Despite a body of work that spans over twenty solo releases, spread over twenty five years, German-born musician and conceptual artist Frank Rothkamm has remained a fairly enigmatic figure for most. Beside his own music, Rothkamm, who currently lives in Los Angeles, has provided music and sound design for big international corporations (Levi Strauss, Philips, Hewlett-Packard, Ford, Warner Bros…), and has worked with a wide range of artists, including the likes of Lesa Carlson, Wolfgang Muthspiel or DJ Spooky.
Released on the excellent Baskaru, ALT sequences ten fairly minimal pieces, all named using seemingly random collections of three letters, some ordered in familiar patterns (SUN, RED, LOW, CON, GUI) others in more mysterious strings (AAA, RND, OOO, DEC). The music appears to focus on the introspective experimentations of granular electronic sounds and tones, often taking the appearance of slow evolutive drones and textures, which are not without evoking some of Tangerine Dream’s early experiments. While the sonic aspect of the record is relatively varied, Rothkamm works from a very limited palette on each track, making the most of the malleable nature of analogue electronics. The result varies from deeply reflective pieces, concentrated toward the middle of the album it appears (SUN, LOW, MID, RND) to more expressive constructions, whether they are purely sound-based (AAA, DEC) or support fragments of melody (GUI, RED, CON), while on OOO, Rothkamm processes an artificial choral loop which has for a moment this album slip into a particularly ethereal and haunting mood.
ALT is in many ways as enigmatic as its creator, its soundscapes remaining for the most part sparse and entirely artificial, with no clear clues to their provenance. It is as if Rothkamm was concerned with the very essence of each sound used here, and that they should work as stand-alone components, . This micro-level approach is fascinating throughout, but it takes a singular dimension in the central cluster of meditative tracks. While they are perfectly delineated, Rothkamm has placed them specifically to create the illusion that these four pieces continuously morph into one another, the range progressively dropping from somewhere toward the higher end of the spectrum on SUN down to much lower frequencies on RND.
Elsewhere, the magnified pulses that ripple through AAA or DEC, although very different, add an element of grit to the record. On the former, the pulses remain fairly constant throughout, only becoming more potent as the track progresses, while on the latter, the bright motif which echoes through the beginning of the piece soon clouds over and eventually disappear into the lower end. With GUI and RED, Rothkamm opens his sound pool more, even adding a brush of guitar to his electronics on the former, but it is with the synthetic choir of OOO that the album reaches its emotional peak, the piece a stark counterpoint to the earlier contemplative compositions.
With this album, Frank Rothkamm has created a particularly effective atmospheric experimental work which, while rooted in the early Kosmische scene by way of austere minimal soundscapes, is very relevant to contemporary electronic music. A particularly refined record, where less is definitely more, ALT is definitely not to be missed.
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