When there is no place left to go, the only way out is from deep inside yourself. Only from within can true transformations be worked. For their seventh and, in many ways most surprising and audacious official album - not counting two CD compilations, theatrical side projects and live recordings - Einsturzende Neubauten knew they had to draw on their deepest reserves, both of energy and motivation, if they were to stand by the promise of their name. For, as much an imperative as a brand name, the words Einsturzende Neubauten have always stood for perpetual change. The only constants in an unavoidable stormy career - one that has taken them from the murky subterranean settings of the Berliner Krankheit (Berlin Sickness) era circa 1980 through their taking a torch to the world's stages and trailing myriad controversies in their wake - have been the upheavals necessary to continuity and renewal that have carried them through to the present. Through upheaval, they keep the wound that is Einsturzende Neubauten from healing. The changes effected within and without on this new recording are indicated by the title itself. Ende Neu, a phrase wrought from the innards of Einsturzende Neubauten, signifies a group pared back to its bare bones, fundamentally three Berliners summoning the original spirit that drove them simultaneously to destroy and create back in 1980. "I would say the band went through many processes of transformation during the making of this record," remarks Blixa Bargeld, "from losing all kinds of perspective and direction, to finding something new that justifies the name of the band. "I mean, it was always within the concept of our name, the idea of transformation, change, destruction as a means of creating space. But sometimes you enter periods of stagnation and it's very hard to find a direction out of it."
Ende Neu evidences a group refreshed, totally renewed through their own working methods. Blixa clarifies: "A lot of the songs came out of approaches to find a way out or a way into something that held enough interest for us to continue working on it." Rather than conforming to the convenient current practice of sampler-snatching unusual noises and meekly conforming to the homogeneity most software programs enforce on their users, Einsturzende Neubauten chose to stick with work methods dating back to their debut album Kollaps - not for nostalgic or luddite reasons, but simply because they're energised by the risks and random factors inherent in the use of non-tuned metals, manufactured and natural materials, motors and machinery press-ganged into the service of music. The patterns emerging from the machines dictated the rhythms of Ende Neu, the timbre of sounds emerging from motors running if not in harmony, then in something approaching synchronicity, aided by Andrew Unruh's patina of plastic beats, suggested a range of instrumental accompaniments, from Blixa's guitar, Alex Hacke's bowed electric guitars and bass, plus occasional organ, to the string sections that grace three Ende Neu songs. "The results of this record might sound quite different to our earlier attempts at making music," contends Blixa, "but here we stuck much closer to our root method than we did on some of our previous records. In fact, I have never been keener on seeing a reaction to an album than since our first album Kollaps ."
The album was begun as long ago as 1994. The intention then was to record a quick follow-up to the lavishly made Tabula Rasa (1993). For the reasons alluded to earlier, not to mention the members' individual and collective commitments to various other theatrical and musical projects around the world, it took somewhat longer to make than they intended. The first sessions were deliberately carried out in non-studio spaces, like East Berlin's Akademie der Kunste and a theatre in Potsdam. The idea was to substitute the dryness and exactitude of studio situations with areas more conducive to constructive experiment. Here the band installed a variety of sound generators created from motors striking electric wires and other such devices that triggered pulses and rhythms. In the end only one of the installations made it onto the album, called, appropriately enough, "Installation No. 1", which is appended with a simple Blixa invocation to disobey.
But they carried the method over to later sessions in Connie's Studio and, latterly, to long-time producer and colleague Jon Caffery's new La Chapelle studio in Belgium, where they astounded the local villagers by bringing in all manner of metal, Unruh sound sculptures and building site machinery to generate noise. Finally, they completed the album with a string section drawn from the Brussels Symphony Orchestra and some "field" recordings of 70,000-volt electricity cables "singing" at an intense frequency, made at an electricity transmitter relay station.
Ende Neu also features stirring choral parts sung by ad-hoc choirs assembled in Berlin and Belgium, plus guest vocal appearances from singer-actress Meret Becker, most notably on the track "Stella Maris", also released as a single. Just as important to the sounds that generate Ende Neu is the motivation behind it. They were after something, explains Blixa, that defied the conventional if misguided media construct of Einsturzende Neubauten as dark, gloomy decadents committed to destruction for destruction's sake. For one, this simplistic construct ignored the cheerfulness of the destructive character, as defined from the start by Blixa via Walter Benjamin. Even at the peak of his destructive frenzies, the explanation goes, such a character always held the resulting cleared spaces within his sights.
Andrew Unruh, the living embodiment of the destructive character both at its most cheerful and inventive, years ago imparted some sound, if surprising advice to the Neubauten singer. Blixa recalls: "Andrew always used to say that I shouldn't forget to sing with a smile, which I took as a maxim for all my singing. That is, everything I sing, I try to sing with a smile. I don't know whether that sounds stupid, but it implies a certain approach to music and lyrics that creates an effect that you could describe as positive." He continues: "That is not the same as making something banal or, say, simplistic. I don't think anyone will get the impression that it is simplistic. I wanted to make the approach to the record constructive." That is to say, they're playing up the constructive side of the destroy-to-create equation. The song that stuck most closely to Neubauten's non-musical approach to making music most clearly illustrates the difference a mood makes to then and now.
Called "NNNAAAMMM" - in full "New No New Age Advanced Ambient Motor Music Machine" - it is an extraordinarily upbeat 11-minute piece. It is constructed around the rhythms of various motors running together, their pitches electronically shifted in vain attempts to achieve something approaching a harmonic rapprochement of their deep bass drones, shrill whines, hammering engine beat cycles and the strange melodies emerging from their depths of noise. The mantric title chant imposes a semblance of order in the form of a nine-four rhythm. Otherwise the motors carry on in their own sweet time. "I like to tease the musicality out of these machines," enthuses Blixa. "In a way they are very democratic, the machines play very democratic music because they are basically out of control, indeed beyond control. The only control you have over them, musically speaking, is to switch them on and off, because, ideally, a machine has no dynamic. It is supposed to do the same thing with millions of tiny variations over and over again, and these variations are beyond your control."
Just as Blixa teased out the musicality in the machines, the machines teased the Deutsche Romantic out of him. His few words, repeated over and over in machine-mantra style, include the evocative phrase "Das Lied schlaft in der Maschine /the song sleeps in the machine" - a paraphrase of a deeply Deutsche Romantik sentence "in jedem Baum schlaft ein Lied/in every tree sleeps a song". Further, the use of motors and motor rhythm recalls the most productive era of German avant-garde rock of the early Seventies, evoking Faust in experimental tone, the Motorik drive of Neu! and the asphalt reportage of Kraftwerk's Autobahn. But they're all subsumed in the steady speed generated by the Neubauten track, the hypnotic beauty of which reconciles past and present avant-gardes to open up a way for the music of the future. Elsewhere, the track where Andrew's dictum to Blixa to always sing with a smile is most clearly evident is "Was ist ist".
A tremendous, roaring piece for Alex Hacke's bowed electric guitars and massed chorus, Blixa's intention was to deploy the uplifting utopian grain that defines the best political music, be it Ernst Busch singing Brecht/Eisler and Mayakovsky, or Ton Steine Scherben's great Seventies anthems, after surgically removing it from the dead-weight of political programmes that fell tragically short of delivering their promised utopias. "It's always a shame that utopias don't survive the reality of politics," reasons Blixa. "Besides, I don't have a political programme to sell, so it would be impossible for me to write like Mayakovsky. So I constructed the song like a form with blanks to be filled in by the listeners. At some points in the song the members of the chorus fill in the blanks of the form with their own answers. But they all shout out at once, meaning you can't hear any of them, which I think is a more realistic definition of the way things are.
All the statements in there are just hints and teases leading up to a chorus stating, what is is and what is not is possible and then the last chorus says, only what is not is possible." To conclude, then, with a few definitions. What is negative, Herr Bargeld? "That goes back to the old optimist-pessimist opposition. Two men in a desert and one has an umbrella - which one is the optimist and which one is the pessimist? I actually find a lot of pop music negative. Not because of the lyrical content, because it's certainly not the lyric contents that define the positiveness or negativeness of music. In musical terms, I find much of it depressive, even if it consists of classical harmonies that never leave the scale, nothing atonal or anything like that.
They so perfectly remain within the laws of how to create music and how to work with music that they are basically just delivering one announcement after the other, and that announcement is that things have to be just like they are. The statement of pop music is simply that things are as they are there, and there is no escape, and that is negative."
And what is positive, Herr Bargeld?
"What I mean by positive is obviously the opposite, and precisely because I am not able to define this opposite perfectly even makes it more true. If I were able to define it, I would just be stating again that there is no escape, no exit, no other way out."
With Ende Neu Einsturzende Neubauten signpost the way to the future.
Info taken from EN Homepage