Label: Mute Records
The relationship between electronic music and the performance arts has long been a close one. From Underworld’s long running collaboration with director Danny Boyle, to The Knife’s 2010 Darwin-themed opera, to Jeff Mill’s rescoring of Fritz Langz’s silent movie Metropolis, it’s easy to see why the expansive ambience of electronic production fit so well with visual accompaniments. Yet when Sascha Ring (aka Apparat) received a request from Germany’s renowned theatre director Sebastien Hartmann to score his new experimental adaptation of an obscure Tolystoy text, you can see why he might not have realised what he was getting himself into.
In fact, in a recent video interview about the experience, Ring openly admit that he was naïve about the project, both in terms of the dedication that was involved and the effort it would take for him to, so to speak, take a step back from his artistic ego and work within a team. Joining the cast during their intense two week rehearsal process in a large industrial unit, Ring worked with a two-piece orchestra to construct the accompanying score. The finished result was a compound of classical string and pianist arrangements, Ring’s recent post-rock electronic muddying and the occasional vocal accompaniment, all of which was performed live during each night of the theatrical run.
In fact, the idea that a recording of the score would be released as the next Apparat studio album was a last minute decision by Ring and the orchestra. Perhaps they were aware that with projects such as this it’s always a gamble as to whether the music is going to sound limpid when divorced from its theatrical context. It’s full credit to Ring and co. then that Krieg Und Frieden works well as a standalone album. From the opening bars of first track 44 which introduces the album’s forlorn tone through its tinkling piano keys, to the subtle beds of electronic distortion that immediately follow in 44 (Noise Version), it becomes clear that on a conceptual level the album is coherent and well-judged enough to work on its own away from the stage.
Certainly, this sounds very much like the sort of studio album you would expect from Apparat, his instantly recongisable vocals and glacial yet tender synth work and downtempo techno pallete colouring the album. And whilst Ring’s slow, post-rock warbling of his last studio album The Devil’s Walk drew a mixed reaction, the vocal tracks included here are economised moments interspersed at occasional intervals in the track listing, rather than overpowering the record. Building on the slow and morose instrumentation of the tracks around them, tracks like Light On and particularly album finale A Violent Sky, demonstrate Ring’s ability to craft ‘songs’ as well as tracks (or even soundtracks).
However, whilst Krieg Und Frieden does carry the recognisable print of an Apparat album, the feeling of the theatrical does pervade pretty much each track on the album. The sweeping crescendos and string arrangements of the tracks evoke the grandiose nature of the performance it was responding to. Yet, this in itself present an aesthetical freedom that perhaps previous Apparat albums weren’t able to tap into. Moments such as the stunning mid-album PV, with its slowly building strings and brass set to the backdrop of snowy synths, sound less like a diversion from Ring’s sound so much as the natural step in the direction of whichhe has been headed for a while. Like the best concept albums (and the concept does dominate the record), it offers a sonic range that Ring has long be on the path to realising.
Brave without being over-experimental or difficult, and with enough of Apparat’s somewhat signature sound to not count as a red herring in his discography, Krieg Und Frieden is a beautiful deviation in the ever-expanding and ever-indefinable Apparat project. With a Modeart album on the not so far horizon, it looks like 2013 could be another big year for one of dance music’s least predictable stars.