Somnambule - Writing About Music

DIN AV 01/04/CN/86.03 dvdscape01

~scape is Stefan Betke’s Berlin-based label with a fine roster of artists including Jan Jelinek, Triosk, Burnt Friedman and Betke’s own Pole project. In its relatively short history it’s also been responsible for four state-of-the-genre Staeditzism compilations. Now comes the label’s first DVD which presents six audio-visual collaborations, a video of Pole live, three screensavers and an interview with Betke. DVDs are a fairly recent addition to record company merchandising options, but given the financial tribulations averred by the big labels, they’re keen to exploit any and all revenue streams possible. That’s the sceptic’s view and it’s one soundly belied by dvdscape01.

Jan Jelinek delivers the first track: a paranoia-inflected piece of spookiness familiar from his most recent solo release 'la nouvelle pauvrete'. lt would make an ideal spy movie soundtrack, every glitch a potential phone tap and its visuals present blocky deconstructions of an architect's model. Rechenzentrum's video is self-produced. It's an abstract affair redolent of spectrographs and the sort of interference suffered by cathode ray tubes menaced by magnets. 5 minutes in and the familiar sound of Hal's voice from 2001 begins its doomed soliloquy. Although almost too familiar, the accompanying music and visuals ensure that the sum impression is nearly as satisfyingly unsettling as the first time it’s encountered in 2001, A Space Odyssey. In fact it serves as an effective translation of the experience from film onto the dancefloor.

Christian Kleine’s Filmtitel Einkleben exhibits an advanced case of schizophrenia: one part succeeds another and each appears to have been recorded by an entirely different group. Starting out as what could be a vampire film soundtrack, it progresses into abstract glitch territory then switches suddenly into warm, nostalgic guitar pop and so on through a number of further episodes. It’s an interesting piece of music whose charms are amplified tenfold by Jutojo's visual accompaniment. It’s difficult to use the rather shopworn term ‘video’ for the collage of brief snippets of light, shadow and memory assembled into gorgeous, flickering patterns. Media collective Jutojo (who are also responsible for the design of Jazzanova’s In Between) deserve an award for producing a piece of work so resonantly beautiful. It’s worth the price of admission on its own.

Dimbiman’s Squirrel Attack might be described as psycho-house, its beats seeming to be speeding ahead of meter ever so slightly. Jorg Franzmann’s visuals try to play games with the viewer's mind by unsettling their sensibilities. Great fun! Given the vocals on Safety Scissors’ track, it would have been all too easy to deliver a standard, mime/dance routine. Thankfully the vigorous, arcade game techno is given the abstract treatment by Umatic. Moderat’s 6-Minute-Terrine certainly gets the ticket for most humourous video by doing just what it says on the tin, in high style.

The interview with Stefan Betke is conducted in between snippets of a live show with an unnamed rapper (presumably Fat Jon). There’s an irony – either deliberate or unfortunate – that Betke declares “At most places video is still treated as an also-ran. A nice spin-off, pretty, colourful flickers and it does not matter which particular image is being shown…” whilst throughout the interview appear just the sort of pretty, but rather meaningless shapes which he appears to be criticising. This is the problem with abstract visuals: seen in isolation it’s difficult to interpret them as anything other than eye candy. For a visual language to gain credence it is likely to benefit from wider exposure – an example of which is D-Fuse’s D-Tonate_00 which presented a predominantly unified visual style over a range of videos by exploring a 3-dimensional cyberspace metaphor. A number of other factors make the production of high quality music visuals problematic. Firstly market/genre imperatives are defined by labels uninterested in anything except profit. Secondly the primacy of the musical over the visual results in the latter inherently playing the role of poor relation. Thirdly, what exactly does one do with a music DVD? One of the wonderful attributes of music is its portability and its experiential one-dimensionality – put into plain language, you can do the washing up or drive a car or make love while listening to music. Try doing any of those things while watching a music video and the result may be broken crockery, an early death or a failed relationship. Settle down on the sofa and watch a music DVD without a spliff or a drink and only the more figurative visuals with properly thought-through structures and resolutions make much sense.

None of the foregoing are insoluble problems, rather they pose interesting challenges and the composition of ~scape’s DVD implies an awareness of some of these issues. It’s to the credit of the enterprise as a whole that at least some of these pieces remain in the memory, acting like artpieces to stimulate the senses and the intellect which prompts the desire to see them again and again.
Colin Buttimer
August 2004
Published by Milkfactory