ANBB – Ret Marut Handshake (Raster-Noton EP, 2010)

ANBB 'Ret Marut Handshake' artwork

raster-noton | r-n 120 | 21/06/2010

ANBB is a collaboration between Alva Noto (electronic musician and artist Carsten Nicolai, head of the Raster-Noton imprint and one half of Diamond Version) and Blixa Bargeld. Bargeld is the stimmung of cult Berlin noise-merchants Einstürzende Neubauten who has recently developed processed spoken-word performances (‘rede‘) into his repertoire alongside his day job fashioning unexpected sounds from guitars and detritus in Neubaten. Nicolai on the other hand is the poster boy for glitch-based electronics, notable for works based on ‘forced error’. Before Diamond Version, Nicolai’s collaboration with Byetone, Mute and Raster-Noton collaborated on the Short Circuit festival in 2011; back in 2010 though, ANBB could perhaps be seen as an early precursor to greater engagement between the two labels, even though Bargeld has all but severed ties with his former label home.

The combination of two mavericks on the Ret Marut Handshake EP finds Bargeld’s voice surprisingly suited to Nicolai’s cracked electronics, serving as a tantalising taster of the full-length album which this ultimately supported, Mimikry. This mini-album / EP is named after Ret Marut, a shady, chameleon figure (actor, writer, activist and a pseudonym of the author B. Traven) that Bargeld found intriguing from his childhood years onward.

Neubauten releases over the years have made it their business to explore found sounds and sounds conjured from industrial equipment; Bargeld’s guitar was never played so much as abused on early releases and drum kits were constructed from nothing quite so pedestrian as actual drums. Later releases added strings and sensitivity, finding beauty in detritus. But generally, electronics didn’t feature, were almost eschewed, making Neubauten releases all the more appealing for their relatively ‘organic’ development. Imagining Bargeld intoning his wonderfully expressive words over a bed of electronic sounds wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but I was nevertheless intrigued by this collaboration.

In an interview with The Wire, Bargeld explained how Nicolai’s approach initially baffled him. The fifth track on the release ‘I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground’ (a cover of the traditional American folk song) found Bargeld needing to explain the chords to the piece which Nicolai then had to translate into frequencies for them to make sense in his idiosyncratic soundworld. That track is playful, and possibly just a bit of fun, finding Blixa getting all shaky and rock ‘n’ roll while a muted palette of bassy tones and scratchy beats occupies the background. Something about this screams that Bargeld possibly wasn’t even aware of being recorded, as it has the feel of him musing away to himself throughout. The EP also includes a version of Harry Nilsson’s tender ‘One’. ‘One is the loneliest number that you ever know,‘ sings Bargeld on this fragile ballad, his voice taking on a warmth and mournful quality while a gentle web of echoing tones, speaking clock pulses and sketchy non-beats heighten the muted atmosphere. Rarely has a clash between two collaborators from different oeuvres been so stark, and the results so good.

Anyone remotely familiar with Nicolai’s soundworld will be familiar with the fractured, detuned beats, clicks and hisses that characterise his rhythms, those off-centre beats being combined with minimal synth tones, melodic clusters and drones. The sonic tapestry provides the backdrop to Bargeld’s distorted vocal, which veers from half-sung intonations to semi-rapped stream-of-conscious slews of words, everyone single sibilant utterance and word pronounced with a consideration every bit as calculated as Nicolai’s soundworld. At times Bargeld’s words are chopped, spliced and layered, as on the opening title track of the EP. ‘Electricity Is Fiction’ is like a more or less conventional electro track just with a more skittish beat, Bargeld delivering a lecture on what electricity is; a bit like Kraftwerk‘s ‘Radioactivity’ subjected to a high voltage current, whereupon their considered, clean electronics become wildly out of control. The darkest piece here, ‘Bernsteinzimmer’ is a dark, noirish soundtrack-style piece. Buzzing drones, violin sounds and thudding bass drum, give this a bleak cinematic feel; clipped, whispered sibilant vocals in the background and Blixa delivering a stately, towering vocal performance.

First published 2012; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence