Lars Bartkuhn - DystopiaLABEL: Rush Hour
Expected in stock between 12th - 26th May
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Since relocating to Brazil some years back, Needs Music co-founder Lars Bartkuhn has returned to his long-held love of musical improvisation. Although it’s a product of his jazz roots and classical training, the German producer has constantly found new ways to apply it to his work in the sphere of electronic music.
‘Dystopia’, his first solo album for almost nine years, was born out of two interlinked ideas: a desire to create improvised music without the aid of computer sequencers or an electronic drum set, and a deeply held love of storytelling through sound. Bartkuhn set to work improvising with modular synthesizers, acoustic instruments and hand percussion, later adding light-touch overdubs to a handful of pieces. When he listened back to the recordings, an aural narrative emerged, and you’ll hear it if you listen to the album from start to finish, as is intended.
As you’d expect from a musician and composer of Bartkuhn’s undoubted ability, ‘Dystopia’ is a stunning album – an undulating, expansive ambient journey packed with emotional resonance. While Bartkuhn naturally sees it as a logical progression of his previous ambient-leaning work with Kabuki as The First Minute of a New Day (and particularly their self-titled 2020 album Séance Centre), ‘Dystopia’ also features subtle nods to many of his long-held musical loves, including John Hassell’s ‘fourth world’ recordings, the impossible-to-pigeonhole 1970s catalogue of deep jazz imprint ECM, and the far-sighted American minimalism of Terry Riley and Steve Reich.
The album’s emotional depth is evident early on, with the slow-burn title track – all bubbling electronics, billowing chords, clarinet-style notes and gently strummed guitars offering the most melancholic and bittersweet of openings. The becalmed ‘A Drop Of Water In The Ocean’ follows, with discordant aural textures and hand percussion mimicking the rolling ocean, before ‘Largo (Calm Before The Storm)’ hints at unsettling times ahead.
‘Water and Warm Air’, the only track on the album whose starting point was not Bartkuhn’s cherished modular set-up, bleeps and bubbles across the sound space, adding a starry and otherworldly slant to proceedings, while ‘Disembodied Journey (Parts 1, 2 and 3)’ is a sublime, slowly unfurling journey in three movements – all Tangerine Dream style synthesizer motifs, Pat Metheny-esque guitars and jazz-fusion instrumentation.
So the album continues, with the poignant warmth and looped motifs of ‘Still Existing’ and the sparse, dubbed-out minimalism of ‘Do You Know How To Get Out?’ – a kind of 21st century jazz-fusionist’s take on sparse electronic hypnotism – giving wat to closing cut ‘Into The Waves’, a gentle combination of undulating electronic arpeggios and echoing instrumentation that offers a hopeful and undeniably picturesque conclusion.
Fittingly, the album cover features a painting by the late Dutch artist Franz Deckwitz (1934-94), whose images of alien landscapes were used by Phillips on a series of music concrete compilations. The image featured on the cover of ‘Dystopia’, depicting a deep blue ocean and shoreline, was painted by Deckwitz in Amsterdam in the late 1970s and inspired by a trip to the island of Ponza, Italy.