And so we come to that time of year when when start to look back on what has gone before and we start to espy what might be ahead around the next corner. I do not think it will be very controversial to say that 2016 has been one of the worst years many of us have lived through. From the deaths of creative icons such as David Bowie or Prince (plus many others not named here) to political and social upheavals which threaten difficult times ahead for many, and a more selfish "me first" attitude in general, 2016 has seemed determined to punch many people in the face and rock them back on their heels. Of course, we don't know how this will all turn out in the end. Part of the human curse is to live neither in the past nor in the future but always in the present. Things are always happening around us the significance of which may end up eluding us.
It was impossible during this year, even as isolated as I am from wider society in my self-enforced half-hibernation, to keep all of these horrors out and my music was greatly affected by it. I spent the first six months of the year making dissonant noise collages which were aesthetically displeasing - even to me who made them. Thereafter followed three months in which I found music largely impossible and beside the point. Of what import is art when you see the wider world becoming more self-obsessed, regressive and antediluvian by the day? In the last couple of months I desperately wanted to make more music just so I could prove to myself that it wasn't a skill I had lost. I was reaching out trying to do it but more often than not this was met by a frustrated lack of creative impetus. I somehow managed to produce 4 or 5 projects which were dark and minimalist, a reflection upon dark times personally and politically.
And so I come to my final album of the year: ANUS HORRIBILIS. This is a review of my music in 2016. It picks out not the best tracks of my year (best is always a subjective, contingent choice that bears a connection only to the moment it sprung from) but the most representative. It is ANUS Horribilis and not Annus. It is not a horrible year, though it certainly has been, but a horrible arse. Or two if you check out the cover of this compilation. This was, unfortunately, the only honest picture I could pick for the cover, much as I despise the two men depicted. 2016 has been a horrible arse of a year and these two men perfectly represent that as they shit out any old crap on their personal, narcissistic and self-aggrandizing journeys through life.
All this means that if you are looking for happy pop songs and cheery melodies you've come to the wrong place. But if you've ever listened to anything by me before then you should know this wasn't exactly the place to come for that anyway! I have been much influenced by some comments of Edgar Froese's that he made in a BBC documentary some years ago which I watched in the past year a couple of times. He was speaking about how, in the late 1960s, German bands could set out on their own musical journeys, ones that weren't just Germans making American Rock n Roll or British Beat music. His answer was simple and brilliant: be abstract. This is something I think I have been working towards anyway. But its one thing to be abstract and another to be interestingly so. And, for all my dabbling in chance operations in composing music and in attempting to produce music that I did not write but merely oversaw, I did still want to make something that I felt expressed something genuine. I have not yet asked myself how I square the circle of letting music be what it will whilst also wanting to produce sounds that are authentic to something I recognise as the world. Maybe that is an adventure that yet awaits me.
My year in review consists of 15 tracks and there now follows a short history of how they came to be and why they exist in this review.
Gestalt (German: form, shape, figure, likeness) is a sound college and a very formal piece of music. It exists simply to explore sound. It was made entirely by accident. It is all sound textures and audio surfaces. It has no significance beyond this and is literally a sound void. I now read it as, perhaps, prophetic of personal and political voids.
2. Halle Neun
Markthalle Neun is a place in Berlin once of my acquaintance. This piece functions as a piece of nostalgia for it and those I was there with. The past clings to us even as we speed away from it.
Dogs was a piece I made at first just with the sounds of dogs barking and growling. It was a sound experimentation piece and a piece in which I tried to make music from everyday sounds. In the end I added the cheap beat to give it a further flavor. This is a piece in which I try to see music in things which might not be thought to be musical because we should see more than just surfaces in life.
Cycle is a tragic piece in which the mood of the same things happening over and over again forever is captured. Think of this as The Myth of Sisyphus, The Musical. It was originally written for an album called Adrift so maybe that is indicative of the mood in which it was created.
Rhenium was written for an album called Elements and all the song titles were chosen at random from the Periodic Table. I always regard my music itself as somewhat elemental. It is never very grand or intensely layered. It is most often just simple sounds expressing simple ideas, emotions or desires minimalistically done. One thing I hope to do (I don't try, I wouldn't know how) is to sometimes create a little beauty amongst the darkness. This piece is a little bit of that.
Scram is a pure chaotic noise piece. It represents confusion, chaos, whatever you think that means. But it not as harsh as many I did this year. Chaos need not be harsh to be chaotic.
Schneider is titled after Florian Schneider, a member of Kraftwerk from 1970-2008. Musically, it was one of my attempts to introduce more lively drums into a piece of music. When I first started out making music many years ago it was the drums that were often the problem because whilst its easy to do this straight it sounds very boring. So keeping things lively but different yet still interesting is always a challenge. The sound of this track is generally noisy and buzzy as I was very taken with overdriven or saturated sounds at the time. Life had a lot of distortions, as it still has now, and these became musically represented.
8. The Terror of Brute Minds
The title should be self-explanatory in this year of all years and is a direct political comment. We live in disturbing times and who knows what horrors yet await us? The piece itself is drony, unsure of itself, one minute hopeful and the next in fear.
9. DC Offset
This piece was made using a cut up method in which a piece of audio was recorded and then re-ordered by chance means. This again is meant to represent ideas of chaos and randomness and even being arbitrarily assigned to places you might not want to be. The title relates to nothing because why should it?
10. Slaves to Convention
Another track that is a political/social commentary. Convention I have been educated to see as dangerous to human beings on many levels. It amounts to living life according to habit, unthinkingly. And that can never end well. Musically, this sets out uncertain but then gains a conventional beat over which the randomness plays.
11. It Doesn't Matter
This piece is the most recent one I have composed and is partly a throwing up of the hands in disgust and partly a refusal to be dragged down with the weight of what goes on around us. Two sounds are panned hard left and hard right indicating choices. Again abstractness is key here because I don't like my music to be too definite. I want it to suggest chaos, openness, emptiness, a void. I don't want it to tell you what to do, how to be or how to feel. Because that's your responsibility.
As a statement this is simple: this is the one thing you need in life. Musically, this is a little more of the beauty in the darkness. We all need a bit of encouragement sometimes.
13. My Life is Eternal Night
This musically tries to represent an eternal night of the soul, the landscape in which it seems we now all wander.
Those brute minds are back again in this noise piece which represents the populist voice which has been so active this year. It ain't pretty.
15. Es Tut Mir Leid
Es Tut Mir Leid (German: I'm Sorry) is a bit self-pitying. I'm sorry because I exist. The piece itself is a bit at cross purposes with an offbeat running contrary to the main kick sound. Life feels as if its not in time with itself so why would I not feel sorry for myself?
So there is my brief rundown of my musical year in review and the 15 tracks that emerge from that year as the representatives of what I did in it. I would say I hope you enjoy it but, to be brutally honest, I don't think music is merely about enjoyment and this year is one its been hard to enjoy at the best of times.
You can hear ANUS HORRIBILIS at https://elektronischeexistenz.bandcamp.com