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Studio Pankow

City Centre Offices

he much maligned concept album has enjoyed an unlikely resurgence recently, with a wide spectrum of artists (The Streets to Magnetic Fields) structuring their musical output around a central theme or narrative. With the spectra of elfin hordes, capes, and Patrick Stewart voiceovers finally expunged, artists seemed eager to overtly assert a thematic element into the their work, assuming various forms from the Mike Skinner lairy-tale through to Stephin Merritt’s genre rotating love songs. Inhabiting the fluid outer regions of terra-concept are a slew of artists (predominantly electronic) who can lay claim to a plot within this freshly invigorated gated community thanks to their adherence to specific recording constraints; The Postal Service nurtured their sound (and name) through long distance Jiffy Bag exchanges, Styrofoam ring fenced their creativity within a Belgium music venue whilst Lemon Jelly established a strict chronological sample doctrine. To this list we can now add Studio Pankow who, following the messrs Gibbard and Tamborello appellation programe, have chosen to name themselves in honour of the locus through which Linienbusse was forged and in doing so anoint a Berlin based studio as a possible future pilgrimage for those seeking the electronic Holy Grail…

Neither David Moufang nor James Hodge are newcomers to the digital superlative, having both already made significant contributions to electronic music’s relatively mayfly-like history. Whilst Moufang established the seminal Source Records and cultivated work through his Move D moniker, Hodges issued a number of landmark missives on Richie Hawtin’s Plus 9 imprint. Evidently sensing kindred circuitry, the two eventually came together through the Cojoint project where, alongside vibraphonist Karl Berger (Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Lee Konitz), they produced two albums that successfully straddled the jazz/improv/minimal techno lines without any unsightly border disputes. With three seemingly their creative number, Hodges and Moufang have once again convened in the studio this time through the lightening conductor of Berlin’s Kai Kroker (Rawell) whose studio went on to become their collective epithet. Considering their formidable shared heritage it’s no surprise that the Studio Pankow project has been generating fevered speculation throughout the electronic underground for almost half a decade now, with rumours sporadically breaking water concerning both its supposed sound and (seemingly perpetually imminent) forthcoming release. So with it now physically sat here in front of me, was it worth the wait? Too sodding right it was!

With a pristine click, rattle and thud Linienbusse sparks into life through the electronic sigh of “Heidelberger Platz,” wherein Studio Pankow distill the magic of John Tejada’s recent Plug Research output down into a much sparser sound. Taking cues from the likes of The Other People Place and Warp’s AI movement, “Heidelberger Platz” is given room to develop gradually, with layers of digital sediment slowly building into a beautifully rendered slice of unpremeditated machine music. Through a lulling yet stringent rhythm that belies Hodges’ Plastikman affiliation, Studio Pankow tease the listener through half-glimpsed flourishes of sephurical bass which perfectly complement the heat-haze shimmering synths and watercolour wash atmospherics. Leaving you both aurally cleansed and emotionally nourished, I doubt a more fully realized and utterly sublime piece of electronically informed music will emerge for some time to come, more than repaying the entrance fee alone.

Proving that this was no solitary starburst, Studio Pankow immediately reassert their promise through the electronic portmanteau of “Siemensdamn.” Initially as subtle as lint, the track has conspicuous shades of Steve Reich within its minimalist structures, where an intricately plotted series of digital machination draw the ear in ever deeper relinquishing more on each listen. A similarly mellifluous quality is bestowed on the hum and crackle of “Zoologischer” with Moufang, Hodge and Kroker’s love of the abstract making a striking appearance. Embarking on similar sonic experimentation to that of Jan Jelinek or Oval, “Zoologischer” palpably throbs with a burnished glass quality through which we are afforded glimpses of dissonant soundscapes and untethered vocal snatches.

Elsewhere, “Junfernheide” assumes the funky bass perspective so beloved by the likes of Pole, Michael Zorn, and Echelon, whilst “Zitadelle” is thrillingly kinetic without reliance on the usual clichéd ‘peaks and trough’ schematic. Closing with the ethereal piano and death beetle thrum of Linienbusse’s title track, Studio Pankow have sculpted a lustrous album that is wildly inventive but eminently listenable, hauntingly faceless whilst emotionally engaging and, most importantly, beautifully reasserts just how powerful electronic music has the potential to be. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait until 2010 for the next installment…

Reviewed by: Adam Park

Reviewed on: 2005-05-05

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