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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Mike Hans STEFFL Successful Failure (2022)

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

A wonderful surprise that will please the fans of cosmic-atmospheric music with good momentums of the sequencer

1 Bad Omen 5:50

2 Successful Failure Part I 16:12

3 Backside of the Moon 9:24

4 Successful Failure Part II 18:06

5 Lost Moon 6:00

(DDL 55:33) (V.F.)

(Cosmic New Berlin School)

I still sometimes make very nice discoveries in the Bandcamp horizons, and Mike Hans STEFFL's is one of the most pleasant. This German musician, born in Munich, has been making electronic music (EM) since the 70's, and it is only recently, thanks to the label Aural Films, that his music has crossed the borders of his country. The San Francisco based- label has offered two of his latest albums, Theater Splinter and SUCCESSFUL FAILURE on their Bandcamp site in late 2022. I heard a few snippets of Theater Splinter, which offers a more avant-garde EM, while I enjoyed this very good SUCCESSFUL FAILURE which offers nothing less than a New Berlin School style which is strongly soaked in Software's ambiences, if not Peter Mergener's in his concept of music inspired by Cosmos stories. This 55-minute download album was inspired by the near-catastrophic Apollo 13 voyage in the spring of 1970. Following this concept, MHS weaves cosmic atmospheres with beautiful lunar orchestrations, hence the link to Software, and samples of conversations between astronauts and NASA engineers and above all some pretty doses of cinematic emotion that project us back in time to this trip where the astronauts flirted as much with the dimensions of space as death. The compositions are well conceived and well developed with expected evolutions and unexpected developments, I think of a track like Successful Failure Part II, in a style that should please aficionados of the New Berlin School genre propelled by a sequencer always in Software mode.

A jet of cosmic dust initiates the bouncing rhythm in strobe effect of Bad Omen. Already Mike Hans STEFFL puts our ears appetite with a sequenced bass line that hops around on a carpet of reverb, and a line of arpeggios, including its cadenced melody, that twinkles and dances like the echo of a star. These arpeggios follow the axis of the rhythm with a slight gap, creating a stroboscopic effect of a rhythm making parade its hypnotic texture in a dense haze of interstellar orchestrations. The parallel with Peter Mergener & Michael Weisser's universes is immediately obvious when the orchestrations turn into a cosmic waltz and the rhythm abridges its initial structure, except for the harmonious support of the arpeggios, to merge into a cosmic rock with the addition of sober percussions. Playing adequately on its almost 6 minutes, the German musician sculpts a soft melody on a keyboard while dreaming of the stars closest to our ears on a rhythm that becomes more pulsating. This first track, although short, is quite revealing of the constantly moving structures that await the listener when discovering SUCCESSFUL FAILURE. Splish and splash, as well as reverb-fueled swirl effects, are what drive Successful Failure Part I. This track, at least its first 11 minutes, is deeply atmospheric with samples of cosmonaut voices, orchestration layers, almost silent phases and heavy transient vibrational effects that will be recurrent in the first moments of the track. Bass vibrating pulsations sculpt a kind of circular race around the 4th minute. This race, which will be momentary, winds through corridors of lunar orchestrations in a setting still filled with conversations between astronauts and engineers. It is only after the 11th minute that a rhythmic stratagem shakes the opaque membrane of atmospheric waves with a circular and ascending movement of the sequencer. This structure, similar to the first, offers more resistance to the dense grip of the track's interstellar ambiences by making circular gallops that swirl in a black hole effect.

Backside of the Moon is also born from cosmic turbulences that fade into the serenity of a celestial voice. Sound effects illuminate the moods, as much as our ears, with synth waves unrolling their jerky effects in droning reverb blasts. This opening flirts with 150 seconds before a rhythmic structure emerges with a sequencer that forges disjointed loops crawling like organic rhythmic beasts. Gradually, Backside of the Moon transforms into a technoïd anthem, boom-boom and tssitt-tssitt, with layers of celestial vocals that persist in enchanting our neurons. Hazy synth layers overlay these reverbs that hum an intriguing tune in the opening of Successful Failure Part II. The NASA voice samplings stand out on this track which gradually unravels from its atmospheric and cinematic opening to present an electronic rhythm structure set on an undulating line built with leaps from a bass chords sequencer. The rhythm is bewitching and spins in small circles, sucking in the voices and releasing silky orchestrations that give little shivers. A Theremin wave-like synth chant breaks away from these orchestrations to whistle an alien tune as real as our childhood memories while listening to The Outer Limits. At this point, the evolution of the track is simply mind-blowing! The rhythm runs out a little before the 9th minute, leading Successful Failure Part II into an atmospheric-cosmic phase of more or less 2 minutes before it resurrects in a much more dynamic approach. A kind of EDM that is snaked through and girded by beautifully sequenced arpeggios in rhythm and harmony mode, before the atmospheric elements of the album in general come back to temper the ambiences of the longest and by far the most interesting track of SUCCESSFUL FAILURE. Lost Moon ends the album with a mix of hollow, dark and ululating winds that crisscross over the tom-toms of a slow tribal rhythm. The rhythm develops in these cosmic atmospheres without taking momentum, even with a brief upward movement of the sequencer. But for the most part, it is cosmic winds moved by mythical spirits of the Moon's ancestors that dominate the 6 minutes of this Lost Moon.

There are many elements that make SUCCESSFUL FAILURE a very pleasant discovery to hear. Mike Hans STEFFL manages to harmonize these conceptual elements, the voices, the sound effects and the adrenaline rushes during the fall of Apollo 13, in harmonious and rhythmic contexts where the textures of techno, New Berlin School and cosmic rock have no boundaries.

Sylvain Lupari (20/02/23) *****

Available at Mike Hans STEFFL Bandcamp

(NB: Words in blue are links you can click on)

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