TOGETHER AND APART, Wolfgang "Mike Ink" Voigt and Jorg Burger are two of the more prolific members of Cologne, Germany's loosely aligned Brotherhood of Structure posse. Due to Matador Records' wide distribution of Las Vegas, the 1996 LP they collaborated on as Burger/Ink, they're also two of its better known representatives in the States. Released in the US two years after it first appeared in Europe, Vegas suggested that the Cologne school of techno was picking up Detroit's funky minimalist baton. Packed with flowing psychedelic beats, the disc flaunted ambient headspace, a warm digital-meets-acoustic process, and a sort of swinging futurism that few electronicats aspire to. But as is the case with most current electronic musicians, to define Burger's or Voigt's (or for that matter Cologne's) vision by this single album is ludicrous; their voluminous output doesn't allow for such pigeonholing. One could get a taste of their sonic tendencies though. And tracking their distinct muses as presented on their new projects—Burger as the Modernist on Explosion, Voigt as Gas on Pop—not only provides further insights into Vegas' construction, but serves as a window into the eclectic world of Cologne, where electronic genre terms used as battle lines by trainspotters and hardcore scenesters are mere variables in a greater mode of expression.
Pop (Mille Plateux)
From afar, Burger's Explosion is straight-up techno-haus utopia, an almost completely melody-free zone with near-total dedication to the groove—its programmed hi-hat rising, bass drum kicking a 4/4, and harmonic keyboard syncopations funkin' the whole Magilla ever upward. This is splintered minimalist "composition" at its finest, layers of percussive timbres filing in and out of the mix, creating an entranced dance floor experience seemingly without a beginning or an end. Yet amidst these escapist beats lie "Manson Soup" and "Eurojah," two asides which don't quite fit the party profile. The former is an electro-acoustic number that opens with a pensive guitar progression soon fitted astride a house groove, continuing to float on the track's periphery like a ghost haunting a mega-club. The latter is a vaguely motorik electro moment of intertwined keyboards with a specter of reservation in the melody that fits its uneasy subtitle, "Immigration Dub." Easily the two moments most evoking Vegas' multi-faceted electronic psychedelia, they are much-needed pills of melancholia that preserve Burger's nonstop Explosion from being a generic bash.
Nothing about Voigt's Pop suggests the slightest aspiration toward delight, and the nearest approximation to actual beats is reserved for the last of its seven untitled tracks. When the beats do come, they're muted almost beyond comprehension—searchlights on a stormy sea rather than reflections of a disco ball—covered by layers of digital fog or, to invoke Voigt's nom de disc, clouds of Gas. Under this processed haze, Pop is an expression of outdoor ambiance. Its looped pulses seek a clearing in the forest of echoes and keyboard lines, yet they spiral in their hunt, like early Flying Saucer Attack records as imagined by Eno's sober-minded tech-ticians. It is music as an open space, yet with its numerous stacked parts clearly hinting at a sonic claustrophobia and loneliness sheer freedom inevitably creates—a magnificent tragedy unfolding.
As dissimilar as Voigt's and Burger's current pathways are, they're also inextricably of a single mind in their search for the further. No sane person would play Explosion and Pop back-to-back at a party. But as soundtracks for separate rooms, they are siblings, pushing the borders of a disparate electronic music landscape, further defining Cologne's artisans as its essential explorers.