Various Artists: Manikin Records Third Decade 2012-2022 (2022)
“There is no second of waste in this superb compilation where's Berlin School style is king”
1 The Return from Babylon 12:49 (Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder)
2 Bryce Canyon 10:34
3 Light & Shadow 8:32
4 Nordlicht 7:44
5 Winter Wah 3:36
6 On the Fly 9:00 (Menzman)
7 It's you, Peter 9:30
8 In Heaven 9:14
(BKS feat Raughi Ebert & Thomas Kagermann)
9 Immer Weiter 6:30
(Fanger & Schönwälder feat Lutz Graf-Ulbrich)
(CD/DDL 77:32) (V.F.)
Already 30 years! It was in 1992, with his album Closed by my Distance that Mario Schönwälder launched the activities of Manikin Records. Thirty years later, the label has resisted the push of illegal downloads as well as the drastic decrease of sales and releases of manufactured CDs while offering an electronic music (EM) still as refined in its pursuit of the Berlin School style. A great achievement if we consider that in parallel, Manikin has contributed to the art of EM with the design of instruments that respond to the ever-developing visions of this music created and assisted by synthesizers. And like with each 10th anniversary, Mario invites the label's artists to share a previously unreleased track as part of the decade-long compilations. The hazards of the pandemic have complicated things a bit for this 30th anniversary compilation and, unlike the first 2 compilations, MANIKIN RECORDS THIRD DECADE 2012-2022 offers only 1 cd and gathers 9 tracks where Schönwälder's imprint is on 6 of them. True to the music of the label, the 9 guest artists have created long hypnotic minimalist structures that develop with the passion for art. An unmissable pleasure for fans of the label and aficionados of the old style that is renewed in the New Berlin School generation. Finally, I would be remiss to forget 2 great artists who participated in the rise of the label and who passed away since the release of Manikin Records Second Decade 2002-2012. Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock, more present in the development and testing of new technologies at Manikin, and Thomas Fanger who was the mind behind the Analog Overdose series.
The Return from Babylon sets the tone for this new compilation with a Middle Eastern flavor melody which comes from a fluty synth. The rhythm is delicately driven by percussions that structure a spiritual trance beat. Percussive effects are doing tap dancing on it whereas the sequencer invites itself to create this minimalist rhythm à la Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder. The percussions, their echoing beats, sequencer and keyboard riffs work together to structure a slightly spasmodic phase whose intensity is matched by the increasingly seraphic harmonies of the synths. A more and more obsessive air, wah-wah-wah, from a synth line is filling the moods as acoustic guitar-like chords reorient the harmonic vision of the track around the 7-minute mark. Throughout its 13 minutes, The Return from Babylon still retains that exquisite Middle Eastern bouquet in a structure that always feeds a little more into its speed, giving that straddling feeling in a final third where synth harmonies subdivide the fluty tones with a more acute vision. Filter-Kaffee's Bryce Canyon takes on a chthonian appearance with an introduction blasted by dark winds that mumble heavily. Vocals instill a more sibylline vision as sequences jump nervously through this opening whipped up by a wave of white noises. The sequenced bass line pulses awkwardly in this atmospheric opening that retains that Luciferian texture that clattering percussive elements gradually chase away to reorient Bryce Canyon towards a rhythmic structure that will be in the pure Berlin School tradition. An ascending, zigzagging rhythm that snakes away imaginary peaks under the caresses of a synth with still the fluty Schönwälder's melodic visions. Keyboard riffs, nuances in the rhythm and sound effects complete this excellent track certainly influenced by Tangerine Dream, if not Edgar Froese, from the vintage years. I was looking forward to hearing some new Pyramid Peak! And let's say from the start that Axel Stupplich and Andreas Morsch's signature is easily recognizable by the sounds of the first synth's pads. Composed just at the end of December 2021, Light & Shadow offers a solid rhythmic structure with a good mesh of rotating sequences and fierce stoic drumbeats, creating a form of vaguely atmospheric Electronica. This rhythm remains exciting as do those croaks and other organic effects rendered by the sequencer. It changes skin after a short atmospheric phase with a sequencer that makes dribbling its jumping arpeggios around and a drum with more expeditious tight skin rollings in a finale filled with very melodious synth solos that nestle on good old P. Peak's harmonic arrangements of the albums Ocean Drive and Random Events. Excellent! Just can't wait to hear more of those 2 genius. Mario Schönwälder makes a return to solo composition with a rather ambient track in Nordlicht. Its opening simulates a rain shower that is released under a cloud of seraphic voices where are tinkling randomly arpeggios just as celestial. It's very close to his Hypnotic Beats album with a meditative rhythm structure trapped in a heavy atmospheric panorama centered on layers of celestial voices. The synth takes several forms here with these voice layers as well as plaintive and evasive harmonies that distance themselves from the more droning sound effects to end with some good orchestral jerks. One is not disoriented here, as well as on the Funk and electronic Rock structure a la sauce Analog Overdose of Winter Wah and the wah-wah effects of Thomas Fanger.
A project by Michael Menze, Menzman brings a breath of fresh, a new twist to the Manikin Records catalog. I had liked the various rhythmic directions in his 2018 album Insights, and On the Fly is built on this principle with a sequencer-driven rhythm structure in mode unruly arpeggios on a conveyor, aka Chris Franke style in the Poland album, and coordinated by sober drums in mode e-rock. It gives a good Berlin School flavored by orchestral layers and female voices. It's rumbling in the opening of It's you, Peter from Kontroll-Raum. This atmospheric opening is led by nice synth layers that are as divinatory as melodic, floating under a carpet of sound effects borrowed from the apocalyptic drama library. A very good set of percussions restructure this cinematographic phase for a good electronic rock. This track was made remotely while Bas Broekhuis, Frank Rothe and Mario Schönwälder were exchanging music files during the confinement between autumn 2021 and January this year. It sounds like the Check In album and Bas Broekhuis' drums are very dominant. It's hypnotic and catchy with an excellent sequencer/drum pattern. In Heaven is the second track from Broekhuis, Keller & Schönwälder who are supported by Thomas Kagermann on a dominant violin and Raughi Ebert on bass and his vampiric floating splash. We are in the den of the Repelen series with a track that develops with intensity by the presence of an electric guitar sample performed by a Detlev Keller simply hallucinating in his duel with the violin of Kagermann. A slow track, like a cosmic Berber tribal blues, which gives its share of chills. The duo Fanger & Schönwälder, accompanied by guitarist Lutz Graf-Ulbrich, has the mandate to close this very impressive Manikin Records compilation. A bit like in Analog Overdose 6, it is quite Techno with the guitar dominating with its riffs on a structure with jumps as bumpy as elastic. Voice effects mimic a wah-wah effect on this structure that sounds strangely like Winter Wah, but with more speed and power.
Available in 444 manufactured CD copies as well as in download format, MANIKIN RECORDS THIRD DECADE 2012-2022 is an excellent compilation of original material by the artists who participated in this last decade of the famous German label. The 9 tracks and over 77 minutes pass quickly and are enjoyed from the first to the last second. By far, one of the most beautiful albums of Berlin School to have been realized lately. Hats to you Mario and the whole Manikin Records gang!
Sylvain Lupari (June 11th, 2022) *****
Available at Manikin Records