Reviews and pictures from Sietse's record collection
After the demise of Mille Plateaux it had been quiet for a few with new releases by Thomas Köner, After a hiatus of 5 years in 2009 he came back with the well-received release La Barca (Fario) with field-recordings of several public places around the world. After this Type Records started re-releasing the Köner discography (Nunatak Gongamur, Teimo and Permafrost so far, as well as the Porter Ricks album Biokinetics) in 2010 and now for his latest album Novaya Zemlya he has found a new home over at the British label Touch.
Novaya Zemlya is an archipelago in the North of Russia near the North-Pole consisting of two main islands: North and South islands. As the most North part of the Ural mountains it has a huge elevation up to 1500 meter. The North island is covered with glaciers, while the South island has a tundra climate which is more rich in vegetation. As you can understand as a whole it is pretty much barren, desolate land and inhabitable (there are currently about 3000 people living on the 55.000 km² the two islands make up (that is almost twice the size of Belgium)).
During the Cold War the Soviets used the island for nuclear tests which left a mark on the island; there is still the army base and old test facilities. Though these days the island is seen as natural reservoir.
It has never been a secret that Köner is inspired by the Arctic and subarctic regions in his music and on Novaya Zemlya he came out to a very specific region. And in the music you hear this back.
On the album we find three titles that could as easily be seen as one that clock into a total of 36 minutes. In the tradition of his older work it is isolated and dark music.
The album starts out with blasts that could refer to the nuclear tests that have been on the island, but it also makes me think of glaciers that break down and fall into the water recorded just below the water level.
From these sounds we move to a more light part where we see a small water stream in front of us. In the distant rumblings a melodic element appears increasing the dramatic feeling of the desolate environment one would imagine of Novaya Zemlya.
Slowly Köner unwraps the island in sounds with icy winds and barren lands.
In the second part things start very soft and minimal, but evolve to something more rough; with bass drones and an occasional voice through a radio the listener get disturbed. With the first fews times listening I am slowly lifted from my comfort zone and the emptiness of the land comes closer and closer.
In the final piece things get a bit more minimal with soft sounds of rivers again, but the emptiness stays. It is clearly something you can expect from Köner with such a subject.
As no other Köner knows to paint the landscape with sounds. While listening the music with the eyes closed you sometimes just feel like being on Novaya Zemlya. Throughout the whole album you can feel the various regions on the island. The North with its vast ice sheets, the South with its tundra. Or the historic events with nuclear testing. It is all there.
For everyone who had been in doubt Thomas Köner is still the master in this field of music. Let us hope that he will be releasing now works in a bit faster pace now he has found a home at Touch and of course some more reissues op his older work are welcome.
Listen to some extracts on soundcloud
Buy the CD over in the Touch shop: http://touchshop.org/product_info.php?products_id=519