The dream state is a recurring theme in electronic music; now nebulo has taken a stab at it. His last double album (Castles/Basements), which was released just last year, makes him an unlikely candidate for this style – but he quite masterfully puts his own mark on the form. His new album “Akzidens” will be released on October 20th on French label Stomoxine records, after a long row of releases on Hymen. All material is sourced from cassette tapes, and the physical release comes as a 75 copy limited edition cassette tape: “a cassette of cassettes” [Press Text]

To reference a strong, tape-purist hub of what I would call “dream state music”, one can draw up a short, non-exhaustive list of Opal Tape releases: S. Olbricht (Deutsch Amerikanische Tragödie), Karen Gwyer (Kiki the Wormhole), or Huerco S. (Untitled). All evoke a loopiness, haziness, and entrancing disorientation typically associated with half-wake, half-asleep moments. All have their very distinct style. This is the – admittedly personal and biased – perspective from which I must approach “Akzidens”, as an addition to a larger, highly valued set of dream state music. The dream state quality seems to come from fundamental composition and gear decisions. Hungarian S Olbricht from Farbwechsel background comes from a synth and gear-driven corner, where the simple noisiness and age of hardware adds a nostalgic, hazy layer to productions. Karen Gwyer mentions extensive layering as one of her main approaches, which are reinforced by receptive, ebbing and surging dynamics. For Huerco S. the laptop is a main instrument, meaning that compressors, side-chaining and specific production style make for his own grainy-haze flavour of electronic music.

Regarding his last release “Castles/Basements”, nebulo comes from an entirely different corner. Dry and explicit synth lines, precisely aimed and thinly applied layers of noise, intricately structured micro beat patterns, a general sense of determinism and sparsity. This very sense of production makes “Akzidens” worth listening and exploring, and not simply another low-fi sampling mash-up. The one and a half minute opening track “Fake Cadillac” sets the tone – washed-out keys, inter-weaving sampling and re-composition, taunting unclarity where to place the line between audacious sample archaeology and precise digital creation of new patterns. And, a sense of brevity usually absent from this type of music. A befitting opener for the first side of the tape: a striking dialog between degraded though distinguishable source materials and the modern rhythmic and melodic structures they are built into. Negotiating the apparent contrast between past audio fragments and micro-structured contemporary composition is, in my opinion, the main contribution of this work and sets it apart from other tape-affine, dream state productions.

Here are two teaser tracks from the first side of the tape, “Cru” and “Rush”. On the full release, these are joined, for example, by more arcane-sounding drum circles on “Gove Me Live”, mashed into a retro-modern structure. [I had to replace the link, now here is the full album.]

The albums B side explores similar concepts, but after the tape’s side A the novelty wears off a bit. This is not necessarily a bad thing – especially for dream state music, in the long run you don’t want to hear parts and segments, but let the subconscious message of the music as a whole unfold. So, this feeling of the album’s B side actually makes perfect sense – the A side to establish the style, the B side to live in it, let it unfold and sink in. At first, the staccato-like flashes of “Dynasty Beef” (track B2) are a little irritating, but ultimately prepare for a very deep plunge into soulful, nostalgic sampling beauty.

The only things I cannot make sense of, really, are the press text and cover design. “The album defies aesthetics and styles, oscillating between magic juju, pre-Columbian catacombs speleology, feral polyrhythms, Orient-Occident romance, and humour-terrorism” – this makes me think I probably entirely misunderstood the thing. The album cover is a trichrome stencil cut of a simple image, which gives a flat and sloppy impression. In my opinion it does the layered, rich, and probably painstakingly crafted album no justice. Then again – the cover says: “Don’t take this too serious. I had fun making this. Don’t get all deep, just enjoy it!”

Order a copy at https://stomoxine.bandcamp.com/album/akzidens

Also, a very good music video for “Cru”:

4 thoughts on “nebulo – Akzidens (Album Review)

  1. Interesting and thought-provoking review. I’ve always thought Nebulo is a very underrated artist, whose depth and artistry is criminally ignored. I’m continually finding “Akzidens” increasingly interesting and addictive, with a lot of layers and “hidden” meanings. It makes me there’s actually a lot of hard work put into it.

    Since it seems you are better informed than me, I’d like to better understand the creative process behind the album, because the phrase “a cassette of cassettes” is confusing to me. Did he take several different parts from different tapes (as they were) and added them together to make new compositions? Did he take the sounds and manipulated them until he got the desired sound, so the end result is very different from the source? The final material is different from what he’s done before, and yet, the work has his imprint. It sounds like a Nebulo album.

    I refuse to think the beats, melodies and overall sounds present in there already existed on other people’s work. If you could shed some light on the issue, it’d be appreciated.

    1. First, I totally agree with what you say about nebulo’s recognition as an artist. All I can say is: it hasn’t stopped him from making more music, and I hope it won’t in the future. We would lose a unique voice.

      Second, when I realized that I was increasingly curious HOW the album was produced on a technical level, I also realized that it takes away the focus from the general message of “dream state” I was seeing in it. It makes a lot of sense when you connect electronic music back to its role as being part of a “community ritual”. I am talking about events like raves, loft parties, etc. where the music is central but at the same time a background for interactions, experiences, and a whole social scene connected to it. Here the focus is on the overall “gestalt” of the music, its capacity as a medium to take people into a special place and environment. Sure, you need technology for this to happen, but for someone having control of this technology, it is about the result, not the details how you got there. At least that is how I tend to look at it. For Akzidens I saw a similar quality, that it’s meant to simply immerse you instead of focusing too much on the technical detail (which is nevertheless present). And that’s why I stopped looking at the production side of this album much further.

      For some more detailed thoughts on the production. I would say exactly as you did, that “The final material is different from what he’s done before, and yet, the work has his imprint. It sounds like a Nebulo album.” As far as I can tell, the material has been sourced from cassette tapes and also some of the funny effects (tape slowing and accelerating) have been sampled or emulated. But, after that, I am certain some of the beats were taken apart as individual drum samples and then recombined, and a lot of the rhythmic work seems very contemporary – so I think quite some additional sequencing went into the final result. I am unsure about additional filtering, equalization, and side-chaining that might have gone on top. To me, this seems a great thing to do. There has been a slew of work that (successfully) embraced the somewhat sloppy but appealing aesthetic of relying heavily on old gear and sampling techniques. But, it often is missing the precision you would expect from electronic music post 2010. For Akzidens it’s both present.

      If you are really curious, maybe you contact the artist?! Or maybe, to see the painting, you prefer not to know how the paint was mixed…

      Thank you for the comment, you directly addressed a thought I also had about the album.

      1. First of all, thanks for taking the time to respond.

        You’re right, maybe I should contact Nebulo for details, it never occured to me. After all, we live in the social media era, isn’t it? Somehow, I’m a little scared of doing so. I’d rather read an interview about it, ha! I just assumed you had some internal knowledge, and went for it. I completely agree with you, in that the most important thing is the result, the whole picture and how it affects the listener. I don’t think the listener need to take into consideration technical details; it’s a secondary thing, in my personal view. The secrets behind the creative process are best left to the creator. Yet, like you, I couldn’t help but to feel very curious about this particular work, because it was unclear to me reasons to choose this specific path of cassette-sourcing.

        Your theory about this dream-state theme is very fitting, and you made me to look this work in a different light. You seem to know your stuff, and I was glad to find about someone who could appreciate and go deep into Nebulo’s work, since it’s very rare to find a review on his music, aside from some rare exceptions, most of them in French.

        I just hope more people will read your review and get interested in Nebulo’s work, starting with this great album that is Akzidens. I was instinctively sure this album was a different take from other similar works, some of which you appropriately mentioned on your article. You certainly did a beautiful job in pointing that out and explaining it.

        Now, it’s time for another Akzidens dose…

  2. Again – that sounds very much like my thoughts and impressions.

    If you listen to Castles and Akzidens in comparison, the motivation behind going to a different technique might be clear. Castles was super, super detailed and polished to an extreme (in a positive sense). To move on after such a work, it often seems to help artists to try out new techniques, throw a lot of routine over board, or deliberately limit the techniques. I remember this Brian Eno interview, he said if he lacks inspiration he just limits himself to 5% of the things he can use in the studio, or says he won’t be allowed to touch anything but ten buttons. And that much I know – throwing the routine and drive to perfection overboard was a huge motivation behind this album.

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