What I present here is not a review of anything. Nor have I attempted to circle my wagons around anything that could be considered a think piece. I’ve enjoyed my share of historical surveys, but I offer none here. Finally, I leave for another scribe the task of penning a hysterectomy of Lookie-Normcough Post-Avant-Pop. The ever quickening absorption of fake lifestyle rebellion is complete, including within the recycling flatulence of certain ‘fast fashion’ music analogues, scrambling to catch the eye-ears of those for which music is just an accessory for their image.
So if you’re with me, please stand by to take in what I hope constitutes an interesting string of vignettes. They are vignettes that try to capture some of my more immediate impressions as I listen to each track found on Barbara Morgenstern’s album ‚Fan No. 2’ (2010). It’s a double disc, with the 2nd one being composed of bonus material. The writing will concern itself with Disc 1 material. I think it represents a sound that certainly doesn’t reach the rarefied ideas of ‘timeless,’ but has a built-in resistance to sounding of a particular time due to an uncompromising quirkiness, without any defeatist tricks of wearing the impossibility of sounding outside of some other sound/band/genre/time on its musical sleeve with ho-hum aplomb. Uggg.
I might be on a train listening, hoping that my free hotel pen has a little bit of juice left. I was– and the juice was green like the emergency lights above the windows at the Quality Banana & Bed Manners. As a man who orders reassignment waffles off a sex-change breakfast menu in a fictional G Hop International (patent pending): I have ordered myself to dunk my head in the strange fluid of ‘Fan No. 2’. Put your goggles on reader. Tuck that pretty hair into a yellow rubber hair sack. I will immerse myself song by song till it works its way in my body. I will listen to each song off of ‘Fan No. 2,’ and then rolling off the stored energy of each track– proceed to drop hotly— words whereby I might relay my most head-visceral response. This is how they wrote about German electro-pop in the 18th century. I swear. I’m merely returning to an earlier time. You can flip over to Pitchyflax for your staple if you want. But fuck that. Are you with me?
My acquaintance with Barbara Morgenstern was sparked by hearing a dashing evening buzz-wetter loop from one of the songs off of ‘Fan No. 2.’ A DJ was using the loop as talk-over music, and it was quite effective. It set such a mood, stirred a whole forest of shiny flying, and tunneling things into life. The snatch of the song was not only so hypnotically cool, softly ominous with its black hole pale-floridness, keeping you company, leaving you, wondering about your galvanic skin responses as it slid in and out of its evening orbit. This bit of the track (Eine Verabredung) convinced me to find out where others like it lived. I was merely sucking on the barley fleshy stone of cherry that fell from a tree that I could get to know.
What song did this loop live in? Were her brothers and sisters many, or did they come from a quiet Extended EP family that had been professionally photographed and framed in years? Questions multiplied. As a fairly passionate music listener since early in life, I had few experiences where after hearing a sampling of music, strong cravings for potential siblings did not subside. I remember hearing just a minute of the Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” in a record shop, before devoting myself to listening to each track with rapt intensity soon after that softly invading introduction. I slowed down inside the record, track by track, pulling from me a few rolls of shiny photographic images, runnels of words that kept on lapping about the shape of the albums unique flow, tone, touch. By the time ‘Do You Remember Walter’ plays, I’ve practically become a citizen of this album, its ambassador invites me over to meet his daughter.
Perhaps a wider sense of Morgenstern’s artistry would begin to shape as I moved through each tune. That in turn would add depth, or weight to these vignettes. A young history spins into being, hovering near the musical placental source. Perhaps no aesthetic shines through, or worse— I have merely that loop to adore, as one is left with only a hair knotted cream colored hair brush, where once there was a wife that loved the all out and in you. So I begin to listen to her various albums such as 2003’s ‘Nichts Muss,’ and read through some reviews/thoughts about her work. I read pieces where the author chides her for being playfully contrary for no good musical end. Is she insincere? Are we getting tinker-tonk-honk-rolled? Her music is too whimsical, ironic, passive-aggressive– awkward. The music is refusing to cooperate! It’s so pretty somewhere there, scratch that away like that, yes, you see, you follow that, just move your head there and….! Why is it afraid to comb its hair and maybe try to look where it wants to look for fucks sake! Why is it writhing in a corner with its dress all twisted? She’s so pretty…if she… Take a shower apple sauce stain!
Other’s agree that there is something about the music that won’t commit to a direction, that leaves those looking for more of ‘X’ hanging, while the sound (often clean piano, never mechanical, and almost danceable electronics) dithers where it damn well pleases, but love it for that and more. By the time I read: “Fan # 2 gathers stray tracks while also functioning as something of a career overview,” I had already taken in enough through ear, and reading about the artist, that I was not confused by the seemingly contradictory understanding presented in the quote. Are all her tracks stray tracks? Do they have no home to fly back to? If a career overview can be sprinkled by what is considered stray, and still serve as an overview—is this something that is emblematic of an artist who couldn’t develop her ideas, aesthetic, et cetera? Or is such an album representative of an artist who is more likely to outlast trends, sub-genre hot-streaks, or other assorted shifts, precisely because there is a gentle obstinacy in the music to be anything other than it is? An overview of stray tracks…Interesting posture on an interesting body! I will not answer. One needs to know more.
One listener may become frustrated that some of Morgenstern’s so-called pop-techno pieces don’t take the pop possibility to its limit, even though it would elevate it in the eyes of many listeners, make more of a ‘name’ of the artist, while the other wonders why a woman who has worked with such legends as Robert Wyatt, didn’t turn her back on the pop aspects, and the glitch electronic stuff from early 2000’s—and move further in an experimental direction. Too pretty, too ugly, too stray, too unpenetrating! Aghh? How would I interact with these tunes? I wanted to turn out vignettes that would hope to touch the album back, in the way they might cause a spasm of longing for more sonic intimacy, reflection.
I discovered that Morgenstern played with Robert Lippok of To Rococo Rot, a band I was quite familiar with, as well as some of the soil of where it grew from. Would this make a difference as I wrote the vignettes? No, no—just let them play and get in deep, without distraction—into those songs. That’s possible if you really submit to it, tune everything else out. Will something meet you; hold you while wading through the tracks?
As my vignettes accrue, they might find themselves gathering enough energy to dance ‚across the large-room‘ with impressive cubic height, getting nearer to the figure or lack thereof—that is the album. If there is such a figure, is it hiding behind a curtain? Will it move to me as I write to it with good cheer, passion, great wonder? Maybe I will get near enough to touch the long or short arms of the album, hold its trunk as if I knew where it wanted to go. But the vignettes may not get past the painted circle of the waxed wooden floor in the imaginary hall of the dance. I’ve attempted to write these vignettes with minimal editing, after listening to each song no more than a half dozen times each.
(On with the Vignettes)
Across each other from a large room—-Dancing without touching—-vignettes that attempt to move heart, and hip, and unfrozen brain, sometimes closer to Barbara Morgenstern’s album „Fan No. 2.”
I don’t understand German. I didn’t look for assistance in translation. I don’t translate song titles till after I’m done writing about them. I don’t call Barbara for help. I don’t know her. I don’t know her publicist. I’ve never stepped foot in Berlin. Barbara and I have never telepathically communed. What else? Listening to the tracks yourself might be interesting, but it may not be necessary to make my impressions on them more explicable, enjoyable, or otherwise. With that said—I do recommend it. Perhaps you will draw after hearing them, or produce a noise you will record and send to a friend. What will you do or not do?
Track 1: Ein Versuch
I’m not supposed to move closer. There are rosehip farmers dipping their fingers in bourbon punch bowls. “On the other hand”… I’ve heard that all night. Where are these other hands? I’ve heard the town barber disagree with himself and his blue solutions. Sweeping the sidewalks— let us announce, using a paper clock that we affix to a door— that we will be back in 10 minutes. I know. We have nothing, so nothing will be out of stock. It’s not impossible that I will try to get to know you eventually.
Track 2: Das Wort
No please, continue deflecting the crumbling zenith signs. We’ve reached nothing. We don’t confuse bacteria for demons so often anymore. Should we squirt each other’s hand with this high-tech lemon verbena hand sanitizer? No good. We don’t run at the same speed, and you don’t care for this denuded landscape, where I don’t mind. To break sweat and bread, and promise nothing, but stay true. You telegraph an appetite that opens up mine, even if we only pop a streaky morel into mouth to go with this busted moonlight.
Track 3: Der Augenblick (Mix Expansion)
You’ve made this place the afternoon of night. I keep riding the buses, and the vacuum salesforce is on strike. We hold on tightly turning with the turns, predictable, and yanking, and still surprising. Helots who flatter themselves as the ruler’s satisfied reflection— away! I am here.
Track 4: Eine Verabredung
A squabbling takes your breathe hostage to a backwater hideaway. We get over. They get over. No one can possibly claim victory. A cardiogram is mailed to the wrong address. A helmet crafted for a bike that won’t move. If I ask your breathe a question while far away from it, not knowing the bandages that are still on where it sees, desperate now. I’m coming closer.
Track 5: Aus Heiterem Himmel
Our chaperone arrives a minute and eight seconds into the track. We both sit down in the public square of the tune. I cheat. I translate this one mid-song into English. The translation is Out of the Blue. Nonsense! The song is nothing but. I know a title doesn’t have to live in the same house as the song it doesn’t always sheath, but I pulled away from listening after knowing this, and could not return.
Track 6: Nichts Muss
My geist to the geist-mill, my spirit slaps me out of it, and one can’t help feeling back in the city they fell in love with. This was its sound pouring out of fountains, and architecture that did not keep people apart. At a little over 8 minutes, Nichts Muss could let me linger in its uptown and down-town. Its city center scrubbed with neat arrhythmic ticking, piano paws padding black and shaking, and sedated disco guitars. You hope to move closer to ‘Fan’ just as the fire alarm goes off clearing the makeshift dance hall. You do! You do– with balloon like jerk propulsion.
Track 7: The Operator (Piano Version)
There is an understanding. A longing for the world of humanely guided connection plugging, stand by! The wind picks up. I have been lifted. Free of an understanding, free for a miss. Dial tone mistress, come back! There are chairs in the afterworld. How many people under 14 have ever spoken to an operator? 14?
We see more wires than people some days. Even though ‘our’ economy is supposed to be weightless now, and the word ‘wireless’ is the one we hear & see much more often. This building was burning, but up each step and landing we surfaced, things grew cooler. Mostly abandoned, door knocks followed themselves like ducklings a tire they mistake for their mother as a result of poisoned water.
Track 8: Juist
I broke all my own rules. Becoming the fly that foils the swatter; I remember your sweat better. You help build, you climbed on my antenna. A motto and her bandaged head, seduces the aphorism salesmen.
Track 9: Camouflage
Bodies of music, bodies that wish to be filled with music, which one is it? I’m wandering in some of the more crestfallenly romantic vortices of the albums movements. This track has the great Robert Wyatt (of Soft Machine fame…fame?) singing on it. Her voice harmonizes in such a way with Wyatt, melding with it, that in its complementarity a dulcetly gray and shining quality comes out that is more pleasing than her voice alone. I know I am but one body moving in the theatre of this particularly considered listening experience, but I move closer to the body of Fan # 2. One smells the familiar well-worn odor of Wyatt’s solo album Old Rottenhat in this one. I think I hear Morgenstern’s piano spiders biting into the end of that albums seventh track ‘The British Road.’
Track 10: Come to Berlin
You should consider kicking out the stalling thing. There is a smaller bedroom where the woman hates the drawing of an executed person drawn by a previous tenant inside a closet door with a slab of dark pastel. A volunteer in a metal hut sitting in the city center fanning a face with welcome guides decides to ask her the important question at last.
Track 11: Mountain Place
(Day 3 of listening) Before I listen to Mountain Place, I consult with ‘Junkmail’ Bag (It’s just a bag full of my junkmail) as to whether to listen in my car, or under a blanket. The hard clipping pulses of the track have me scrambling in search of what? Fan # 2 scutters hygienically, smartly, madly. It also floats a few hovering inches here, bellowing lightly out of sight there. Once again, the worthless junkmail genie has mutely fellated itself into uselessness. No answers from it. I decide to listen inside on my stereo with the much better speakers. I open a window to let a blast of freezefuck North-East air as we are experiencing it in winter of 2015 here in the US.
I must be stealthy. My listening must surprise me. There are things she wants to do, but she also invites you to a Mountain Place. Rather than trivial, or worthless, I find this stimulating.
Track 12: Wegbereiter
At last I realize there will be no touching with the album in the setting I’ve imagined in these vignettes. Instead we walk out of the building built before a plan was envisioned. Here is a chance to luxuriate in a cigarettes company and some moonlight. Are you not also enjoying this Fan # 2? I’m glad you’ve come out. Don’t let that heavy door swing shut and lock us out.
Track 13: Blackbird
I refuse to fly. If you haven’t listened, this is a cover of Beatles. I’m one of those guys that only likes the ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, or ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ songs.
Domenic Maltempi is an artist, writer and musician living in New York City. He was a recent winner of Cabinet Magazine’s Sea-Shanty contest where he won a few mini-bottles of booze. Domenic plays in the bands El Alto, and Whispering Olympians, and loves M very much. Some people say he´s also a decent dancer. Follow Dom on his blog Maltempi Town.