Lords of drift and discovery - Page 3

Five artists who have charted new electronic realms

(Johnny Ray Huston)



BERNARD SZAJNER Somewhere between Brian Eno and Marcel Duchamp rests Bernard Szajner (pronounced shy-nerr). The elusive French electronic sound innovator and visual artist has always been living in the future. After creating a Syeringe or laser harp (an instrument where light triggers sound) in the 1970s, he put out five albums between 1979 and 1983, then left the music scene unexpectedly. Now two of those albums — 1980's Some Deaths Take Forever and 1981's Superficial Music — have been digitally remastered and reissued (with bonus tracks) by James Nice's legendary U.K.-based label, LTM Recordings.

"I never left the music scene," Szajner says via e-mail from Paris, where he's been getting very little sleep while preparing for a solo exhibition "Back to the cave" at Galerie Taiss. "I just decided that I had to become 'invisible.' In the same way, I never left the visual art scene. I just felt that I had to work for a few years ... before reappearing."

The installations at Taiss will start with a huge sculpture, Mother, that begins visitors' ascent from light on the first floor into darkness on the third. The overlapping M's could be seen as an experimental musical score for light. Whether working in sound or vision (he sees the two "forces" creating a "third force that is stronger than any one of the two"), Szajner's genius is in making the act of storytelling as relevant as the story itself. The reissues both present journeys. Some Deaths Take Forever's layers of synths and distortion eventually reach a celestial, radio-frequency climax. Superficial Music is literally a half-speed, backward journey through his first album, Visions of Dune , followed by a metallic triptych called Oswiecim, the Polish name for Auschwitz. Szajner's parents were Polish Jews who came to France via Germany, and Superficial Music was partly an effort to evoke the "impressions and sensations of my parents' storytelling."

When these albums were first heard, Szajner notes, "they appeared strange to most listeners. It took some 20 years to discover that my music might be of interest." Was it hard to come back to a musical landscape where digital music-making software had proliferated? "My opinion is irrelevant because the proliferation is inevitable," he writes. "When I became visible again, I had to cope with an entirely new problem: how does a 'cult musician' — like I am supposed to be — get in touch with labels when they receive about 500 demos a week?"

Szajner donated his old synths to an art school some time ago, and he now uses computers just like everybody else (although he claims not to listen to music: "I never, really never, listen to any music, not even my own once it is finished"). Labels eventually started contacting him, asking about reissues. "I chose LTM because it is the most serious proponent of my genre," he says.

An argument for the abolition of torture and the death penalty, Some Deaths Take Forever slowly coheres in the mind. As Szajner puts it in the liner notes/art: "Terms of reality /New body form /The difference is not all that great." Life, after all, is not essentially political. How can you argue with emptiness? (Ari Messer)



CLUSTER Cluster is known to the German state as Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. Roedelius, 74, and Moebius, 65, are elder statesmen of electronic music and appropriately dignified in their old age.

Also in this section

  • Good things, small packages

    33 1/3, the ultimate record collector's novella series, turns 10

  • No thanks, Bono

    Three new albums that should magically appear on your iPod in place of Songs of Innocence

  • A show a day: Your fall music calendar

    FALL ARTS 2014 Like a daily multivitamin, your recommended dose of live shows through November