Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fascist State

Dopplereffekt became the third Gerald Donald related offshoot to Drexciya in 1995 when their 'Fascist State' mini album/EP came out. There was also a 7” included in initial pressings that included the same versions of ‘Superior Race’ and ‘Cellular Phone’ that appeared on the album. Perhaps this was also available to buy separately also at the time? The band membership is listed in the artwork as being Rudolf Klorzeiger, Kim Karli and William Scott. First off, Rudolf Klorzeiger is an alias for Donald, his first of many to date, Kim Karli appears as herself and is responsible for the sole female vocal on this release, William Scott is a bit of a mystery, the name not sounding made up or an obvious alias so I would guess its means there were at least three people involved in this record. What each of them did however will remain a mystery, I wouldn't presume anything regarding them and certainly not the common assertion that Donald did all the production himself. If we have learned anything from studying Drexciya we should know that an equal emphasis there was put on concept so perhaps the credits reflect this here as well. I’m sure they all did their bit behind the scenes to bring this very fully realised project to fruition.

Just prior to this time Donald would have been working with Brendan M Gillen of Ectomorph as Flexitone and released seven tracks in all under this name during 1995 over two 12” and v/a compilations. He may also have been involved with the very beginnings of Ectomorph itself during this period. I’m skipping over this brief phase for now, it doesn’t really reveal too about Gerald Donald beyond his growing production prowess.

Of the 7 tracks on ‘Fascist State’ only two have a substantial vocal, most notably ‘Scientist’ which would 4 years later reappear as a single on Gigolo. This vocal is Kim’s only obvious contribution to this record which if you only know the 1999 ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ compilation comes as something of a shock. But even there she only appears on all of three tracks, but because of how effective her vocals are she has become in our minds an integral part of this period of the band. Due to the subject matter on ‘Scientist’ her delivery is in this case simply detached, yet to become sexily detached as it would on their next release. But when this happened she would become the template for so many female electro vocalists with possibly only Miss Kittin emerging from her shadow with anything of her own style.

While musically on this release Dopplereffekt sound very unlike Drexciya they do share their minimal but effective production technique. The opening ‘Cellular Phone’ has a deep bass drum sound as its most prominent feature in the mix with the only variation to its looping pattern being a simple breakdown and the odd subtle noise appearing throughout amid the myriad computer sound effects. But from these simple ingredients a powerful alchemy takes place that is at once ahead of its time and out of time. Its no surprise that all of this 1995 Dopplereffekt material would only really break through to the wider public consciousness on countless mix CDs and compilations during the popularity of new electro in 1999 thanks to people like Dave Clarke and The Advent and again in its rebirth as electroclash in 2001 which itself survives in pockets in relatively good health today. Dopplereffekt were certainly ahead of their time in this respect and were in the short term arguably more influential than Drexciya.

‘Technic 1200’ is another instrumental, this time built around an angular bass line but with a sharper snare drum sound than the previous track. The only vocal here is a disembodied sample saying the title over and over at the end and once during the track. ‘Scientist’ is preceded by a minute of electronic burbles which sound like a machine slowly coming to, a dislocated rhythm does become noticeable by its close. "Sitting in a laboratory, conducting experiments, analysing date, I am a scientist," chants the more human side to Dopplereffekt, Kim Karli. This is also the only Kraftwerk like number both in production and style of delivery of the vocal. I say style as the female vocal of Kim Karli is very unkraftwerk. For me my favourite track is ‘Rocket Scientist’, great production all round, totally alien but appealing. Its interesting that they now thematically refine their emphasis on scientists to ones of the rocket variety. What type of rocket scientist might they be referring? Well the title of the next track gives us one of the clues, ‘Superior Race’ or ’Master Organism’ as it would become when included in their ‘Gesamtkunswerk’ compilation 4 years later. The ‘Fascist State’ title itself leads us to the conclusion they are probably Nazi V2 rocket scientists. More on this subject later.

Satellites keeps the science theme going to an extent with a male vocal, probably Donald, “Satellites hovering over the Earth”. The sheer thrill and fun of the lyrics to ‘Plastiphilia’, “ I want to fuck a mannequin. I want to make love to a mannequin, I want to fuck it, I want to suck it” are offset by the fairly sparse production, which still works beautifully and the short length of the track, at just over two minutes. On the compilation the spelling gets changed to Plasiphilia, hey, if your making up words you get to second guess your own spelling!

Concept wise from their inception till today Dopplereffekt are all about science. The artwork of the DIY style 7" pushes the science theme to the max with a photo of Kim Karli in classic white coat laboratory action pose, pre-empting the cover of Linear Accelerator by almost 10 years, and the members get listed as science officers as well as the studio being dubbed as Reactor Engineering. Also, as a side point, the spelling of 'Superior Race' on the 7"is in what looks to me like Russian. The label name, Dataphysix Engineering, also ties in with the subject. Even the name Dopplereffekt ties the whole concept up perfectly. The word means the apparent change in frequency or wavelength of a wave that is perceived by an observer moving relative to the source of the waves. An example would be of how your perception of sound changes when listening to an approaching ambulance siren. 'Scientist' and 'Satellites' had simple black and white video's made for them which appear to have come from the band themselves. Both are included in the very entertaining 2005 International DeeJay Gigolo Records 'Freak Show' DVD which credits 'music and video by Dataphysix'. Both Donald and To Nhan Le Thi feature in both films alongside stills of a mostly scientific nature. Which means they were made circa 1999 for the compilation. Sadly Kim Karli never name it to film. In 'Scientist' they pose in lab coats and eye protectors in a science lab somewhere and for 'Satellites' can be seen fingering large mobile phones while dressed in black. Their both very low budget jobs but intriguing and compelling which very much fits the mystery aspect of their aesthetic. They obviously had a bit of fun in a similar way with the white label promo for this as they did up a photocopy inlay with all the titles in German as well as everything else. Not sure how many were pressed of these but if you ever see a copy of 'Faschist Staat' snap it up. The titles read 'Beweglich Telefon', 'Technic 1200', 'Wissenschaftler', 'Rakete Wissenschaftler', 'Uberlegen Mensch', 'Sputnik', 'Plastikficken [Schwarz Und Grau]'. I found a copy and picture of it at Discogs, it has another view of Kim in a lab coat.

If the one recurring theme conceptually with Drexciya was that Man was somehow lost and that the only reasonable action in this knowledge was an evolutionary quest/ journey home towards an inner peace within ourselves as realised in both The Quest and Storm series of records then perhaps we should be studying Donald's work for the same theme. If we do I think we can see him tackling the same concept but coming at it from a very different angle. There are no Dopplereffekt 1995 era interviews to my knowledge but it's obvious from the records that he has put his faith in science. Of course Drexciya themselves had this side to them as well but it was more than balanced out by a broader personal philosophy. With Donald, especially during Dopplereffekt, there isn’t much philosophy going on. From this point in his life I believe Donald could actually see the potential for a future paradise through science, that Mans salvation/future depended on it. Of course he could have come to this idea collectively with the other members but I think if we look at his later work it's more likely that this is his own opinion. The only major problem I have with his concept at this stage is in the way he explores it by flirting with Nazi imagery. Without interviews or commentary it’s hard to know for sure if he’s being ironic or serious. What exactly an African American could find so enthralling in this subject might be answered if it was just an outgrowing of his obvious interest in Kraftwerk and their homeland. There are still traces of this today, the alias Donald seems to have settled on is Heinrich Muller, the un-captured head of the Gestapo. Lets think about this whole fascist/science thing a bit more closely. In a fascist state if science was put at the top of the public agenda we could be making more breakthroughs and also quickly imposing change resulting from these discoveries on the populous. If this happened to be a benevolent dictatorship (if this is even possible, there would always be someone opposed to it) this would all be for the good but in the case of Nazi Germany you had a war thrown into the mix and a dictatorship that was not for all of its people. There is a Donald quote from 2002 where he speaks about the evolution of science and technology and its effect on Man, “Well in this world either you move forward or you perish. American auto giants had more human concerns than practical ones. Automation is precise and does not require medical benefits or paid vacations. Sometimes you have to make harsh choices and ultimate sacrifices to sustain life. These are the laws of nature and natural selection." This is a very tough Nietzschnean outlook, a philosopher the Nazi’s were influenced by but largely misunderstood. I guess it shows that he ultimately cares about human survival as a species, he’s just more accepting of the good and the bad parts, a realist. He doesn’t turn away from the dark aspects of progress through science, although celebrating them might be going a bit too far in my book. Mind you, Donald is not the first person to successfully mix this imagery with music, David Bowie, Marylin Manson and Joy Division come most readily to mind and he won’t be the last. There is I'll agree an attractive thrill to it, which Donald no doubt felt and understood himself, but that would go for flirting with any taboo, but once you examine the subject it soon leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The surprising thing is I’m not aware of any uproar this may have caused, of course its all too underground to really matter to the mainstream but even within its community it doesn’t seem to have caused controversy. I always felt he was wise not to have done any interviews at this time as he couldn’t really have defended his position without condoning aspects of Nazism, maybe he quite happily would have?

Here on ‘Cellular Phone’ he is already on the track that would lead towards the themes of his Japanese Telecom project and even the first Arpanet album, ‘Wireless Internet’. One theme he has largely left behind since 1998 is sex, or more precisely, simulated sex. There could be a whole thesis in his take on this subject alone, anyone for ‘Sex in a world without biological contact’. Donald might simply here be acknowledging the bleak future that awaits us in the realm of love once science takes over. By the time these tracks had been collected for the compilation he had come up with the phrase ‘Biological Socialism Leads Towards Victory’. Victory at the price of human contact yes but that appears to be a price Donald is willing to accept if it means the ultimate survival of the species. This acceptance of science at all costs concept will be key to understanding the remainder of his body of work to date. This final quote from Donald elaborates once again on this point but squarely puts the blame on Man for the bad aspects of science and technology, “Well science is a body of knowledge that mankind has accumulated over the ages about the natural world, the greater universe. We use this knowledge to gain command over nature for the progress and benefit of the human race. Science is imperative for our survival and progress, so I would not say its fascinating but more essential. Science and technology are not perilous at all, it’s the people that control it that are dangerous. Atomic energy does not threaten our very existence it’s the powers that be and other subversive elements that make it threatening. We are our own worst enemy, not science and technology.”

Dopplereffekts ‘Infophysix’ is next.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Glass Domain

I wasn't sure initially how I should tackle the prodigious production output of the other half of Drexciya, mister Gerald Donald. I've already done two articles that I see now only really scrap the surface of this subject. To do his work justice and most fully understand the development of his production techniques, aesthetics and concept, not to mention his myriad alias and personas I feel a more methodical approach to his discography is what is required. So I will for the future be tackling all his work in order, beginning with the Glass Domain 12" of 1991.

Glass Domain turned out to be a one-off project by Gerald Donald that released just the one 12” in 1991 on his own label, Pornophonic Sound Disc, in an edition of 300 on both clear, transparent blue and even plain old black vinyl. When in 2003 Clone reissued it as a clear vinyl 12” it was credited to Heinrich Muller, an alias of his not used previous to 1999 when it began to appear on his releases as Der Zyklus. For now we'll just treat it as being anonymous beyond the artist name Glass Domain. But on the original edition the credit reads ‘English and Music by Glassware’.
While Donalds main group Drexciya would go on to make their own vinyl debut in 1992, he and James Stinson are said to have been working together since 1989. The Glass Domain release must also have come out very close to Stinsons Clarence G 12”(see AKA article), which also turned out to be a one-off. Certainly a lot of releasable music could potentially have been made at this time both together and solo as they experimented in the studio and searched for their own sound. The temptation to put some of this stuff out, especially under a different name, would be great for anyone. They also would have got to learn the basics of record manufacture and the practical side of the distribution of the records for themselves which is an immensely valuable lesson, better to learn from your mistakes early on. It's also a great way to put yourself on the map so to speak, better than any demo tape. Maybe this is how Detroits Hardwax label became aware of them before they released their 12” as L.A.M. in 1992, another one-off, the final pre-Drexciya project.
Whether this or any of the other pre-Drexciya projects already mentioned are truly solo or not will never be known without confirmation from those involved, it's quite likely that at the very least they would have given each other feedback on what they thought of the others work and if they were sharing the same studio it would be hard to work in complete isolation. Basically these pre-Drexciya releases had to have been when they were in the learning process stage of making music and we should be grateful that it’s possible to hear it.
So how does it sound? Of the four tracks here there is one, 'Interlock', that is as accomplished as Dopplereffekt would be a few years later, the rest all have their own charm and certainly work for me but are quite primitive on the production side.'Shatter Prone' kicks things off and boasts a pretty insistent and severe locked groove with a playful stop-start ending. It reminds me of something off the more hard edged L.A.M. release. 'Hiccups' is a riot of weird sounds with a youthful sounding vocal, but still I feel it is more than likely by Donald(the identity of whoever does the vocals throughout the EP is up for debate), which goes, "I've got the hiccups, can I have a glass of water?" Real hiccups get used as percussion and a variety of vocalisations are all added to the mix. The beats are spare as is the bass line but it's a more fun track compared to the opener. Musically side two is the most interesting. The first track here is 'Fairy' which again has a vocal that Donald obviously had a lot of fun triggering at varying settings, "Guess what, I came out of the closet". A kind of descending melody carries the track. I read somewhere that this was a reference to an unnamed Detroit producer that had himself come out of the closet around this time. I'm not sure of the veracity of this claim but I repeat it here only as a possible explanation for the subject matter. I'd like to think no harm was meant by it, but to be fair, calling a track 'Fairy' which has that topic is to court controversy. Maybe Donald wished to simply wind people up with it, to get a reaction or over-reaction as the case may be but we could take this as the first minor signal of things to come as Donald would soon progress to flirting with Nazi imagery and more.
The best track reveals itself to be the final one, 'Interlock'. With programming of a quality that would later appear in Drexciya this is a well judged mid tempo track that glides along in near perfection. The vocal is about building with Lego and goes more or less, "Snap the pieces together, all shapes and sizes, you can create your imagination, you can build automobiles" with "Lego Blocks" as a chorus.The run out groove on the original pressing contains quite a bit of revealing information. On side A we get, 'The power of Scientific Application.' which shows the germination of his science theme to be followed up by Dopplereffekt and right up till today. The second side is total Dopplereffekt in full 'Plasiphilia/Pornoactress’ mode with 'Nymphocaust will free the world of consecrated holy minded fools, The pentagram will grace the forehead of the beautiful nymph.’ This word play on Holocaust also betrays his soon to be revealed interest in Nazism not to mention an anti-clerical stance he has yet to fully explore! Also the name of his label puts this side of Dopplereffekt in mind. Certainly on this evidence the EP is bursting with idea’s and future conceptual directions, even if some are quite juvenile on the surface.The title Glass Domain is suitably abstract and coldly European sounding to fit with someone who would soon go on to prove to have a fascination with both Kraftwerk and Germany. Or it could just be a neat play on his G. D. initials. There isn't however a whole lot for him to work with from this name concept-wise so that might be why it was overtaken by the Dopplereffekt project.
Influence wise on this EP the Kraftwerk thing is not so obvious, perhaps you could say it owes something more to Juan Atkins Cybertron, although by now that would have been 10 years ago. I guess its the sound of what it is, a novice making electronic music in the early nineties, technology by then as now having made it possible that it could have come from anywhere, regional sounds quickly becoming obsolete as the rest of the world caught up, sound more dependent on someone’s diet of music and imagination. Harder to be original and stay original for sure, but somehow Donald would manage this feat in Drexciya and did so again I believe in his own work.

Dopplereffekt’s ‘Fascist State' 12" is next.