FM Einheit – Exhibition Of A Dream

Exhibition Of A Dream by former Einstürzende Neubauten noisemaker FM Einheit was originally released as a triple vinyl set under its French title L’exposition D’un Rêve in 2018. The release was made through Lisbon’s esteemed Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian and coincided with Einheit’s exhibition at the gallery. 

Try as I might, though, I can’t fathom what the exhibition actually was. It may be the final record, and it may also have been the act of the record’s creation, its live performances in Lisbon and separate recordings at Einheit’s own Steinschlag studio. The exhibition may also have involved drawings of mandalas in the gallery’s empty spaces, but how these are connected to the playing of the music is somewhat beyond my two-dimensional artistic brain. You can read more about it at the website of Studio Bruyant, who facilitated the exhibition alongside Einheit, and if you can figure out what the mandalas have to do with anything, or you were there, please contact me. 

Instead, in an effort to stay on more certain ground, let us focus on the music. Except that here too, nothing is especially certain. The packaging of a new 2xCD remaster by Cold Spring says as much as it doesn’t. We know that the twelve tracks are Einheit’s interpretation of dreams offered by musicians Band Of Susans founder Susan StengerSonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis Breyer P-Orridge; it includes dreams transcribed by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and by artists Susie Green and David Link. Others were involved, but their dreams are strangely anonymised, creating a sort of amorphous impenetrability and mystery that leaves more questions than answers. 

In some cases, the ‘dreamer’ reads out their dream; in others, Einheit, another vocalist or the Gulbenkian’s choir does; in still others like the filmic, industrial western theme that is ‘FFW’ or the Can-esque ‘The Dungeon’, no one does. Like dreams themselves, the effect is disorientating and otherworldly: it reminds us that there are good reasons that dreams live in our subconscious. To expose them to the outside world places them into a sort of naked vulnerability, and what made sense in your deepest sleep makes zero sense during waking hours; disconnected from reality yet informed and made strange by it so as to become unreal. 

So here you can expect lewd imagery, strange interactions, odd stories that have no ending; vivid, emphatic stories as disturbing as ‘The Gift’ by The Velvet Underground or as filled with nonsensical non sequiturs as a Kafka novel cut up and reassembled by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin during a heavy night in their Parisian flophouse. In some cases – as with Lee Ranaldo’s ‘Alpine Traum’ or Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s ‘Creation Re/Created’ – their dream-stories are entirely in keeping with their usual aesthetic, and could have appeared on any of their various albums. For Ranaldo, this reunites him with the Beat-y spoken word style that dominated his contributions to early Sonic Youth albums, pre-dating finding his singing voice comparatively recently. In Gen’s case, his delivery is somewhere between lysergic work-out and a career in Open University lecturing that sadly never existed in the version of the omniverse we knew him in. 

The album’s musical accompaniment is, like all dreams, varied and unpredictable, fond of wandering off down oblique pathways. Performed by Einheit (stones, springs), Volker Kamp (bass, brass), Saskia von Klitzing (drums), Susan Stenger (flute, bass) and her Band Of Susan bandmate Robert Poss (guitar), each of the twelve tracks here is as different as the next, ranging from mutant jazz and funk to militaristic parade ground pomp to noisily contemplative post-rock to inchoate noisescapes. The players are adept at the masterful pivot, comfortable going off in whatever direction Einheit and the dreamers suggest they should go in. 

Cold Spring’s reissue of Exhibition Of A Dream arrives at a point where all of us perhaps feel like we’ve been living inside someone’s most impenetrable dream; where we find ourselves mutely looking back on the events of 2020 with the same weird feeling that you get when you wake up into that vague interzone between sleepy fantasy and the menacing horrors of the day. Truth be told, as strange and unsettling as some of these moments are, their intriguing mystique remains less terrifying than the world that we’ve endured over the past year. Lest us forget that dreams are the only places we have been able to dependably travel to, wrapped in the virus-free safety of our sleep. 

Exhibition Of A Dream by FM Einheit was released by Cold Spring on February 26 2021. Thanks to Gary. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Documentary Evidence 

Sonic Youth – Spinhead Sessions (Goofin’ album, 2016)


The full sessions for Sonic Youth‘s unused soundtrack to Ken Friedman’s movie Made In The USA have finally seen the light of day, some thirty years after they were recorded. In the UK the band had recently signed to Paul Smith‘s Blast First imprint and were about to release their seminal Sister LP after replacing Bob Bert on drums with Steve Shelley.

Despite the transition they were just about to make, Spinhead Sessions – named for the studio where these instrumental tracks were recorded – has more in common with the spooky atmospheres of their Blast First debut Bad Moon Rising.
I reviewed this for Clash. The review can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Sonic Youth – Hits Are For Squares (Geffen / Starbucks album, 2008)

Sonic Youth 'Hits Are For Squares' CD artwork

geffen / starbucks | cd 0602527781778 | 10/06/2008 | track listing

Hits Are For Squares is an almost career-spanning sixteen-track Sonic Youth compilation album. The album was released initially only in US Starbucks stores in 2008 in conjunction with Geffen, Sonic Youth’s home since leaving SST / Enigma (in the States) and Blast First (in the UK) following the release of Daydream Nation. Ignoring the obvious charges of ‘selling out’ by letting the mighty Starbucks put out a compilation album, what’s relatively unique about Hits Are For Squares is that the tracks themselves were all chosen by various celebrity fans (rubber-limbed Chili Pepper Flea, actress Catherine Keener, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and so on) or collaborators (Minutemen’s Mike Watt). Those choices, plus their reasons for choosing a particular track are explained in the liner notes alongside brief notes on the tracks and where they fit into the Sonic Youth back catalogue. And hey, the self-deprecating album title isn’t dissimilar to Hip To Be Square, the 1986 album from Huey Lewis & The News beloved by Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, and that’s always cool with me. Meanwhile, the sleeve looks like it’s trying to be an Edward Hopper portrait, the suit drinking his Starbucks coffee shamelessly reinforcing the commercial nature of this album. A ‘caffeine-free’ vinyl edition was released by the band later in 2010.

What’s immediately evident from the selections is that there are way more choices from the Geffen ‘commercial’ Sonic Youth period rather than their earlier independent label period, aside from firm fan favourites like ‘Teen Age Riot’ (from Daydream Nation), ‘Tuff Gnarl’ (from Sister), ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’, ‘Expressway To Yr. Skull’ (aka ‘Madonna, Sean And Me’) and ‘Tom Violence’ (all from Evol) and the earliest track here, the raw ‘The World Looks Red’ (from the Confusion Is Sex EP with Grinderman / Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds / Silver Alert drummer Jim Sclavunos on the skins and lyrics by SwansMichael Gira). In general the tracks lean toward the accessible side of the Sonic Youth back catalogue rather than the more experimental, but that’s what you get when you try and shift your album in outlets of the ubiquitous Seattle coffee chain (Seattle resident Eddie Vedder, incidentally, has a bit of a rant about not liking coffee in his notes to ‘Teen Age Riot’, which is rather like biting the hand that feeds if you ask me, but it’s still funny). Also, most of the tracks are those sung by Thurston Moore; Kim Gordon gets a couple of her lead vocal tracks included (including the annoying ‘duet’ with Chuck D, ‘Kool Thing’ and the beguiling ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’) and poor Lee Ranaldo doesn’t have any of his sung / spoken tracks included at all. Diablo Cody chooses the cover of ‘Superstar’ from a tribute album to The Carpenters which, while pretty, still feels uncharacteristically kitsch for Sonic Youth; far better would have been something from the more radical Ciccone Youth album.

Personally, I’d liken this compilation to the type of coffee you get from Starbucks – in other words a bit watered down, vaguely inauthentic but nevertheless addictive all the same, precisely because it is so accessible. I approached this album having not listened to most of the Sonic Youth back catalogue for some time and it felt like I was hearing these tracks for the first time all over again, ‘Teen Age Riot’ (still one of my favourites from their entire body of work) and ‘Bull In The Heather’ (from Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star) in particular sounding really fresh and unfamiliar, just like I was listening to them for the first time again.

The album also includes a previously unreleased track, ‘Slow Revolution’, which mines a similar vein to Washing Machine‘s long-form ‘Diamond Sea’ (a track I’d definitely have included, though at twenty minutes it was clearly never going to make the grade while the single edit lacks the very expansiveness that makes the song so impressive); like ‘Diamond Sea’, ‘Slow Revolution’ is a languidly-paced number, all Jaki Liebezeit-style drums from Steve Shelley and layers of hazy guitar riffs and Kim Gordon wailing away somewhere in the middle ground like she’s singing in tongues. It’s a far cry from this band’s more blistering white hot punk tracks, but it’s quite beautiful nonetheless; think the Velvets’ ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ passed through a Krautrock filter. ‘Slow Revolution’ is worth buying this compilation for in itself.

Gripes aside, Hits Are For Squares provides a great overview for anyone unfamiliar with Sonic Youth. It’s not as good as my own Sonic Youth compilation tapes that I made at the start of the last decade, but that’s personal choices for you.

I decided to re-post this because I’ve been listening to The Best Day, the new solo album from Thurston Moore which I’m reviewing this month for Clash.

Track listing:

cd:
1. Bull In The Heather
2. 100%
3. Sugar Kane
4. Kool Thing
5. Disappearer
6. Superstar
7. Stones
8. Tuff Gnarl
9. Teenage Riot
10. Shadow Of A Doubt
11. Rain On Tin
12. Tom Violence
13. Mary-Christ
14. The World Looks Red
15. Expressway To Yr. Skull
16. Slow Revolution

First published 2010 / re-posted 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence