Konrad Sprenger – Stack Music (2017)
Note: This is slightly modified and expanded review, originally published by SoundOhm.
If there’s one thing to be said about the worlds of experimental and avant-garde music, it’s that, no matter how much you think you know, the rug is constantly pulled from beneath your feet. The surprises are endless. Such is the case of Konrad Sprenger’s Stack Music, issued recently by Pan, an album which has rapidly become one of my favorite releases of the year.
Sprenger is the alias of Berlin based musician Jörg Hiller. He first caught my eye back in 2004 within the brilliant LP Ort, the product of a duo with Ellen Fullman. In the years since, he has slowly issued a series of beautiful solo efforts, as well as collaborations within the ensembles of Arnold Dreyblatt, Oren Ambarchi, and others. To date, Sprenger’s practice has displayed a remarkable versatility – shifting between conventional and custom instrumentation and electronics – experiments tracing new territories, embedded with deceptive allusions to the known. Across Stack Music, his first LP to appear within Pan’s already formidable catalog, everywhere he’s been, with what we’ve come to expect of him, seems to have been shattered to the floor.
Much of landscape of recorded music as we currently encounter it, is product of early efforts – seeds planted during the 1990’s, by my generation and the one just before. As a fan of music first and foremost, it is also a source of endless frustration and dismay – one laden with paradoxes which can’t be ignored. That era began a collective initiative to repair the sins of the past, to draw attention to the generations of artist who had come before us, those who had been almost completely forgotten and lost. Over the years, this gave way to reissues and archival releases, artifacts which now hold a dominant place in the market of recorded music. While I am the first to champion these efforts, happily embracing the hope to offer artists their rightful due, it often has the unfortunate consequence of overshadowing those of a younger generation working in the present day. Let’s face it, it’s easier to market and sell albums by those with the weight of history at their backs, belonging to narratives which are familiar and known. In an era of flagging sales, reissues and archival releases have become an essential bread and butter. I’m overwhelming grateful that they exist, but it’s important to recognize that we currently risk perpetrating similar sins of neglect on the artists of the present, as was suffered by those we have rescued from the past.
Konrad Sprenger’s Stack Music snaps the urgency and danger of the contemporary context into focus. It is brilliant and engrossing, part of a long line of creative investigation – in careful discourse with the past, while an unmistakable product of the present day. It deserves acclaim, will likely be ignored, becoming one of the records discovered by future generations who wonder what the fuck we were thinking. It’s an album which proves the present is as rich as any point it the past. We should head its call.
Stack Music represents a huge leap for Sprenger – appearing the better part a decade since his last release. It’s clear that the time hasn’t been wasted, and that good things come for those who wait. It’s stunning – focused and refined, every element locked into place and a rigorous statement unto itself. Drawing on Sprenger’s long frustration with the limits of traditional instruments and their techniques, the fours work encountered within Stack Music are the culmination of a long arc – a process begun by Conlon Nancarrow in the 1940’s, and reinvented in Sprenger’s hands. The product of a computer-controlled multi-channel electric guitar, its rhythmic patterns the result of the Euclidean algorithm – sculpting a music which entirely connected to the history of Minimalism, while pushing forward to the future and present day.
While technically mechanical music, the sounds of Stack Music are drenched in humanity and touch. Strings bounce, resonate, and converse – issuing surprises which leave the listener immersed in a singular rhythmic ambient world. The sonic heights of a contemporary art – the product of intense rigor and thought, where ideas fall behind the sounds and interactions they produce. Nothing short of mesmerizing, stunning and essential. A high water mark for its artists, as well as within Pan’s already remarkable catalog of releases. The LP edition is fairly limited, so I wouldn’t sit on this for long. You can check it out below and grab it from SoundOhm or a record shop near you.