Hypnotic repetitive gestures are perhaps the signature of our generation in music, the legacy of Reich and Glass and Monk and Riley and Young … and tape decks and computers and drum machines. But then, repetition is the very stuff of our bodies, of heartbeats and footsteps and brain waves. Mastering repetition is essential, then, to any compositional practice. It should be, literally, as natural as breathing in and breathing out. And it should have the potential to take on its own voice.
That’s the sense I get of this work. Listening to Hanno Leichtmann’s music, you may drift off into another world. It is work of collage, but in a way that imagines a new landscape. In ‘Minimal Studies,’ released on Moscow’s mikroton Records in 2013 and in live form this week, that effect is especially in evidence.
Hanno is no stranger to club music as well as experimental; he’s a DJ, often favoring the dubby, as well as curator. And his aesthetic is partly visual, staging festivals that reinterpret typography and letraset in music and creating his own visual objects, including optical picture disk releases. In Minimal Studies, he finds a way to take the gesture of a loop and hone in on it in some unique and transcendent way. The reference to minimalism is clear, but the color, the effect are Hanno’s.
I’ve gotten to know Hanno living here in Berlin, this world capital of clubs full of repetition. This work in particular stands out, in combination now with similarly entrancing visuals, in the form of an 8mm accompaniment by filmmaker Carolin Brandl. The content of that film veers toward exoticism, but in a sense, Hanno’s soundscape seems to have fallen from some other culture. Meredith Monk I know spoke about imagining her minimalist gestures as being futuristic or alien and simultaneously ancient; the sound and image here have a similar sense.
By the way, if there are echoes of POLE and Jan Jelinek, he has played in bands with both those artists. Musicians always trade ideas, doubly so when playing together live. I asked Hanno for some commentary, and he directed me to this text by Reinhold Friedl about the project:
Hanno Leichtmann – Minimal Studies
Under the unassuming title of „Minimal Studies“, electronic musician Hanno Leichtmann investigates the remnants of the minimal music movement of the 1970s and catches some of its still audible echoes. The CD begins with the pulse of an organ, a deep, low bass slides in, layer-by-layer the piece builds.
The American music psychologist Diana Deutsch proved that any sound becomes a melody if it is repeated often enough. This is exactly the phenomenon we encounter here; we suddenly hear melodies and are not sure if they were there before, if they are there now or where they came from.
And yet Leichtmann’s music is not based on gushing euphony or psychoacoustic effects. Instead it restricts itself to basics by combining the repetitive structures of minimal music with elements of once groundbreaking Berlin club music. Rhythmic impulses taken from soundtracks and contemporary music samples, a John Carpenter bass, are accompanied by acoustic instruments (violin, organ, clarinet, trumpet) that play melodic patterns, which disappear in the flow of sound, becoming ever harder to discern.
Pop-minimal music; meandering chord/rhythm loops, experimental turntable manipulation basslines, it’s all there: Steve Reichs asynchronous patterns, Pole’s minimal dub, Nic Collins’and Yasunao Tone’s broken CD players, Terry Riley’s organs, Oval’s systemische clicks’n’cuts, LaMonte Young’s drones, Michael Nyman’s early film scores…
Vast monotone landscapes emerge, subliminal disco bass, idling synthesizers, barely-there electronic percussion, and occasional instrumental melodies. Hyper-minimalism on display.
What can be done with this material after it’s been reduced to it’s universal forms? Suddenly, sound patterns like landscapes from Tarkowski’s films emerge: a strangely nebulous unreality consisting all that is farmiliar, but all newly mixed together (including a monolithic guitar riff as an obituary for Sonic Youth) until the sound of bells and a few scant piano melodies take over and finally fade away. Music about music.
Hanno Leichtmann’s recurrent hymns to repetition leave the listener oddly liberated.
Apart from this series of studies, it’s worth hearing Hanno’s similarly minimalist-collage creation “Unfinished Portrait Of Youth Today”, in the same vein:
Hanno performs live with Carolin’s film Thursday in Berlin at the FEED series at KW, along with ex-architecture student turned musician Tobias Purfürst. (Facebook event) This is also some nice ambient creation; I’m especially fond of excerpt #2: