Anarchy in the electronic playpen
Nowadays the term ‘electronic music’ suggests laptops, DJs and techno, but Adi Gelbart’s ends and means are quite different. Faithful to analogue equipment and sound-collages he reacts more with his head than his feet.
‘I’m not really keen on currently popular electronic music,’ admits Adi Gelbart. ‘I’m keener on going back to early electronic days or to musique concrète, to go off at a new tangent.’ Nonetheless, born in 1975, he is anything but a stick-in-the-mud. Indeed his stance and music seem to be more rebellious and tantalizing than those of former firebrands of the techno or drum & bass scene who have long since found their way into mainstream. A Berliner by choice, he has increasingly managed to overcome hearing-habits by means of individual style-B breaks and blends. Their cheeky insouciance, smacking of punk, turns out to have nothing in common with its stylized dilettantism.
‘Techno producers use drum computers, sequencers and so on only in the manner foreseen,’ he feels, ‘so the results are mainly foreseeable and static.’ Accordingly Gelbart uses machines in ways they were not meant to be used in. Moreover he uses only analogue equipment and never any samples of works completed by others. His resources include old synthesizers, drum-machines which cannot be programmed, an E-guitar and home-made gadgets. All sources of sound are merely means to an end. Even the primitive samba or cha-cha-cha rhythms of ‘antique’ machines find new and undreamed-of possibilities in Gelbart’s fantasy world.
The playfulness of some of Gelbert’s compositions is no accident. He likes taking electronic gadgets to pieces and adapting them to his own ends. Oscillators react to light-impulses and imitate police-sirens or, after suitable processing by Gelbert, even a DJ’s scratches. His basic knowledge stems from a playpen and his creativity owes something to the notion of circuit bending. ‘It’s fairly simple. You unscrew parts of an electric toy organ and make a few contacts without knowing exactly what you are doing and what sounds are likely to come out.’
When Adi Gelbert brought his first album out in 2001, the music sounded quite friendly and had at times the ambience of a lounge. ‘I was young, and the world seemed to be more or less all right, till everyone went crazy after the attack on New York. Besides at the time I had freed myself less than today from the prevailing pop-aesthetics.’ In fact Gelbart began in rock-bands then as a contrabassist grew fond of jazz before finally moving on to electronics. Accordingly he names as his favourite musicians Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk, the artificial punks Devo, classicists like Satie and Messiaen and the electronic composers Raymond Scott and Dick Hyman. In 2005 he moved from Israel to Berlin for a change of climate. ‘I’m a winter person and can’t work in the heat,’ he admits, revealing a surprising weakness for grey skies and low temperatures, ‘but I also love the rhythm of Berlin’s streets.’
Gelbart’s new production, due to appear in 2008, sounds more broken and radical than ever despite flashes of radiant harmony. Bizarre sounds group into abstract structures but then are shot to pieces by rhythmic phrases. Prim dissonances undermine catchy pieces of melody which sometimes deliberately evoke nursery songs. He tries to make his music denser and more surprising. In his opinion the complexity of his present arrangements shows mainly his personal development: ‘But of course they also reflect the state of the world. I don’t believe that current problems have a blanket solution which governments could present.’ But in spite of this gloomy view he keeps a healthy sense of humour, if only because the global drama would be otherwise hard to bear.
With the passing of years and several CD and vinyl productions Adi Gelbart has been searching for new directions and forms of expression. The project ‘The Lonesomes’ for instance was at first meant for film then turned into a fictive band whose ‘cow-music’ cheerfully mocked cowboy romanticism and westerns’ clichés. Here he plays string-arrangements which at times recall cinemascope without ever quoting from the soundtrack of Morricone & Co. Some of his other productions are like soundtracks for films yet to be made, and in future he hopes to compose music and images simultaneously. ‘My experiences till now as a hired composer were less than thrilling,’ he says. ‘The directors wanted the music to be simpler than I did, so it wasn’t much fun for me.’
Nonetheless fictive film sounds appear in current productions of his, and some of his compositions are influenced by science fiction literature. Recently he wrote: ‘The 11th Voyage”, four pieces inspired by books by Stanislaw Lem.’ One of them, ‘Antimatter against the Lord’, is based for instance on a passage from Lem’s ‘The Star Diaries’ and transforms religious symbolism into sounds and beats. At the piece’s end the nonconformist Gelbart adopts chords from Olivier Messiaen: ‘Messiaen´s music deals with religious themes in many cases, many from the Book of Revelation. I feel that it is the best representation of God in musical notes – much more than Bach´s organ or choir work.’
All quotes come from an interview with the author in November 2007.
Do-it-yourself-experimental-pop: Adi Gelbart combines old analogue equipment, guitars and newly wired, battery-powered instruments to generate his very own brand of lo-fi electronic music. He also composes film music on the side. Gelbart has created his own musical signature in which musical complexity goes hand in hand with naive playfulness. He currently lives in Berlin. In addition to his own projects, he also manages a country band in which four cows appear under the name The Lonesomes.
Tokomon EP, 2002, Fact Records
Porky Pig, 2004, Standard Oil Records
Dish Washing EP, 2001, Fact Records
My Favourite Vacation, Fact Records, 2001
Four Track Improvisations, Defekt Records, 2003
Tribute to the Great Outdoors, Audio Collage, 2003
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Festival of Electronic Music
(27 November 07 - 01 December 07)
Adi Gelbart: Please don´t use drugs on YouTube
The Lonesomes - Crop Circles on myspacetv.com
Adi Gelbart´s MySpace-Site
Official homepage of the artist
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