utorak, 2. travnja 2013.

Ursula Bogner - Sonne=Blackbox (2011)

Njemačka verzija Daphne Oram. Kao da imaš mamu, farmaceutkinju, koja potajno, noću, stvara avangardne elektroničke zvukovne organe. A sve se događa '70-ih, kad su olovo nalazili u svjetlu.

Germany's answer to Daphne Oram or Raymond Scott - or more likely an elaborate wind-up perpetrated by Jan Jelinek, on whose Faitiche label her "archive" recordings sporadically appear - Ursula Bogner is back. Whether or not it's Jelinek behind the Bogner corpus (and I think by now we know the answer to that), there's no disputing the consistently brittle beauty, dizzying complexity and easy charm of her radiophonic constructions. You certainly get a lot of Bogner for your buck on Sonne = Blackbox, with 15 tracks showcasing her brand of primitive electronic composition and tape manipulation. On 'Or Dor Melanor', 'Shepard Monde' and the title track, Broadcast and Stereolab immediately come to mind, while the eerie synthetic ramble of 'Trabant' is like the Ghost Box crew relocated from Belbury to Berlin. There are killers throughout: 'Signalfluss' and particularly 'Uranotypie' with its combo of droning, minimal electronics and Teutonic spoken voice, sound like vital cold wave (cold war?) artefacts, while the playful, impish quality of 'Der Chor Der Oktaven' and 'Permutationen' (before it lapses into a kind of slanted techno groove) invoke the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's John Baker and Delia Derbyshire. If there's a dead giveaway that this is Jelinek's work through and through, it's the heaviness of the sub-bass and the attendant dub-head's sense of space, both hard to imagine in late 60s and early 70s Germany. Whatever you want to believe, make no mistake, this is a truly delightful collection of off-kilter electronic music and quite simply a must for all dedicated heads.- boomkat

Earlier this year Tom Ewing wrote a Poptimist column about records with interesting backstories that were probably false. The music released under the name Ursula Bogner-- first an album called Recordings 1969-1988, now a follow-up collection called Sonne = Blackbox-- is an excellent example of what he was talking about. Released on Faitiche, the label started by veteran electronic music producer and theorist Jan Jelinek, this music is purported to come from a woman who was completely unknown during her lifetime and died in 1994. Bogner is said to have lived a life as a housewife and experimented with electronics and tapes away from the public eye, and the music she left behind fits loosely with that made by BBC Radiophonic Workshop experimentalists like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire.
Instead of maintaining the ruse as a cynical PR cash-in-- which would be silly because, let's face it, very few people are going to spend money for this music-- Jelinek is treating the Bogner phenomenon as a multimedia art experiment with musical, textual, and performative components. This second set of Bogner-named works, allegedly curated by frequent Jelinek associate Andrew Pekler, comes packaged with a 130-page book that explores, in pieces written in both English and German, ideas of identity, ownership, gender, and more, along with probing how information is transmitted through the media.
There's a piece in the book by songwriter and commentator Momus and lengthy interviews conducted by Jelinek, where, among other things, he interrogates people on why the Bogner story seems fake. The interviews in particular are an essential part of this project, because they get at how listeners construct narratives around music. One answer to Jelinek's question about the skepticism surrounding Bogner boils down to the press release being too detailed as far as her biography and making too much of her being a housewife. The exchange highlights how music journalists glean "truth" from the printed matter they are presented with recordings, and how this exchange can be manipulated. Beyond the accompanying book, Jelinek and Pekler are currently playing the music of Ursula Bogner at shows, improvising new music to accompany her "old" tape loops.
In addition to the writing, the book, and the live revue, we also have this, an album of recorded sound that, given its unspecified origins, exists in the context of your choosing. And I'm happy to report that the music is mostly very good, especially if you are a fan of Jelinek's loop-based aesthetic and unfailing ear for texture and musical structure (an approach to sound that has a great deal of overlap with Pekler's recorded work). Whether created by Jelinek, Pekler, or someone else, the Bogner pieces range from engaging electronic curiosities-- notable mostly for mixing vintage-sounding electronics with editing that would have been very difficult to achieve in the year they were supposed to have been created-- to hair-raising collages whose subtle force is, if you're wired at all like I am, completely overpowering.
The pieces here have a general theme, and that is the manipulation of the human voice. The opening title track mixes a banging piano loop with gorgeously rendered vocoder tones, conveying that peculiarly 1950s Disneyfied optimism about the happiness of a robotic future. "Or Dor Melanor" consists of a female voice singing the title's words laid next to some weirdly distant vocals processed into an ascending scale. "Shepard Monde" is a cracked assemblage of French syllables that sort of hangs together in a twitching clump, but the effect as it moves between the speakers evokes both mystery and profound beauty. "De Planetarum Influxu" mixes sine-wave squiggles and a deep drone with a mass of unclassifiable and machine-like voices that seem to be drifting steadily toward you, and then, at the moment when they could get no louder, the piece abruptly cuts off, ending the album on a jarring note. It all works together and there's not a dull patch on the record.
The tracks without vocals mostly recall the kind of elemental electronic tinkering present on the earlier Bogner release, but in ever case the dusty electronic pulses are brought to life with a sense of rhythm, movement, and texture that can be easily connected to records like Jelinek's Kosmischer Pitch and Pekler's Cue. If this were a new album by either of them, it would be enjoyable and ultimately successful purely from a musical standpoint, but packaged as it is as part of the Bogner project, the music can't help but take on a different cast. If nothing else, Sonne = Blackbox is an excellent reminder of Jelinek's restless muse. He made a name with an unusual approach to sound developed during the IDM heyday of the 1990s and early 00s, but he's never stayed in one place long, and every project he's been involved with since offers an unfamiliar but ultimately rewarding world to be explored. - Mark Richardson

Recordings 1969-1988 (2009)

Were it not for a chance meeting between two men on a airplane, more likely than not Ursula Bogner's entire musical oeuvre would have remained forever unheard. One of these men was Jan Jelinek while the other was Sebastian Bogner (Ursula's son), who through the course of some small talk and general chit chat revealed that his mother had spent 20 years dabbling in experimental electronic music unbeknownst to the rest of civilization. Her musical pursuits seem to have been relegated to being a mere hobby, something she would get up to in her spare time at home, tucked away in a makeshift studio. Bogner was a pharmacist by profession and a wife and mother at home, but it seems that there was something of a double life going on, and these fifteen tracks of fascinating experimentation reveal a talent that far exceeds her 'keen amateur' status. You mightn't necessarily think of all these pieces as musical compositions in the strictest sense, but rather sound designs and feats of engineering in the same sort of vein as Raymond Scott, although besides the wild and adventurous sonorities to be found in 'Metazoon' and the like, there are more conventionally structured pieces along the way, such as the comical electroacoustic jaunt 'Begleitung For Tuba' and 'Fur Ulrich' a piece composed for Ursula's husband's birthday. Although not always as overtly musical as her Radiophonic counterparts, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think of Bogner as a hausfrau version of Daphne Oram, or a Deutsch Delia Derbyshire, and her enormous talent deserves to be recognised by the widest possible audience. Sadly, Ursula passed away in 1994 and so never got to witness an electronic musician of Jan Jelinek's prestige celebrating her work. Better late than never though - highly recommended. - boomkat

According to German electronic musician Jan Jelinek, the homemade recordings of the late Ursula Bogner might never have been heard outside her immediate family had Jelinek not discovered them through a random encounter with Bogner's son. I say "according to" because rumors that Bogner's story is a hoax-- a cover for music Jelinek made himself-- have already circulated. Some cite the recordings' rather clean fidelity, odd for music purported to be this old and inexpensively produced; others claim to hear Jelenik's minimal style in Bogner's simple compositions. Then there's the fact that Recordings 1969-1988 is the first release on Jelinek's label, Faitiche-- a name the label's own website claims is a French/German hybrid meaning "factish," or "a combination of facts and fetishes [that] makes it obvious that the two have a common element of fabrication."
Barring any denials or confirmations from Jelinek, that's probably all we'll ever know. His entertaining liner notes make Bogner's story seem plausible. Born in Germany in 1946, she became a pharmacist, wife, and mother by her early twenties, but still found spare time to study painting, printing, and electronic music. The latter interest led her to record her own synthesizer-based compositions on reel-to-reel tapes in a studio she built herself. Some songs survived intact, while others had to be assembled by Jelinek from individual, unmixed tracks.
The truth of this tale is ultimately a minor concern, because as intriguing as the story is, the songs on Recordings 1969-1988 are much more interesting. Bogner's work fits squarely in the world of early electronic music-- the period from the late 1950s to the early 70s, when synthesizers were so new that using them to craft melodic songs and create abstract sound were both considered "experimental" pursuits. The king of this era was Raymond Scott, whose whimsical jazz was adopted for cartoon soundtracks, and whose electronic inventions resulted in radio commercials, Jim Henson film scores, and unique curios like Soothing Sounds for Baby, a series intended to help parents pacify their infants. Bogner's music bears much of Scott's playful spirit, finding common ground between nursery-rhyme simplicity and the absurd humor of abstract art. Some of these songs are practically direct Scott rip-offs, but you can also hear echoes of Scott contemporaries and descendants: the radio concoctions of Daphne Oram, the comic pop of Perry and Kingsley, the conceptual art of the Residents, even the post-rock repetition of Black Dice.
Most of Recordings 1969-1988 sounds simultaneously like pop and art. Bogner's M.O. is to take a few simple loops-- rumbling bass, water-y plops, chirping squalls, laser-like blasts-- and overlap them, producing songs so sweet they'll make you laugh (the elephant-march opener "Begleitung für Tuba"), so repetitive they'll hypnotize you (the swinging "Inversion"), and so inventive they sound alien (the robotic "2 Ton"). At best, like on the jazzy "Punkte" and the cresting "Expansion", she crafts pulsing, organic melodies that burrow into memory like tree roots gripping the ground.
I've often wondered why the music of Raymond Scott, as catchy as it could be, is frequently relegated to the status of odd curiosity or gear-geek niche. The same will certainly happen with Bogner, whoever she "really" was/is. And sure, the songs on Recordings 1969-1988 (as well as the included shot of her with big glasses and floppy bowl cut) have a tech-y, art-nerd sheen. But give these tunes time, and you may find yourself humming them randomly, much the way a 60s housewife might have unwittingly memorized Scott tunes via the background noise of his sneaky radio jingles. - Marc Masters

Ursula Bogner, mystery-shrouded space pop lady, gets new collection on Faitiche

Who is Ursula Bogner? A forgotten mid-century German genius, pharmacologist by day, pioneering musique concrète secret synth twiddler by night? A projection of our hopes and dreams of having a mom who’s secretly into creating crazy electro tunes and something called “orgonomy,” where solar energy is harnessed and used to heal stuff? Or an internet construction by Berlin-based Faitiche Records founder/all-around glitch lover Jan Jelinek, whose label is releasing the lady’s latest this very day?
Whatever you want to believe, the super-deluxe-lookin’ Sonne=Blackbox comes out on Faitiche as of… NOW. It’s another big batch of Bogner, arriving three years after 2008’s Recordings 1969-1988, which made out Eureka! list that year. So what do you get besides the chance to convert your American dollars into trusty Euros and a Scooby Doo-sized portion of swirling mystery? Well, in the tradition of all good, sorta obscure, sorta fancy releases, you get a booklet. But not just any booklet! This one is 126 glorious pages of dazzling drawings, fantastic photographs, and something called “compositional instructions” which didn’t really work with an alliterative adjective. Just think: that’s 8.4 pages of ART for each of the 15 broadcast-in-SPACE-style tracks! You do the art math. Mystery or no, this one adds up to an eccentric deutsche electronic music head’s dream come true. Read much more about the LP/CD+book and hear some samples here.- Liz Louche

"Trabant", recording notes & tape reel, 1970
Sonne = Blackbox (Voice and Tape Music by Ursula Bogner)

I was pleasantly surprised when Faitiche invited me to investigate the Ursula Bogner archives and assemble a collection of her works for this second volume of recordings. My delight was all the greater when during my research I came upon a cache of materials (tape recordings, notes, graphic scores) which bring to light two previously unheard but overlapping aspects of Bogner's music: her experiments with tape manipulation and her use of the voice as a sound source.
Auditioning these recordings, I heard work that was bold and playful - music in which, to my ears, the raw spirit of exploration is pleasantly tempered by a tendency towards what one might call an emotive register. In particular, I was struck by the sheer variety of Bogner's work and the various ways the voice was utilized. In addition to more conventional modes of melodic and harmonic singing, I heard voices which are stretched, layered and treated in order to become textures or to take on the tonal quality of other instruments. I found most intriguing two pieces (Jubiläum and Shepard Mondewhere the apparent confluence of Bogner's tape and voice experimentation are most distinctly audible - with fragments of vocals looped into cyclical structures  forming rhythmical frameworks into which further elements are gradually introduced. 
Among the archive materials I found no definitive evidence to either prove or disprove my suspicion that the voice heard in these pieces is Ursula Bogner's own - the recording notes which accompanied some of the tapes make no mention of any vocalist(s) whatsoever. Nonetheless, despite the sometimes radical transformations to which it is subjected, the main voice heard throughout the 15 year period in which these pieces were made retains a certain timbral consistency which suggested to me that it belongs to the same person. Playing a few excerpts from these recordings for Bogner's son Sebastian confirmed what I had surmised: it is indeed the composer's voice we are hearing. Possible exceptions may be the loops of doo-wop singing in Or Dor Melanor and the fragments of pop harmony vocals and liturgical chant which are cut up in Der Chor Der Oktaven.

Yet voice was not the only material used by Bogner in her tape experiments. Indeed, the sound sources are as varied as their compositional functions. For instance, the repeating electric guitar motif of Trabantis accentuated by sped-up, slowed-down and reversed versions of itself and seems to me to elegantly mirror the two (electronically treated and pure) singing voices that it accompanies. Also remarkable isIllusorische Planeten, where severely processed percussion forms a jagged landscape onto which a choir of voices and electronic tones descend only to become entangled in the thistly environment before managing to lift off again. Elsewhere, we hear among other things, piano trills, splashing water, wind, chimes and orchestral strings or, as in the second half of Nach Europa, a complex soundscape of presumably electronic origin which undergoes a range of metamorphoses via tape manipulation.

Ursula Bogner, year unknown / Observation cupola, constructed by Ursula and Ulrich Bogner. The picture shows Ulrich Bogner and son Sebastian, taken from the journal "Sterne und Weltall", 1977)
Of particular interest to me are the recording notes that accompanied some of the tape reels from which these pieces are taken. These are printed forms intended to facilitate the work of studio engineers and archivists by providing space for technical information pertaining to recording and composition. Intriguingly, Ursula Bogner used these sheets not only for technical notes but also to jot down fragmentary ideas, associations and perhaps the sources of inspiration for the music on the tapes.
Here are a few examples of her recording notes along with a few of my own (entirely subjective) thoughts on their possible meanings:

De Planetarum Influxu 
Mesmerization. Attempt to implent a fluidic structure. Does there exist a tonal equivalent of hypnosis?
The reference seems to be to Franz Mesmer's theory of animal magnetism, a magnetic fluid supposedly found in the bodies of living beings. Experiments which attempted to channel this “ethereal medium” in order to cure various diseases led to the theory's discretization but also contributed to the emergence of modern hypnotherapy.

Illusorische Planenten 
Counter-Earth, hidden behind the sun. (the word 'superseded' circled and underlined) All is arranged antithetically, conditions for symmetry not possible. Music of the ellipses.
A reference to the counter-Earth?  According to classical Greek astronomy, the planet 'Antichton' was supposed to exist hidden behind the sun and act as a counterbalance to our Earth. And could 'music of the ellipses' be a pun on 'music of the spheres',  the phrase adjusted to more accurately reflect astronomical reality?

Uranium 92. Platin Transmutation. Uranus Epsilonring. White Swan 92 Uranotypie. uranyl ferricyanide.
Uranium, discovered in 1789 (by a Berlin chemist) was named after the then recently discovered planet Uranus. Bogner seems to be playing here with the number 92, the atomic number of uranium in the periodic table. Uranotypie and uranyl ferricyanide may possibly refer to the use of radioactive uranium in photographic printing processes in the late 19th century. The  meaning of the 'white swan' remains a mystery.

Trabant (scroll down for audio file)
Unlike duplicates fly away in unsteady orbits. Satellites of the self.
A subjective interpretation: Might the 'unlike duplicates' be the looped variants of the guitar motif that forms the rhythmic and harmonic basis of this piece? Does the unsteady orbit represent the role of the voice in relation to the music? Does the 'self' and 'satellites' refer to the way Bogner here doubles and applies electronic treatments to her voice?

Nach Europa
Telescopic discovery of cyclopic decent. Dim star, slower than the eye. To break through the clouds.
This piece starts from a simple rhythmic motif and gradually builds up momentum by accumulating layers of harmonic texture until finally bursting forth into a swirling, dissonant and murky sound world. Taken together with the text, the music suggests to me a journey to and eventual arrival at some obscure and distant world. Does not the sudden cutting out of the rhythm track halfway through sound uncannily like 'splashdown' in some alien ocean?
In addition to the tapes, recording notes, graphic scores and drawings Ursula Bogner also left behind a filing system of index cards which she used to record thoughts, concepts, text fragments, and word games. At least three of the tracks which appear here are referred to by index cards.

Here are two examples:

Or, Dor, Dor, Dor, Dor
Or, Dor, Dor

(Ursula Bogner, 1972 - scroll down for audio file)
The relation between the three typed words of the index card and the song in which they are intoned - in Ursula Bogner's characteristically solemn yet offhand voice – remains unknown.

Sonne = Blackbox

(Ursula Bogner, 1972 - scroll down for audio file)
In this case also it is not known whether the titular index card predates the music or whether the card was used to record the name of an already finished piece. At any rate, the sung text – as yet not found on any of the cards - is as follows:

Ist denn die Sonne eine Blackbox? (Is then the Sun a black box?)
Ob man die Nacht abschaffen kann? (Could the night be abolished?)
Auf dem Uranus, Herschels Planet?(On Uranus, Herschel's planet?)
Mit Schäfermonden rings umrannt' ?(Encircled by shepherd moons?)
Solarwinde (Solar winds)

I hope that this collection will be of equal interest to newcomers as well as to those already familiar with Ursula Bogner's work as it both broadens and sharpens the image we have of her and the intriguing artist persona she has left for us to ponder.

Andrew Pekler

Filing system of index cards, 1966-1976. Keywords (Tabs): Life, Gods, Sound, Paradigm, Orgone, Outer Space, Microphonics, Sun, The cosmo-human gesture.

1. Sonne = Blackbox (1972)
4. Trabant (1970)
5. Or Dor Melanor (1981)
7. Strahlungen (1974)
11. Shepard Monde (1971)
12. Signalfluss (1980)
13. Homöostat (1985)

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