It has been a dark, dubby and drone-ish musical period thanks to the success of acts like Holy Other, The Haxan Cloak, Deadbeat, Burial and many others. But it’s not that often you have the chance to witness a performance by a pioneering ambient/dub-techno musician and media artist such as Thomas Köner. Actually, next week you can, because Köner has been invited by Berlin’s CTM to perform at the upcoming Transnatural Festival in Amsterdam (NEMO, September 7 & 8). With FIBER we’re also participating in the opening weekend and this is why we like to shed some light on the artist Köner and the amazing work he has made over the years. For those of you who already know his work, we might bring nothing new to the table, but for those of you who don’t know his career and work, we hope to inform you why Köner is an artist not to be missed. Before reading on, put on your headphones and hit play.
Köner was born in Bochum (1965, Germany) and moved to Arnhem at age of twenty to study electronic music at the CEM Studio Arnhem (1985 – 1990). CEM, known as the ‘Contactorgaan Electronische Muziek’ or ‘Organisation for Electronic Music’, was originally founded by Dutch electronic grand-master Walter Maas in 1957 (Delft). CEM studio and the famous NAT-lab (Ton de Leeuw, Tom Disselvelt, Rudolf Escher and Dick Raaijmakers), which was founded by Phillips (1955/57), Walter Maas and Roelof Vermeulen, where one of the most important studios and meeting places for the rapidly developing (Dutch) electronic music. While CEM had a rocky history, with many studio openings, closings and re-openings in various cities throughout the Netherlands, I assume Köner must have been at an very interesting place to start his journey.
Between 1987 and 1994 Köner studied at the Conservatory of Music and worked as a cutter- and sound assistant at the Ruhr Sound Studios, both in Dortmund. From 1995 onwards he started working as an independent artist in the fields of sound, film music, video, photography and installations. He is best known for his groundbreaking installations, in which he combines sound and visuals into a overwhelming and profound experience, and his musical career which stretches over genres as ambient, drone, dark ambient, minimal soundscapes and even dub techno; as he’s the other half of dub-techno pioneers Porter Ricks (Thomas Köner & Andy Mellwig).
In both his installations and performances Köner works with deep, layered and primal soundscapes which have either travelled from space or came up from the depths of the earth. Listening to his soundscapes is an almost physical experience of space, time and our movement through them. ‘Tracks’ like Permafrost (1993) surround you with a sonic space, which for me almost feels like an exploration of ancient caves. This is music which is bigger than yourself and is acting on a different channel as you know. A YouTube comment below the video of Permafrost describes the power of Köners music in a funny, but very striking way: “Track was released in 93′ to general public yes, but I’m sure track formed itself with beginnings of this universe or even before.”
In his video installations like Suburbs of the Void (2004 / Transmediale Award 2005) and Banlieue Du Vide (2003 / Golden Nica – Prix Ars Electronica 2004) Köner alters our perception of time and space and with this our emotional relationship with these places. Grained – surveillance camera-like – video-recordings of empty streets and early morning suburbs slowly change before your eyes. The transitions are so graduality and slow, you can’t really see it happening, but you can see the end result; a morphing environment in which time is controlled. The ambient soundtrack enhances this experience and it adds a physical layer to the works. These places now feel as eerie and unknown and might as well belong in a Twin Peaks episode.
Banlieue Du Vide (2003)
Köners live performances are often constructed with the use of bio-materials or chemical processes and stretch our perception of reality. Materia Obscura (performed at Sonic Acts 2010 together with Jürgen Reble) explores the inner-world of an autonomous and ever changing process.
“The visual source material for Materia Obscura are about 25.000 scans in high resolution of 16mm ‘chemograms’ that Jürgen Reble produced in the past. These ‘chemograms’ are made by unique alchemical transformations of the film material itself. The final editing of the image streams will happen live on the computer. It is a visual expedition into crystallized salts and dyes which are changing rhythm and structure constantly between moving images. Inside the chemical elements of the film appears the bizarre richness and beauty of its materiality.”
At the beginning of the 1990’s Köner started a new project called Porter Ricks together with techno-veteran Andy Mellwig. In 1996 they released their first album Biokinetics on Basic Channel’s sub-label Chain Reaction and made history. The album has been recognized as one of the milestones of experimental techno. Laying a part of the foundations for contemporary dub-techno. It has been said that well-known artists like Burial, Deadbeat, Echospace and Deepchord must have been – in some way – influenced by the deep and elementary sonic forces of Porter Ricks.
“‘Biokinetics’ by Porter Ricks. The holy grail of dub techno from Thomas Koner and Andy Mellwig.” – Type
Porter Ricks – Nautical Dub
Porter Ricks – Biokinetics 2
At the beginning of 2012 the Type label reissued Biokinetics on CD, two LP’s and digital downloads and with this came a new interest in the 1996 album. Next to this, Köner has been nominated for this years Nam June Paik Award for his experimental or media-based approaches to audiovisual art.
On Saturday September 8 Thomas Köner will perform an audiovisual performance at the Transnatural festival in NEMO (Amsterdam) as part of the opening weekend. If you like to experience his work yourself you can find more information here.