La Barca (Fario) CD/2LP
It’s been over five years since the last album by Thomas Köner, and even that last release, Nuuk, was a mere reissue. So a new work by Köner is indeed a coveted treat. Köner made his name as a solo artist by crafting quietly epic soundscapes and, as one half of Porter Ricks, making some of the most fantastically minimal dub techno to come out of Berlin in the mid-nineties—no mean feat. He long ago ceased making music that hinted, even obliquely, at the dancefloor. Since Porter Ricks faded into the ether, Köner has focused exclusively on his creating finely wrought, and glacially paced aural landscapes. He has released a choice few albums over the course of his long career, including such classics of sonic reduction Nuuk, named for the capital of Greenland, and, my personal favorite, Unerforchtes Gebiet (trans. Uncharted Territory) (2001), a stunning piece of music evoking vast swathes of icy emptiness, cut onto a gorgeous picture disc.
On La Barca Köner takes you on a 12-hour sonic voyage around the world using location recordings, half-realized melodies, and the extraordinary low frequencies that are Köner’s calling card. Each track has map coordinates for a title for those who wish to chart the journey in minute detail. You don’t really need a map, though, to make your way. Half the pleasure in listening to Köner’s work is in losing your bearings a bit. Disorientation is sometimes the best part of the trip. There are plenty of clues to guide you as you listen, particularly the many voices that percolate throughout. They speak in a variety of languages—Russian, Japanese, English, and other less familiar tongues—and, along with the distant sounds of markets, train stations, and distant playgrounds, provide sound posts and markers along the way. It’s a gorgeous and captivating listen.
La Barca is now available in a deluxe 2LP version with bonus tracks. I just received this in the mail the other day and can vouch for its oh-so-worthiness. The four extra pieces are more stark and austere than the rest of La Barca with fewer vocal samples high in mix, harkening to Köner’s pre-Zyklop work.
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