Clinical Archives (ca232), 2009
The power of suggestion is a formidable thing. Before the emergence of CGI, movies used to use this to potent effect; horror films in particular. It’s what you don’t see that is the worst, because anything your imagination can create is far more terrifying than anything put together in a special effects lab. This is not an easy thing to pull off, either; without the proper preparation and attention, the audience is likely to miss out completely.
The same rule can be applied to music. What you don’t hear can be just as effective as what you do hear. The minimal genre aims to perfect this, using silence as a tool as much as sound, placing reduced content with a careful ear to the overall design. This carries a good deal of inherent risk, as the decision to focus on basic structure can wind up sounding too sparse, leaving the listener wishing for more rather than being enticed by the combination of sound and quiet.
So when a recording artist calls themselves “The Minimalist,” they’d better be darn sure they’ve got it down. The artist here uses the German-language translation, Die Minimalistin, and if you’re familiar with how the German works, you’ll notice that the article is in the feminine. Justifiably so, as the composer who uses it is Tanja Dovens of Berlin. As a young lady, she was trained in the composition and performance of classical music, and while her work as Die Minimalistin is far from classical, it retains a particularly effective feel and flowing structure that isn’t often apparent in the ambient genre. Minimal music is tricky; minimal ambient even more so, but with Lichttod (“lightdeath”), Dovens shows that she didn’t name her project on a whim.
One of a handful of releases from Die Minimalistin on various netlabels, Lichttod is a five-track EP that runs approximately thirty-eight minutes. It does not overwhelm with layers of drones and samples, but, of course, relies on limited sounds to convey its vision. And what a vision it is. “Visual Reflection” builds its haunting air on a series of simple tones that warp as they loop in and out, while an unusual series crackles, metallic clanks, and whistles fold upon each other in odd but hypnotic timing. Dovens doesn’t have many tracks to work with, but how she handles the flow is immediately impressive; her noises never overwhelm, and sound thicker than they are. It’s like descending into a dust-choked basement for the first time in decades and exploring the long-abandoned corners – there’s not much to be found, but the suggestion of what rests in the darkness is incredibly dense, and teases at your expectations. Die Minimalistin knows how to get your mind involved.
“Schwarzkoerperstralung” is a deeper level of darkness, with tiny snippets of noise flitting around heavier gurgles drenched in delicious reverb. Over its nine minutes, Dovens increases the dread with a delicate touch, moving the distortion closer like a slowly approaching shadow. “Schattengrab” is perhaps the most haunting of the bunch: a bizarre bleat (a processed flute, perhaps?) stabs out of a quiet bed of static, while a female voice (Ms. Dovens herself?) whispers in deftly glitch-treated German. The static builds into a wobbling drone which pitches to and fro, and whispers of noise drift from ear to ear. The voice presses upon you, insistent in its unknown message; is this what mediums hear when under trance? There’s not a lot of sonic material here, but it’s put together incredibly well, and fine-tuned under a cohesive vision. This is one of the best pieces of EVP-ghost ambient I’ve ever heard; it’s unsettling and thrilling, unexpected and memorable.
For all its sparseness, Lichttod is a powerful display of atmospheric prowess and carefully planned composition. Tanja Dovens carries formidable talent into her spirit-haunted halls, and concocts music with weight far beyond the sum of its few parts. It’s no small feat to accomplish more with less, and Dovens proves herself to be quite the master of the understated experience. Die Minimalistin may not be a dark ambient household name, but it’s a project that deserves far more attention.