Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Thomas Köner - Teimo

Thomas Köner

Released 1992 on Barooni
Reviewed by dave clarkson, 30/12/2005ce

1. Ilira
2. Andenes
3. Teimo
4. Nieve Penitentes 1
5. Nieve Penitentes 2
6. Nieve Penitentes 3
7. Teimo (Schluss)
8. Ruska

Thomas Köner : gongs, electronics, processing and production.
Ulrike Knak : cover image.

It’s 1.56pm on Thursday 29th December and there’s a chill in the air. As well as the uncertainty that 2006 will bring, the temperature outside is reaching minus figures. Further chills are developing after hearing the shocking news of Derek Baileys’ death last weekend. Colder still…….

German electronic musician Thomas Köner, was born in 1965. After attending music college in Dortmund, he composed several landmark releases in the field of electronic music. As well as the 1991 Köner debut, ‘Nunatak Gongamour’, the Amsterdam based label, Barooni records, released the albums ‘Teimo’ (1992), ‘Permafrost’ (1993) and ‘Aubrite’ (1996). Most of the content of these releases focuses on layering textures of low physical drones and painting with sound as if each composition is treated like a sonic canvas. ‘Teimo’ is a perfect example of the Köner sound during the early nineties and represents a peak in the history of electronic music.

Much like most of his solo work, ‘Teimo’ is void of any influences of melody, rhythm or loops – sound anchors which most electronic based musicians base their tracks around. Instead we get sound layering and drifting bass drones which are often felt more than heard. This is music to listen to in the dark and it possesses an enormous sonic magnitude and space. It’s great to listen to on headphones in a dark room wrapped up in a duvet cover.

Köner has previously described his work as an aesthetic of decline. His albums display the sound of decay leading to silence on many tracks. This is were his work is innovative and is set apart from his contemporaries. His music does not contain the sense of sound infinity that pervades much ambient stuff. Maybe this is because his music is composed by less computer generated methods. Much of the sound of ‘Teimo’ is produced from closely miked gongs which are rubbed or scraped and the results time stretched or pitch shifted to allow the sound to enter the physical and subliminal register. The end results from the processing on this album would ideally be appreciated via the best sound systems and powerful speakers around due to the 3D nature of the music. When listening to the album, there often appears no sound emitting whatsoever but then if you place your hand on a speaker you can feel the frequencies. This is music to immerse yourself in.

Köners’ work is often cited as conjuring up vast soundscapes evocative of sub zero worlds and freezing plate tectonics. The opening piece, ‘Ilira’, is evocative of entering an expansive world of glaciers and is the beginning of a journey into the unknown. This initial track is based on silences and is possibly the most minimal on the album. After your ears are used to the tranquility of the sound, you start to hear shapes evolving within the musical texture with formations of layers of bass sound. The effect is simple, desolate and unexpected.

‘Andenes’ is the longest track at ten minutes and consists of low bass sounds complimenting a high pitched metallic sound. The overall effect is incredible and is difficult to describe in words. Picture an expansive, bleak, barron and lifeless iced landscape. This is the soundtrack to being isolated at the top of the world and looking into space. Chilled in music. Title track, ‘Teimo’, is a slight departure in that it consists of one layer of sound which drifts by and is evocative of floating on a magic carpet through miles of vast snowfilled land (not that I’ve ever done it but you get the drift).

The three piece suite which comprises ‘Nieve Penitentes’ parts 1-3, is even more abstract, minimal and challenging than the previous tracks. Here we have the imagination of an icy atmosphere and deep wind tunnels through rocks. Köner's work is the nearest one could get to the ambience of geological structures and granite wastelands. ‘Ruska’ is an interesting piece which closes the album on a subliminal theme. Barely heard sounds can just be made out of the dense layers of sound.

To the untrained ear, ‘Teimo’ (and infact most of Köner's work) can be a challenging experience. The music demands full attention but delivers the ultimate rewards. There are differences in all of his work which can be discovered after aquainting oneself with a few of his releases. This is music which requires full foreground attention rather than secondary background. Maybe this is not ambient music.

Thomas Köner produces solo work which is truly dark, edgy and imaginative. His soundscapes offer much more musical maturity and genuine isolationism than more obvious ‘dark ambient’ albums. Further proof of the greatness of his work can be found in his film soundtracks and sound installations. Köner's interest in combining visual and auditory experiences has led to various collaborations such as ‘List Of Japanese Winds’ with Max Eastley - an installation piece commissioned by the Hayward Gallery in London.

If you want to listen to the soundtrack for a journey into the unknown, check out ‘Teimo’.

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