As a separate entity, noise is nothing more than a clanging of unpleasant sounds. In most cases we tend to view these sequences as mere objects in a certain place coming together to create an audio effect. The sound of interweaving conversations, the trundle of a thousand pedestrians on a crowded street; they are for the most part incoherent and tend to be left tuned out in the background. Yet as many musicians have demonstrated, the creative manipulation of noise can result in a fairly competent listening experience that if not enjoyable to some, is compelling at the very least. Since the early eighties, German noisemakers Einstürzende Neubauten have pioneered the notion that noise arranged within certain ideas and concepts can result in a convincing body of work.
The height of their racket came during the mid-to-late eighties when their trio of Thirsty Ear recorded discs, coupled with their destructive live set, brought new meaning to “noise as music,” culminating in 1989’s Haus der Luege. While the album was short in length, it proved to be just as potent as anything they had released to that date. Perhaps more straightforward than the previous efforts, the mostly industrial setting was littered with the sort of messy experimentation the group is known for, including the album’s grand title track. It was however, followed by several mediocre albums – Die Hamletmaschine, Tabula Rasa, Faustmusik – and eventually the group ended, albeit temporarily. After brief disbandment, they reformed and resurfaced on Trent Reznor’s Nothing label and released a collection of work recorded from 94-96; yet Ende Neu was anything but spectacular.
2000 saw the group’s return with their deconstructive triumph Silence Is Sexy, proving once again that unconventional thinking and adept collective talent can result in music’s most able form. Many of the underlining concepts and investigative paths they traced in 2000 has seen a greater reworking in Perpetuum Mobile. Adapting great spaces of silence and low volume ambience (“Selbsportrait Mit Kater”, “Boreas” and “Ein Seltener Vogel” all boast lengthy periods with little to no sound) while in many instances integrating instrumental noise effects and pounding metal (as in alloy, not the genre) percussion while making excellent use of Blixa Bargeld’s hallowed voice. They make do with plenty of sound reverberation and echo as well; in fact, the track “Ozean und Brandung” is almost in its entirety, composed from such qualities (save for the whooshing wind and rain noises).
It is undeniably interesting just how they are able to create such striking compositions from extremely minimal ideas – triangle twinkles, the rustling of what sounds like metal sheets, the clashing of steel objects – done to incredible success in the album’s title offering. “Perpetuum Mobile”, which speaks of endless travel (in airplanes, elevators, escalators and trains) flows like the very different modes it speaks of. One moment the aura will be distinctly sullen, with nothing more than soft chimes and brief time nodes, and then the next it will erupt in a clatter of sound, noise, effects and rhythm; all while coming together in distinct and clear understanding. It is a truly compelling arrangement – perfect in its exposition, development and execution (all the while coiled around a singular theme).
As the presence of sound becomes less and less tangible, the qualities of its aural opposite become much more expansive. Silence does indeed play a plentiful part in Perpetuum Mobile; coupled with its raving mad use of metallic resonance and more recognizable influences of bass, guitars and drums, the album is an experience on its own. It certainly goes a long way to show that not all acceptable forms of sound have to be something you hear.