries were exhausted. It happened all the time. Songs created a link or a tie – a vibrant map for living. I always listened to the same tapes (and more often than not, to a self-made copy of Beat Happening’s Black Candy and its obscure, pounding sweetness). I knew the music inside out; it invariably took me back home.
Later, other albums took me away, unlocking deep, unsuspected doors – unsettling the ground, the very foundations of identity. I remember the soft stridence of Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising, Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations, the pensive urgency of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. This was music for getting lost: lost in sounds, and, increasingly, lost to oneself, gently (yet absolutely) decentred, displaced, absorbed.
Dunning and Brosamer’s minimalist Glocken (‘Bells’) belongs to the second category of albums (though, of course, the gate between the two is flying wide open). Every time I listen to the tape something emerges which wasn’t there before – and what was there before has changed again. Glocken retains nothing except, maybe, the beautiful record of its own alterations. White noise and tiny, subsonic vibrations – elemental electronics. The six tracks, all of which were recorded live, belong together like strata of the same geological ground. They seem to be governed by delicate climates and seasons of their own. This may be because they are mostly made of fragments, debris. According to the liner notes, Dunning and Brosamer made this album using an assortment of ‘gramophone, turntable, modified records, cast 78s, retextured disks’ (courtesy of artist Lisa Schlenker), ‘mobile devices’ and ‘synths’.
Glocken is a continuation of Dunning and Brosamer’s respective art practices, and former collaborations. In one of his early phono-archaeological projects, turntablist Graham Dunning had literally dug into the earth, where a storing facility for gramophone records used to be, excavating dozens of tiny shellac shards and trying to reconstitute and replay the broken records. Gramophone artist Sascha Brosamer, too, works with natural and manmade fragments – the cover of the tape shows a 78rpm disc cast from river trash collected alongside the banks of the Mississippi or the Panke. These waste-records, forever disintegrating, get played throughout Glocken. Because this composite album was assembled by people who let textures and materials speak, there are no recognizable words or singing, no soothing, familiar tones. Only the hands of the makers-discovers remain present, invisibly spinning, sampling and weaving sounds together – leaving imprints and marks which become embedded into the final object.
Despite its home-made, hesitant qualities, there is also something heavy and fiercely industrial to Glocken. It reminds me of the experimental pattern films of the 1930s – full of bright flashes, electric pulsations and abrupt disappearances. Films without actors, without a plot even. At one point (on “Ack”) a frail melody is heard, as if emerging from an old music-box – and gets immediately repressed. There are other attempted beginnings and hints of narration throughout the album. But (contrary, for instance, to hauntology’s love of storytelling and nostalgic reconstructions), no tale is told. Nothing gets repaired, mastered or organised. Only the ruins remain. Glocken is best heard in the dark – recalling, at times, the icy, infrasonic landscapes of musique concrète – the soulless, yet oddly poignant song of automation. And when the last dreamer falls asleep, the music will persist – indifferent and mechanical – almost absent to itself.