Album: Frank Genius is Star Struck,Opus Spongebobicum
Author: Roger Mills
Citing Jean Paul Satre from the Critique of Dialectical Reason in the sleeve notes of Opus Spongebobicum, 'the dialectic reveals itself only to [.....] an investigator who lives his investigation' very much defines the approach that I have come to expect from the one man label, composer, film maker and theorist Frank Rothkamm. His output is prolific, varied and always delivered with an unceasing attention to detail, precision and humour. This is no more so than with his two most recent albums Opus Spongebobicum and Frank Genius is Star Struck, which are poles apart stylistically, yet share a commonality that is...well...so Frank Rothkamm.
Released in 2008, Opus Spongebobicum takes it's inspiration from a combination of the seventeenth century Austrian music publisher and composer, Anton Diabelli and the American cartoon series Spongebob Squarepants. Anton Diabelli as the notes go on to reveal, was to commission various composers including Ludwig van Beethoven to write musical variations (Veraenderung) on a theme he himself had written. According to legend and the biographer Anton Schindler (although he was ultimately discredited for doctoring some of Beethoven's texts), the composer didn't think much of the theme. In fact he described it as a 'schusterfleck'; translated means 'coblers patch' or apron, which he is also thought, though never proven, to be keen on wearing. Whether this was a vestige of his own ambiguous sexuality is pure speculation, however as Maynard Solomon points out, it was certainly a great deal more complex than it seemed on the surface. Referring to Beethoven's many dreams featuring horses, as a 'Freudian incest complex and a libidinal attachment to Gleichenstein' (a close male friend and confindant) 'may have found it's outlet in this wish fulfilling homosexual imagery' (1990, p.65). Of course all this pondering on Beethoven's sexuality might be exactly the same as what he simply thought of Diabelli's theme 'A Load of Cobblers' (cockney rhyming slang) but I've digressed.
Rothkamm's Veraenderung however, couldn't be further away from the aforementioned slang, displaying a virtuosity of performance and composition that I'm certain would have entertained even Beethoven. He develops a melodic motif that is subtle yet strong enough in form to be recognisable in most of it's thirty nine variations, none of which are much more than a minute long. The fortieth is just record crackle, as a conceptual back echo (I hazard a guess) of the old 78 vinyl, which Beethoven's own Veraenderung might have found itself on. In places, there are strains of the late Romantic tone poems of Grieg or Chopin and the use of dissonance and tone clusters bring to mind early twentieth century experimentalists like Claude Debussy and Henry Cowell, who I'm guessing are favourites of Mr Rothkamm too. Back to the liner notes 'This is but the starting point for Opus Spongebobicum, 40 variations on the secret formula from Spongebob Squarepants, our beloved yellow friend. These are not new Diabelli variations; they are instead the phonographic record of changes or 'Veraenderungen', of an absorbant sponge, a hommage to the square ' 'fur Kenna und Liebhaber' which is C.P.E Bachs idealised [....] audience of 'knowers and lovers.'
Moving on chronologically but spinning a good three hundred and sixty degrees stylistically, is Rothkamms last album Frank Genius is Star Struck. A plunderphonic onslaught of cut and paste beats, samples of television and film soundtracks not to mention some iconic pop plunders, all wrapped up in programming so deft it makes a mockery of so much of the mediocre dance music production you hear these days. Of course this is all garnished with Rothkamm's edgy, slightly wrong if not downright bent aesthetic, which runs through almost everything I have heard by this man. And, as if he hadn't already wiped the floor with his production, his virtuosity as a keyboard player shines through on tracks like Elvis (track 7), which contains an organ solo that is up there with players such as Jimmy Smith or the UK's James Taylor. There are also some interesting genre threads running through the album with touches of the early experimental EDM workouts of Meat Beat Manifesto, Depth Charge or Sabres of Paradise. Again, referring to my comment on the use of Tone Clusters, I'm sure these artists have been on Rothkamms radar for a while. Favourites ? Well, I would have uploaded all these tracks as examples, but it is the way that they are melded together that really captivates. There is just so much going on under the surface of each one, and the manipulated integration of samples like Bowie's Changes and The Stones Gimme Shelter really made me smile, not only for the humour but for sheer adventurousness. Still as people like Negativeland found out there is nothing like a good lawsuit to improve your profile.
There is literally something for every ones taste in these two extraordinarily diverse albums, and along with Rothkamms sheer innovation I guarantee he'll make you laugh. Further information on all Rothkamm projects is available from his website.
Solomon, M, (1990) Beethoven Essay's, Simon and Schuster Macmillan, New York.
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