Peter Rehberg - at GRM Music Album Reviews

Peter Rehberg - at GRM Music Album Reviews
A posthumous release from the experimental musician and Editions Mego label founder includes two live performances that function as scale models of his singular sound world.

As the founder of Editions Mego, the record label that he ran from 2006 until his death last year at the age of 53, Peter Rehberg mapped hitherto unknown dimensions in electronic music. A reincarnation of Mego, an underground Viennese label that had existed on the border between rave, computer music, and the avant-garde, Editions Mego was proudly unpredictable, allergic to anything as reductive as a stylistic signature. Fennesz’s sentimental feedback fugues, Emeralds’ psychedelic synth churn, Hecker’s mind-bending text-sound pieces, and Tujiko Noriko’s kaleidoscopic pop all fit comfortably beneath eMego’s infinitely extensible umbrella, along with scores of other styles, approaches, and emotional registers. Rehberg could be just as catholic in his collaborations: There was the ambient doom of KTL, with Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley; the gut-rumbling noise of his duo with Ramon Bauer; the free-spirited play of Fenn O’Berg, an improvising trio with Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke. (Let us not forget the conceptual hijinks of his Fridge Trax project alongside the duo General Magic, sourcing technoid pulses from the hum of the titular kitchen appliance.)

But on his own, usually recording under the name Pita, Rehberg displayed a determined sense of focus. Listen to any of his solo albums, from 1996’s Seven Tons for Free up through 2019’s Get On, and you’ll recognize a consistent set of sounds and ideas across the decades. Piercing digital feedback sputters in incidental rhythmic formations; gravelly tones vibrate like thwacked door springs; layers of fuzz fuse into intimidating beehive drones. On the surface, his work could vary, at times quite drastically, from track to track, but at the heart of it was a determination to reconcile opposing sensations: harsh blasts and soothing breezes, struck metal and weightless dust motes.

Rehberg harbored a contrarian, countercultural streak—he proudly described the original Mego as “punk-rock disco”—yet he was just at home in institutional contexts; in the last decade of his life he dedicated a significant amount of effort to preserving the legacy of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), the Parisian research center for experimental electronic music that electro-acoustic pioneer Pierre Schaeffer founded in 1958. In 2012, Editions Mego partnered with GRM on a new sub-label, Recollection GRM, intended as a home for archival work from electronic-music titans like Schaeffer, Bernard Parmegiani, and Iannis Xenakis. In 2020, they launched Portraits GRM, dedicated to contemporary commissions from artists like Jim O’Rourke, Lucy Railton, and Kali Malone. (Following Rehberg’s death, Félicia Atkinson and Bartholome Sanson’s Rennes-based Shelter Press has taken both labels under its wing.) Marking Rehberg’s first appearance on his own Portraits GRM label, at GRM collects two of Rehberg’s performances at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, both of which function as scale models of his singular sound world.

Rehberg was an early proponent of the computer as a musical instrument in its own right; regularly appearing with nothing but his laptop, he helped revolutionize live performance in the 21st century, indirectly setting the stage for everyone from Radiohead to Skrillex. Yet “at GRM (2009),” a solo laptop performance at the Présences Électronique festival in March 2009, betrays little about its tools. The 21-minute piece begins in understated fashion, with a subaquatic array of hard-panned pops and pings—a flashback to the ear-prickling pulses of the “clicks + cuts” era around the turn of the millennium. After three minutes, industrial-strength buzz suddenly and unceremoniously floods the speakers, capped with a brain-scouring screech; briefly, we glimpse a reflection of Mego’s long engagement with noise musicians like Merzbow and the late Zbigniew Karkowski. Yet out of this aggressive rumble comes something gentle, as the scorched-earth low end gradually yields to soft, suggestive bell tones. Surging like seafoam, the piece’s penultimate stretch sounds like a more volatile take on Fennesz’s sandblasted distortion; a three-minute organ denouement drops us smack in the center of a medieval cathedral. It’s a journey.

Seven years later, Rehberg returned to Présences Électronique, but this time he swapped his habitual laptop for a modular synthesizer. “at GRM (2016)” is the harsher of the two pieces here: Where the ghostly frequencies of his 2009 performance recalled the tenderness and vulnerability of fan favorites like Get Out’s untitled track 3, there’s little grace to be found in the metallic clang and crunch of the 2016 piece. While it’s impossible to say just what Rehberg is doing with his machines, there’s a sense of audio sources being mangled and distended, strewn like radioactive mulch over barren ground. Blinding iridescence meets violent force, like a fistful of prisms tossed into a wood chipper. You can hear Rehberg’s debt to the spectral investigations of the tape-music pioneers of GRM’s early years, like Xenakis or Jean-Claude Risset, but you can also detect Rehberg’s signature in the careful balance between overload and restraint; as bewildering as it gets, it never quite tips over into full chaos. What’s ironic is that “at GRM (2016)” could easily be mistaken for a computer performance; brittle and disorienting, it displays all the hallmarks of Rehberg’s laptop work from two decades prior. Perhaps that is the most enduring lesson of his first posthumous release: No matter the tools, Rehberg’s distinct point of view is unmistakable.

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Peter Rehberg - at GRM Music Album Reviews Peter Rehberg - at GRM Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on August 11, 2022 Rating: 5


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