“A darker EM and still at the forefront of the modernist”
1 The Runaway 11:15
2 Waiting for Departure 10:16
3 The Impossible Groove 9:47
4 Rumble @ Bungalowdorf 8:46
5 Sparkling 11:10
6 It all Starts with the Second Step 14:20
7 Cats, Sheep & Dogs 7:24
(CD Digipak/DDL 73:00) (V.F.)
(Dark ambient Berlin School)
In numerology, the number 23 is considered to bring luck, freedom and adventure. It combines the vibrations of the number 2, evoking cooperation and partnership, with those of the number 3, symbolizing creativity and communication. On the other hand, it's the door behind which the unknown or the global Illuminati conspiracy may lay in wait. As it could be many other things! The CD cover can easily guide our interpretation. And these interpretations around the number 23 are as numerous as they are highly debatable for the more rational human beings. More down-to-earth people. For Kontroll-Raum, and especially fans of this new trio of German musicians, this is the long-awaited follow-up to Check In, a very solid album released by Bas Broekhuis, Frank Rothe and Mario Schönwälder in the spring of 2021. GATE 23 is darker, with introductions that flirt with a tenebrous, not to say chthonian, musical ambience, which may have something to do with the meaning of its title. But fear not! The rhythms, which oscillate between Berlin School and avant-garde electronic rock, are still as present as in Check-In.
A wave of drones extends its vibratory shroud, sheltering harmoniously orchestrated synth strings. These elements float, even drift, around various cadenced chords that leap and resonate with their rubbery textures. Wiisshh and waasshh replace the drones. And a chthonian choir, the orchestrations. The synth pitches filaments that bring us closer to the Cosmos. The first few minutes of The Runaway are woven into this mystery. The Cosmos, the abyss or celestial harmonies! It's all still in the realm of our perception, as a malevolent pulsation emerges from this setting after the 4th minute, conspiring for a rhythm to come with hand-percussion textures, bongo-style. We immediately recognize the signature of the Manikin Records artists, especially the link between the 2 long-time companions, Bas Broekhuis and Mario Schönwälder. The sequencer activates a bouncing rhythm line around the 5-minute mark. The rhythm sways under synth layers in shimmering prismatic colors. Percussion, both manual and electronic, stimulates this New Berlin School-style of rhythm, which sounds more and more like a race to escape some entity, hence this texture of sibylline ambiences with synth layers of eerie harmonies and nebulous orchestrations. The chthonian voices are still dominant in the second half of The Runaway, which Bas triturates with brilliant electronic percussion. A splash of sound connected to a bass chord is at the origin of Waiting for Departure. The bass structures a stealthy rhythmic approach where the pastel colors of these chord spurts spread out like ink stains on blotting paper. These tones, which sound like guitar riffs, vanish like these waves made by a finger plunging into water. A layer of orchestral mist adds a poetic vision to the ambiences, where trumpet textures are grafted on. The rhythm becomes more accentuated, but remains ambient, with the addition of the sequencer and its Berlin School-style ascension mode. The synth multiplies burning layers, airy orchestrations and harmonious solos in the form of reverberating twists. Percussive elements tinkle and jump from ear to ear. From speaker to speaker. After the 6th minute, the rhythm picks up pace, combining sequencer, percussion and synth bass in perfect rhythmic symbiosis. A bass shadow vibrates heavily to initiate the buzzing ambiences of The Impossible Groove. An opening of chthonic ambiences with delay effects leads us to a rhythmic structure plugged into a sequencer chord that hops around in rhythmic incoherence. Percussion also erupt in out-of-sync strikes under the irradiation of this buzzing bass. Gradually, a tangible rhythm settles in. The movement of the pulsing bass-line is inspired by the previous track, but with just a little more velocity in its approach. Clinkings are doing tap dancing to what becomes an improbable groove. Harmonious synth solos start to rain down as the synths multiply pads and harmonic textures.
Rumble @ Bungalowdorf also begins with a sense of mystery and sonic intrigues. The synth makes squeaking lines where azure mixes with scarlet in a sibylline ambience that oscillates between darkness and the heavens. The synth injects musical honey with languorous solos, while the bass creates a rhythm as slow as a turtle's march. It's the percussive elements that energize this rhythm, notably these wooden tap effects, where the synth always throws in those honeyed harmonies. The percussions activate themselves and redirect this rhythm towards a rock/techno, with atmospheric sound elements drifting all around it. The synth maintains its oneiric vision with beautiful solos. And this, even if the rhythm kicks in more nervously before being lulled to sleep by them. Sparkling takes us back to good old New Berlin School a la Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder. The track gets off to a slow start with harmonized sequences over a Caribbean wood texture. They bounce along under Klaus Schulze-esque synth solos and sounds artfully projected to inject in Sparkling's surrounding this tonal color pastel. A bit like the title suggests anyway. The rhythm picks up the pace with repetitive ascending patterns, while the percussions burst in with the same synergy. Other textures, both rhythmic and synth harmonies, are added, giving even more depth to one of the highlights of this GATE 23. From its 14 minutes long, It all Starts with the Second Step features a dark ambient introduction. Some Dark ambient with a Luciferian envelope that would go perfectly with a satanic horror movie. Hollow breezes and nether breaths flood a filthy gutter where lost glimmers sparkle and flicker. The sequencer makes resound a heavy but agile step that does rotatory axes on another upward rhythmic movement. We remain in the dark cinematic realm with layers of misty orchestrations that criss-cross the ambiences with their heavy wings conceived on violin strings. Minimalist with slight modulations and the addition of extra textures, the rhythm becomes increasingly driving under the raids of a synth and its harmonic lances with tones squealing like baby ewes with hoarse vocal cords. The album closes with Cats, Sheep & Dogs, GATE 23's liveliest and most spirited track, a blend of Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre in a wild electronic rock. This, too, is pure ear candy...
As solid as Check In, GATE 23 is a beautiful album on which Kontroll-Raum takes control of our emotions, with its dark ambiences, and our ears, with its beautiful palettes of harmonious synth colors and diverse sound effects, before mastering our feet, with increasingly catchy rhythms as GATE 23 progresses on the waves of its 7 tracks, and its 73 minutes of electronic music always at the forefront of modernism.
Sylvain Lupari (December 14th, 2023) ****½*
Available at Manikin Records Bandcamp
(NB: Texts in blue are links you can click on)