The 5th Elephant
... Given the experimental nature of the recording, I´m always happy to find a bright diamond in a thorny soundscape.
Jeff Melton, EXPOSÉ (August 2002)
Audio Collage Comes of Age
When youre working on the inside in the software industry, its easy to lose track of how and why people are using software out there in the real world. Truth be told, we use computers because they enhance our lives. (If they didnt, why would we bother?) When the computer gets into the act, new frontiers open up. We can have incredible experiences that would have been impossible to achieve any other way.
You can probably make your own list: Star Wars special effects, browsing the Internet, or even computerized slot machines in Las Vegas. But unless youre secretly a musician, or hanging out with musicians, you may not realize how radically computers have transformed the world of music. In the past decade, new digital tools for playing and recording music have proliferated at an amazing rate. As musicians use the tools, theyre discovering new ways to use sound and leading their listeners in stimulating new directions.
One of the most exciting and challenging computer-based recordings Ive heard in the past couple of years is The 5th Elephant", a CD by German composer Lutz Glandien (www.lutzglandien.com). Its not the kind of CD youre going to pick up in the bin next to Dr. Dre and Britney Spears. Like a hip-hop artist, Glandien uses the computer to assemble audio collages (more on that process in a minute), but hes not trying to hook young listeners with a catchy beat. In Glandiens rhythms, standard drum sounds are replaced with an assortment of tormented grinding noises and unlike a pop beat, which repeats hypnotically, these beats mutate, fall apart, and fly away.
The CD opens with a thick bed of industrial noise punctuated by door slams, metallic keening, distant footsteps, and an ominous scissors snick.
Its like the underscore to a movie scene: one of those dripping, poorly lit basements with pipes dangling from the ceiling, where Schwarzenegger creeps forward, armed with a 23rd-century Uzi, ready to blast the evil cyborgs.
This mood pervades the CDs 12 tracks. When the energy level rises, were in a chase scene. When it drops, Schwarzenegger has halted to peer into an empty room where colored lights flicker on alien devices. But the action movie metaphor doesnt really do justice to Glandiens music.
Though the CD is subtitled "Virtualectric Stories", its pure music, intended to be taken on its own terms. Its all about finding sounds that have an emotional impact and juxtaposing them in fresh ways.
The computer is what makes those juxtapositions possible. (As if to emphasize this fact, all of the titles "Outside Locators, "Find Original of Alias, "Recall Zoom 3 are taken from menus and dialog boxes in the recording software Glandien used.) Once its recorded into a computer, sound can be manipulated with complete freedom. Phrases that were played on a single instrument can be snipped apart and reassembled so the notes are heard in a different order. Sounds that were recorded days or years apart, on different continents, can be layered with one another to create an imaginary dialog. A single sound can be stretched or distorted until its all but unrecognizable.
"Tile Windows Horizontally reveals Glandiens introspective side. It opens with what sounds like birds chirping, accompanied by someone banging in a random, desultory fashion on a zither. Sustained notes on an electric tuba introduce a disturbing motif. The next track, "Close Song Without Save, is just as deep: A female voice bathed in artificial echoes whispers chopped-up phrases, probably in German, over a bed of machine beeps and noble low-register notes from a grand piano. In "MIDI Machine Control, the tuba plays the role of foghorn behind a sluggish rhythm of underwater noise bursts, which is interrupted by occasional flurries of clanking and low-flying giant bees. The pulsing rhythm of "Punch on the Fly comes closer to a pop groove, but tortured noise bursts obliterate the beat in a swirling multicolored nightmare.
If youre used to music that has melodies and catchy chord riffs, your first encounter with "The 5th Elephant may cause some distress. Its not comfortable or reassuring. As art music, it is designed to grapple with the messy mysteries of life, with no easy answers ...
Jim Aikin (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes about music technology for a variety of publications. His reviews of new music software appear regularly in Keyboard magazine.
By Jim Aikin, DEVELOPER MARKET NEWS / CALIFORNIA (July 2002)
A Publication from the Software Development Media Group at CMP Media LLC
The 5th Elephant
The story behind the record "The 5th Elephant" started in the autumn of 1997 when Chris Cutler (drums, electronics and amplified objects), Lutz Glandien (MIDI guitar, sampling and computers) and Michael Vogt (electric tuba, tapes) were to record a set of improvisations. After three days of recording, they came to the conclusion that the project had been unsuccessful, and the tapes were put on the shelf. Where they were gathering dust for a year until Glandien found out he did not want to abolish the project completely.
He played the improvisations into a computer and started looking for interesting details. In this way, he gathered various drum riffs, individual phrases, tuba motifs, studio atmosphere and electronic sounds from the MIDI guitar and the electronic percussion. This made up the basis for new compositions. Each of the twelve tracks on the album springs from a sample; a drum loop, a tuba motif etc. Further, cuts from the improvisations have been added (around 90%), and the rest is added from Glandien's own sound archives.
Glandien has previously written both chamber music, music for orchestra, electro-acoustic pieces and music for films and radio plays. In addition, he has performed with both rock musicians and improvisers. One of his projects is the music on the critically acclaimed "Domestic Stories", a co-operation with Cutler, where also Fred Frith, Dagmar Krause and Alfred Harth contribute. "The 5th Elephant" is a record which unites several of the musical styles Glandien has worked with. It is evident that he has written music for both radio plays and film, for many of the tracks are very atmospheric. In most of them, a distinct groove created by a loop is repeated throughout the track. But track no 3, "Find Original Of Alias", shows more sign of sound collages and atmosphere.
Looking at the CD as a whole, it carries a very modern sound, and the music is also described as somewhere between classic electronic music and underground techno. But my opinion is that even if you are not a fan of any of those styles, you may very well enjoy this record immensely, because it has a lot of qualities. Glandien really has succeeded in finding interesting parts from the improvisations and put them together in a tasteful and refined way. It is hard to imagine that these improvisations originate from a futile project. A lot of really magnificent things happen in these songs if only you take the time to listen carefully. And, as mentioned previously, the music is spanning a wide territory.
In the press release following the record, the music is described as a marriage between Nine Inch Nails and The Chemical Brothers on one side and Stravinsky and Stockhausen on the other. Whether or not this is true is up to each listener to judge.
One of the highlights of the record is the track "Independent Grace" which has a lovely theme in xylophone-like timbres, where a backwards guitar joins with another great theme. Throughout this track, a backwards female voice is used, bringing a great atmosphere to the song.
We also find this female vocal in a couple of other tracks. As for this track, it is in my opinion worth the piece of the album alone, as it is really extremely good. This may not be the record for those who are not so fond of a modern sound, but for those who enjoy good compositions, a lot of atmosphere, groove, and a synthesis of several musical styles, this is a winner.
Knut Tore Abrahamsen, Tarkus Magazine no. 21 (Norway, June 2002)
The 5th Elephant
Those of us not intimately familiar with modern recording studio techniques can only shake our heads in wonderment at the origin, evolution and ultimate result of Glandien's work on this CD.
Raw material for Glandien's manipulations comes 90% from a failed 1997 studio session with Chris Cutler (drums) and Michael Vogt (tuba), with Glandien supplying additional percussion, electronics and Midi guitar at the time. The participants judged the results a failure, and while the live concert the next day was pronounced a success, it was not recorded.
The 5th Elephant offers precious few clues as to what the group actually sounded like, because Glandien's subsequent deconstruction and reconstruction of the tapes over an ensuing three year period leaves virtually nothing intact. The music has become almost completely electroacoustic, with drums, guitar, and tuba sonically distorted to such an extent that no recognizable timbres remain save for an occasional touch of conventional percussion and something that sounds a bass trombone on one later track (obviously the tuba).
The other 10% of the source material comes from some processed voices, low frequency rumbles and "atmospherics" supplied by Glandien after the fact.
Although not exactly a household name outside of Germany, Glandien has had success in a wide variety of musical forms, from experimental electroacoustic to symphonic, and from rock to ambient. Such experience serves him well on this CD, as he uses ambient and techno forms as a springboard for something more complex and challenging, mixing in elements of electroacoustic, industrial and trance.
On several tracks, including the startlingly visceral opener, "Show Tools," Glandien produces rhythms by interrupting steady streams of noise (white, pink and otherwise), producing the disorienting effect of rhythm struggling to escape from sonic chaos rather than being imposed upon silence.
Glandien's use of rhythm is pronounced but slippery throughout; it stutters, stops and starts, and mutates, never settling into a predictable groove. The rhythmic elements are mixed adroitly with other ear candy - eerie reversed voices, a single chanted syllable, electronic murmurs and howls.
Influences and references are almost too numerous to mention, but Glandien is clearly well-schooled in the work of the pioneering French electroacoustic school - Bernard Parmigiani, Guy Reibel, Pierre Henry, Luc Ferarri, Pierre Schaeffer, Francois Bayle, and so on. But some of the more accessible music on the CD could just as easily have been rendered by Klaus Schulze, Autechere or Meat Beat Manifesto.
Glandien really occupies the best of both worlds, and he's able to inject some complexity and individuality into techno without divesting it of its emotive power. In other words, he's a popularizer who isn't slumming, and who doesn't talk down to his audience. Recommended.
Bill Tilland, BBC (UK, summer 2002)
The 5th Elephant
According to the liner notes, most of the source material for these madly vigorous digital audio collages came from a 1997 jam session, which was not released at the time because the participants deemed it a failure. Sliced and diced in fiendishly calculated ways, it no longer sounds like a jam, except in the sense that anything might be about to happen.
In "Recall Zoom 3", grinding noise bursts out over a deteriorating beat while rising and falling synth tones moo disconsolately. "Close Song Without Save" (all of the titles seem to be based on menu items from Glandien's sequencer) is a slow-moving nightmare built on broad, dramatic clanging tones.
Even when he cranks up an aggressive beat in "Punch on the Fly" or "Nudge Event Position by SMPTE Frame", Glandien doesn't use many loops. The texture is constantly unfolding, mutating, and breaking apart. Yet each piece hangs together somehow. The 5th Elephant captures the intensity of avant-garde music without the headache-inducing lack of continuity. It's an inspiring example of music that couldn't have been made without a computer.
Jim Aikin, KEYBOARD magazine (USA)
The 5th Elephant
Recommended Records | LG 2
Electronic music is perhaps the medium in which German pop music has made its most important contribution to the world. This is demonstrated by the work of the Berlin composer Lutz Glandien, who uses his studio as an instrument to produce music of compelling beauty. The tracks of this CD emanate a dark atmosphere, nonetheless filled with melodic richness, making this opus one of the finest alienations of electronic music today.
Oldie Markt 03/02
The 5th Elephant
RER LG2 CD
The new album by Berlin based composer and skilled electronics craftsman Lutz Glandien originated in studio improvisation sessions with former Henry Cow, Pere Ubu and Cassiber drummer Chris Cutler and The Berlin Symphony Orchestra's tuba player Michael Vogt. Dissatisfied with the results, Glandien shelved the tapes. Later he revisited them and found nuggets that cried out for refinement. Over a few years he kept returning to the raw material, eventually reconstructing it as this powerful set of "virtualectric stories". Each of these 12 pieces was lunched from a sample lifted from the aborted recordings and was evolved primarily from recuperated sounds: percussive riffs, tuba motifs, snippets of MIDI guitar, studio ambience isolated and processed by means of Glandien's computer, and discreetly enhanced and embellished with extraneous materials, including human voices and birdsongs, taken from his personal sound archive. He's a dramatic writer, arresting the attention with a pounding, propulsive opener. The grip doesn't slacken although the mood varies greatly thereafter. It ranges from a Can-like chug dance thickets of uncanny sonic shaddows. The music on The 5th Elephant combines the hooks and drive of rock, the textured rhythms of electronica, the atmospheric suggestiveness of successful film scores and the structural logic of formal composition. It's easy to perceive the basis for Glandien's tried and tested affinity with Cutler, a percussionist whose playing carefully sustains creative tensions between the throbbing heart and the flexed imagination.
Julian Cowley, THE WIRE (February 2002, S.55)