Outside The Museum
HANS JOACHIM IRMLER : Life Like (Staubgold 44)
The whole Faust experience, for me, has always been about their collective identity and spirit as well as the fact that the sounds they have become renowned for are a joint effort, inseparable from each other in fact. Whilst Zappi Diermeier's titanic percussion may be an instantly recognisable feature many of the other sounds overlap and blend together so well that it is not possible to distinguish their source. Now the man who is very much responsible for many of those noises, though frequently hidden behind banks of keyboards, has come up with the first solo album from the Faust enclave. It's a bit of the whole, separated and left to see how it manages without the rest.

It does this it very well and anyone who has enjoyed Irmler's contribution to that unique aural experience will surely find this latest aspect of his work fascinating though, possibly in a different way. This doesn't possess the thrash and grind of the band's trademark but offers more tranquil soundscapes that merge seamlessly into each other.

You have to bear in mind that this music was conceived originally as a soundtrack for a tour through a museum depicting the lives of Roman soldiers in Upper Swabia as BC became AD. But it retains its own independent identity outside of the museum artefacts, even though there are some samples of soldiers marching and chanting scattered throughout the cd.

Whilst it doesn't have the visceral attack of a take no prisoners Faust recording there is an element of violence within the opening track. ´Elektroblitz', where metallic clashes resound over the washes and drones of Irmler's organ. I'm not certain what these tearing and wrenching sounds are meant to represent but they create an intriguing atmosphere to introduce the album. Similarly, the final track ´Werft !' has sections of controlled noise that recall aspects of ´The Faust Tapes', in fact I'd swear there is an angle-grinder in there somewhere. However, it is more likely to be emanating from one of Irmler's ´modified' organs.

´Atlantik' also has some echoes of Faust as the swelling keyboards rise and reverberate recalling moments from earlier band recordings. The distorted organ sounds that hover eerily through ´Trepido' have a similar resonance to certain Faust excursions too but without the other, often indefinable sounds the group make. Very little happens on the track yet it is immensely hypnotic.

I'm not sure what ´The Actor's Gone' refers to but again disembodied sounds float and shift through an electronic miasma in a curiously gentle and comforting way. Tiny bell-like tolling is foregrounded against softly hissing metal and, once more, not a great deal is taking place. Irmler's intention may have been to build an unobtrusive but seductive set of sound pictures to accompany the museum display and if so it has worked. As you listen to the sometimes muted, sometimes shimmering keyboards it is possible to lose awareness of your surroundings and time. Parts of ´Kleine Welt' and ´Trevo' achieve this, in particular the latter, with its limpid droplets chiming and disappearing to make way for a more sinister wave of keyboard layers. Voices and marching sounds intrude before another weave of found noises and various textures of organ seamlessly expand to reveal other unearthly atmospheres.

Although the sonic violence is of a restrained nature Irmler can create tension and unease through a minimalist use of texture on tracks like ´Eis' where the level of sound is quite low-key but distinctly threatening. It is like being led through uncharted country by a guide who says little but is entirely sure of the way the journey will progress. Those far off cries that sometimes filter through the rain may be disquieting but are simply another facet of an intriguing landscape.

´Life Like' is, to my ears, an organic work that draws on the range of often unique sounds which the composer has developed over the years, from the early days in Wumme to more recent collaborations and remixes. It is a welcome and impressive solo debut that promises more explorations to come.

© 2003Paul Donnelly