Album: Ghost of New York
Author: Steve Mecca
Publication: Chain D.L.K (source)
Date: 12/29/2009

Frank Rothkamm’s ‘Ghost of New York’ is the first installment of his 3 CD+1 DVD “Tetralogy”. Elsewhere, ‘Ghost of New York’ has been hailed as “a brilliant work of sonic alchemy,” and “a masterpiece”. I’m afraid I can’t jump on that bandwagon. Maybe it’s because I have been listening to experimental electronic music since the late 1960’s, or because my first synthesizer was an ARP 2600 back in the 1970’s. So the awe and wonder of the analog waveforms has worn a bit thin over the years, especially in light of so many technological advances in electronic equipment.

Treading the well-trodden terrain of early electronic music experimenters such as Varese, Stockhausen, Subotnick, Beaver & Krause, La Monte Young, The Barrons (“Forbidden Planet”) and so many others, the sonic collages on ‘Ghost of New York’ are a bit clichéd. These synth oscillator modulations and white noise burblings have been done so often before they don’t offer much new. I have listened to this CD a half-dozen times (it is only 33 ½ minutes) just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I don’t believe I was. It all sounded a bit too sterile. It might work with a visual display or art installation but it left me rather cold as an audial experience. The reason for this is explained in the CD liner notes, and while rational (yet somewhat esoteric), it did not improve my listening experience. On the positive side, the graphics on the CD are intriguing.

I didn’t get any impressions of ghosts, spirits, apparitions, or poltergeists either. Then again, I don’t believe in spooks, so you can take my skepticism for what it’s worth. On his website, there is a detailed explanation of Rothkamm’s “aesthetic of supermodernism,” the psycho-cybernetic philosophy he employs as a basis for his musical vision having to do with the randomness of man and machine. Although some valid points were raised, I found it a bit pretentious. I cannot see the means justifying the end result here.

Too bad about this CD too; I had high hopes when I saw the promo picture postcard showing Frank in a chair from the back hard at work laboring with his equipment eerie lit by a pair of halogen lamps done in sepia tone similar to the CD cover. I thought, “hmm, interesting. Maybe this has possibilities.” Guess I was wrong, at least for me.

This is a limited release of 333 copies. Not easy to find unless you go to his website. Maybe I might like next installment better. I know he has dozens of releases going all the way back to the early 90’s. I have never heard any of them so there is no basis of comparison. He’s worked with the Hardkiss Bros, Peter Scherer, Elliott Sharp, DJ Spooky and a slew of other people. Perhaps if you’re craving an experimental, purely electronic work just for the sake of hearing something new, you might want to check this out. But if you’re not familiar with the classics, you should really check them out first.

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