XS Records (xs 28), 2008
The first in a series of netlabel EPs from Die Minimalistin, Isolator shows a particularly impressive brand of experimental and sparse dark ambient. As a classically trained musician, Tanja Dovens has a firm grasp of structure and flow, as well as a keen eye for finely tuned detail. While her work as Die Minimalistin doesn’t feature the dense technical prowess of many of her genre contemporaries, Dovens establishes mood through careful placement of sound and silence, making sure each piece has a place and a purpose.
Isolator isn’t the type of release where you discover new sounds with each listen. You listen to it for how well it’s put together; for how each of the handful of pieces work with each other to generate atmosphere, feel, and flow. Nothing is buried under a sea of layered samples or coats of synthwork; not a single sound is wasted. What makes Dovens such a remarkable artist is how she is able to consistently impart identity and mood without succumbing to repetition. Containing four tracks that run thirty-one minutes, Isolator uses simple drones as its foundation, but they move slowly through chord patterns like a gliding serpent. Dovens then surrounds the base with a series of samples and experimental electronic noise, making each track a complete and unique whole.
The reversed bell-tones of “Blaukalt” are soon joined by a slithery wrapping of static and a series of high-pitched whistles, with tiny bursts of IDM-style glitches and warm analog touches. There’s not a lot to this track, but it has a natural feel in spite of its icy atmosphere (the track title translates as “blue cold”). It’s something of a throwback track, recalling instrumentals that used to grace EBM albums, but with more confidence. While just as experimental in tone, “Blaukalt” moves through its zero-degree corridors with increased implication and identity.
In fact, the same frozen interstallar scenes dominate Isolator from start to end. The keen and fragile backbone drone of “Fernschreitung” immediately recalls the empty void of deep space, and the suit of details could easily be sourced from fragments of distant signals. The title track is even more tenuous, as the drone is spaced into looped flares, and the waves of delicate noise sputter and spark in and out of existence like the last gasps of a failing fuse-box. We hear the distant occasional clank of some distant machine or what could be a snatch of garbled speech from some misfiring comm-system, but we’re surrounded by the ghosts of sound, rather than hearing sound directly. When listening, I can’t help but imagine myself inside a sealed spacesuit, exploring some long-abandoned station or floating wreck of a ship, hearing only tiny echoes filtered through my headset, along with the small noises of my suit’s systems as they work to keep the harsh environment from killing me. “InducedReversibleComa” creates immediate tension through its pitched swells of drone and what sounds, at least to my ears, a muffled human voice chanting wordlessly, somewhere nearby.
Despite its brevity and sparseness, Isolator is a highly effective listen. While all of Die Minimalistin’s work is worth a listen, this is the most consistent and evocative. Dovens indulges her experimental side while maintaining a strong identity throughout. I am able to both appreciate Dovens’ craft while allowing myself to be immersed by it. While short in length, Isolator loops brilliantly, and its consistency ensures continued quality without breaking the mood. For those unfamiliar with Die Minimalistin, this EP is the perfect place to become acquainted with Dovens’ fascinating project.