ant-zen (ant154), 2003
New ideas. They drive growth and invention. There’s certainly something invigorating about finding a niche (or creating one) and calling it one’s own. As much as I love innovation in the experimental electronic music field, there’s something refreshing about examining the basics; the roots from which everything else has sprung. I think it was Ayn Rand who stated that “imagination is rearrangement,” and while I’m not sure I agree wholeheartedly, I do think the idea has merit.
Roger Baumer of Switzerland, who records music under the moniker Roger Rotor, appears to have a love affair with old-school electro. When I say “old-school,” I’m talking about Kraftwerk, DAF, Nitzer Ebb – that camp. While early Roger Rotor material was composed of noisy landscapes, he took a startling new direction in 2003, when he released his album Malleus Maleficarum on the famed German power-noise label ant-zen.
Malleus Maleficarum isn’t powernoise. It’s a stubbornly wonderful throwback to the days when everything was analog: a minimal collection of repeated sequences powered by 4/4 beats. It’s not intricate, mind-blowing, or emotionally stirring, but a rock-solid collection of industrial techno that delivers the old-school experience in all its glory.
Malleus Maleficarum is formulaic and repetitive, but these are strengths. Each of the ten instrumental tracks is structured in exactly the same way: six or seven different electronic rhythms that drop in and out at precise intervals. Boring? Perhaps. Most of the tracks seem to have the same metronomic BPM; this is the foundation upon which everything else is built. But I’d argue there’s something deeply satisfying about how everything fits; what Baumer has done is shown how each sequence is a part of the larger whole. As each track progresses, he adds a layer, then removes a previously established one; each part gets a moment in the spotlight. It’s almost a manual for how to make a great electro track. There’s something innately appealing to following the construct/destruct method, leading the listener to wonder what new rhythm might crop up and when it might fall away.
Unlike most of ant-zen’s roster, Roger Rotor’s music is not massively distorted, bass-heavy, or laden with piercing frequencies. The music moves along at a head-nodding pace, rather than a head-banging one, and isn’t doom-laden or coldly clinical. Whenever it starts to drag, things change just enough to keep your ears engaged, and its calm but persistent energy keeps your interest. There’s a certain quirkiness to the sound that reminds me of French electro, such as Gilles Rossire’s Oil 10 project or the sadly defunct Parametric label. Malleus Maleficarum is focused, no-nonsense, blue-collar electronic music, and therein lies the secret to its appeal.