Created with the aim of breathing life into what Tobias. terms his “mind movies,” Hall ov Fame casts its component parts as “characters,” the main three of which – oozy electronics, disembodied voices and obscure field recordings – combine to fashion a somewhat threatening miasma of dystopian anxiety and the occasional blast of shocking violence. Each track is accompanied by a brief passage of text, supposedly to help explain what the music is soundtracking, but none read anything like as dramatically as these unnerving sonic concoctions might suggest they should.
Tobias Freund is probably better known for the same kind of cool, polyrhythmic techno pushed by his Berlin peers and fellow Ostgut Ton alumni Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock and Luke Slater, not to mention his frequent collaborator Atom™. And yet there has always been an edge to Tobias.’s sound – something of the subterranean, perhaps, as he takes Berghainian hedonists to mine the cobwebbed Cold War tubes and tunnels beneath the notorious superclub’s writhing feet. Even at his most beat-driven, as with last year’s excellent 1972 EP, there’s a kind of fractured prickliness to the way tracks play out, a strange sense of something being not-quite-right in his decades-old trove of tape recorded sources, like the dust that settled on the chrome imbued the tape with its own unpleasant memories. His techno plays out like The Disintegration Loops at 120 bpm, dropping in stern political pronouncements one second, drifting into ambient territory the next, but never losing track of the myriad complex layers of beats he somehow manages to pile up.
Hall ov Fame, however, is entirely beat-free, making for a decidedly uncomfortable and claustrophobic listen. What the clubbers will make of it is anyone’s guess – although they should be aware of Tobias.’s doomy audiovisual work with Valentina Berthelon, his more outre productions tend to go by different names and even his splicey archival releases bear the sonic fingerprints of what today we like to call minimal techno. With the exception of perhaps some of the earliest NSP releases, this is the first time I think I’ve heard anything quite so radical from under the Tobias. umbrella, and certainly it’s the most demanding.
Hall ov Fame sets its stall out early by opening with “Repetition,” a roiling series of industrial groans underpinned by cockroach clicks that play at providing propulsion. It sounds like the belly of a great listing ship, eventually caving to external pressures and burying any hope that a beat might break free right from the off. From here, the album passes through 7 further “scenes,” each as deeply layered and textured as the last and briefly encapsulated by the artist’s accompanying text. “Fifteen thousand miles, and not a moment passed in which I thought I was too far away,” begins the blurb for “Abandoned,” which flares brightly with the night-vision boom of distant explosions and stuttering robots buzz like alarms as a female voice repeats empty missives into an abandoned night. “The Mirror Blind” is violent in its destruction of a hovering, heavenly drone, its spectral vocal harmonies expanded to the point of strangulation and drowned by a sudden slicing glitch of electronics.
The images Tobias. had in mind during the album’s creation are never made explicit and I personally find Hall ov Fame no more or less visually evocative than any other ambient album. Boats are mentioned in the text for “Silhouettes” and there are oceanic motifs throughout, not least in the crashing waves and stormy gusts of “Grim,” but there is no immediately obvious thread either sonically or contextually. It can be too tempting – lazy, even – to think cinematically when hearing to ambient music, and I’m fighting the urge here to relate to Hall ov Fame through a Science Fiction lens. By supplying listener’s with ready-made visual outlines, Tobias. is playing games; these are not our movies, they’re his, and as we sit and strain to search for sense among these contextual shards we in fact position ourselves as his avatars – perhaps we, the listeners, are supposed to populate these soundscapes ourselves, scuffling and scratching in ashes like one of Bradbury’s mechanical mice, forever fighting to put things together the way they used to be.