Noise addicts will already know Zeitkratzer. Since 1997 they’ve become synonymous with the idea of playing difficult listening music on instruments more suited to Mozart. The forces on this album are strictly chamber orchestra, but there’s certainly no syrupy romanticicm to be found.
The group have already released an album of Whitehouse pieces – a 2010 effort which amazed for its trad-instrument transcription of the bludgeoning power electronics originals. Our own Bob Baker Fish reviewed the album here and this is a live variant. No, the songs aren’t the same. But the spirit of the project – aided by the presence of Whitehouse’s William Bennett – is intact. It’s somewhat churlish to say it’s more of the same – but it is, except it’s presented live.
The recording, a document of a performance (at the festival Musique Action in Nancy, France) is obliterating. Again, the album is only a touch over half an hour and to be honest, it’s all it needs. Power electronics of such relentless force can be a hard sell, even to fans, and it’s good that the release spans enough time to trigger the listener’s curiosity without beating it to death.
Zeitkratzer are a great ensemble. Their acoustic mastery is undeniable, and the sounds they recreate without access to a bunch of broken boxes and fucked electronics are spot-on. But somehow the execution of the task seems almost redundant: there’s as much enjoyment to be had by the idea of a bunch of traditional instruments covering Whitehouse as there is from having the end result in your hand.
It seems the skills involved – the (presumably) extended techniques used, the rehearsals which must have led to this performance, the mind-boggling task of transcribing the work in the first place – are almost more worth praise than the end result. That’s not to say it’s a bad listen – you could A/B the originals and this version to the regular listener and only a power electronics fan could really pick the difference, and there will be a lot of appeal to someone who likes Kronos Quartet in their more George Crumb moments – just that it seems there’s more to love about the process rather than the product.