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The Sound Projector, Feb 1997This review was taken from the first issue of The Sound Projector, an excellent magazine devoted to some of the best things in music. Issue One also includes articles on La Monte Young, Stereolab, Amon Düül, Harry Partch, Tony Conrad, Boredoms, Kraftwerk, Joe Meek, Kramer and many others. To get a copy, send a cheque for 3.50 UK Pounds made out to Ed Pinsent to : The Sound Projector, BM Bemused, London WC1N 3XX.
Faust are completely unfathomable. Though not unfamiliar with the work of this band, I can safely say I am still only coming to terms with their achievement. How strange it is to keep listening to something and still not understanding what it is you are hearing; like staring at an abstract painting and becoming aware of hidden presences, unseen spiritual forces outside the canvas. It's not like that old chestnut they all say about Glenn Branca - 'you can hear sounds that aren't really there'. No, what I feel is something more palpable - Faust make me have ideas that are not my own, they invite me to dream their dreams. They live out their subconscious, inner impulses and smuggle them into the outside world. Quite clearly, the members of this band are insane - what's worse, they can make us share their madness.
Faust 'reformed' in 1990 and effectively reinvented themselves around the nucleus of two principal players, Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner Diermaier. Live concerts followed, as did a new record. No concessions have been made to fans, no attempt to relive the 'classic' Faust years; instead, they have deliberately taken themselves apart, stripped their music down to a scaffolding framework, opened up the interior space.
I was pleased to attend the UK appearance of Faust in October 1992 at the Astoria. They appeared to be a trio at this time and the guitarist kept lapsing into different languages and behaving like a childlike schizophrenic, unexpected exhortations like 'Do you Mind if I Jump??!'. Everyone remembers the Test-Dept-ish power tools episode, road drills and other devices at unbearable flumes, and a message was carved into a paper screen using a chainsaw. A recording of this UK event was issued on CD by Table of the Elements, the Californian based label. So was another gig in Germany. They both came out in luxury formats - beautiful silk-screened, signed, numbered limited packages of cunning envelope design. Then they also appeared in 'trade' versions in jewel-cases. Either way, they're both expensive. These reunion concerts were a totally unprecedented event; but according to Faust's demented logic, they were confidently resuming their joyful anarchic games, seceding options out of a thousand possible avenues of development.
The Faust Concertsvol 1, TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS, FE 26 IRON, 1994, This is the 1990 Hamburg concert. It incidues a word-for-word printed transcript of all lyrics (including repetitions, and vocal interjections). The record seemed disappointing at first: not loud enough, a thin, attentuated sound (compared with the richness of 1970s Faust, at least)..Even the power tools sound muted and polite. However, I've learned to enjoy the utter bewilderment of it all; what is happening? When does a piece end or begin? Voices from the radio, snatches of classical music - where is all this 'found' material coming from, was it part of the live mix or added post-production? All of this eccentric chaos increases exponentially as you near the end of the record. After a sluggish start, things start to go bonkers in the middle of Track 3, The Sad Head . This could almost be Joe Strummer playing a reggae song with Adam Ant's drummer; but then the sound of a train rushes from speaker to speaker, and the drums' turn viscious and lurch aggressively to the front of the mix. By Track 4, Haarschart, you hear how attentuated they can be - what they can achieve with just drum kit and one instrument (bass or organ). But the beats are never where they should be, and the bass sounds hesitant and doubtful. Over this sketchy fragment of a tune, a found symphony orchestra tape drifts in, a joke they'll use more than once in this concert - and it surfaces again on the Rien CD. Track 5, Schempal Buddha, as close as they come to a crowd-pleaser song, is rendered here as a horrible nightmare, as taped voices compete with Jean-Hervé's multilingual ravings and somehow overlap into joining in the Iyric. 13/8 is so pale as to be barely audible, a Spanish acoustic guitar and percussion rim-shots. More classical music - a piano solo - leads into Rainy Day; the drummer pretends to be keeping time with it, but he's really sticking to the mad time signature in his head. A single-note bass riff joins in and the singer throws out his inane repetitious dada-chant whenever he feels like it. This whole mess is so deliciously untogether you wonder how long they can sustain it (8 minutes is the answer). Lesser artists could easily let this turn into a lullaby 4/4 stone groove; Faust won't let you fall asleep for one second. By Track 8, Voltaire , you hear the very sound of Faust unhinging themselves, taking their already loose structure and opening it out even further: concrete poetry, squeaking chains and choppy organ surfing around their ankles. Track 9 Rien anticipates their next studio LP, and is the most confusing array of sounds yet put to disc. First, 17 seconds of silence; then a demented 'farewell' song as plaintive as Daniel Johnstone singing Neil Young. The collapse of this song, leading into a fragment of a taped interview: 'Why have you got back together?' Faust respond with insane laughter. No wonder. They haven't got back together - they've taken themselves apart. This whole record is therapy for madmen, ewiring the circuitry of their brains track by track; at the end of it all they find 'Nothing'.
A copy of the first Faust LP finally made its way back to me. I used to own a Recommended Records reissue which I foolishly got rid of. I never really figured it out at the time. A good 15 years later, the blocks have been removed, I hear it for the first time. I'm struck by the editing, and the use of found materials. For the latter, the insertion and layering of pop-music Fragments from various disguised sources is not Simply a happy accident- it is a deliberate attempt to warp normality through subversion of pop cons and treating familiar sounds. But it's also done vith affection, hence the sleevenote, 'I like the Beach Boys!'. As Edwin Pouncey has observed, this pop-music component would soon fall by the wayside unfortunately. As to the edits - it doesn't take much deductive reasoning to figure out that producer Uwe Nettelbeck was as much a member of the band as the musicians. He was their Doctor - he knew when to to undo the straitjacket, and when to lock them in the rubber room. The selection of musical fragments and their juxtaposition - just like 'painting on recording tape' as Holger Czukay speaks of on "On the Way to the Peak of Normal. Clearly, this chaotic form of control is what we lacked on "The Faust Concerts". Some form of structure - no matter how eccentric - is needed to give their lunacy real meaning. Otherwise they tend to wander off to a far corner of the asylum and assume a catatonic position.
Then again, compare their altruistic and outgoing work with Slapp Happy in the 1970s. Not everyone seems clued up on the fact that Slapp Happy and Faust worked together. The former made a very jolly eponymous LP released on the Virgin label in 1974 (V 2014), a crisply recorded collection of eccentric and wonderful songs played by Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad, and sung by Dagmar Krause. The same songs however, had previously been recorded in Germany in a 1973 session where the bassist, drummer and sax player of Faust joined in, and Uwe Nettelbeck produced. (I don't have the full story on why the Virgin label wanted a different version. I note that Jean-Hervé Péron's bass parts appear to survive on the Virgin record.) These sessions surfaced as an LP called "Acnalbasac Noom", credited to Slapp Happy or Slapphappy , released in 1980 by Recommended Records as RRA 5. Sensible listeners and fans alike prefer the Faust version, which is somehow looser and weirder; you notice it in the way the performances of the other players are affected by the Germans, as if Faust's very presence in the studio releases these cramped Englishmen from their shackles, and makes them play even more eccentrically. i believe a CD reissue contains both Virgin and Faust versions, but can't confirm at this time. Fans of Bongwater might be familiar with their version of "The Drum", on "Too Much Sleep", Shimmy-Disc (1989).
Faust's latest offering is Rien, TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS, CR (CHROMIUM) 24,1996. It has been greeted with caution by many listeners, but we at the Sound Projector give it an unequivocal huzzah. Jim O'Rourke was brought in as producer. From a "Wire" interview, I was worried he might be trying to recreate himself as a new Uwe N. Such pointless fetishism and preciousness is not unknown, even in the world of avant-garde rock. In fact, O'Rourke does a great job - he quietly selects and stitches tapes together to produce a compelling listen - although sadly, without any of the heavy duty jarring edits like on the first LP. Nonetheless a real winner. It opens with a 10 second silent track, or is it really silent? It signals to me that we're picking up precisely where the Hamburg concert left off. The spoken phrase 'C'est Rien De Faust' kicks off proceedings (and recurs at the very end, after the spoken credits) before that wonderful organ and drumbeat sound crashes in, simultaneously alarming and joyous, a near-trademark sound making a welcome return. As the abstract murk seeps out of the speakers into your room, a species of 'narrative' event-unfolding comes across to this listener's subconscious mind. Somewhere a man is trudging over an industrial dump and calling for his children. Or have I dreamed that bit? The sixth Track uses helicopter sounds, overlaid classical music and Keiji Haino on auto-pilot screeching and grunting - it's a Fantastic voyage through unknown territory. The whole record speaks in riddles, and the 'blank' package design has taken a leaf out of Keiji Haino's book. A limited vinyl issue costing around 17-18 UKP has been spotted; probably no longer available by the time you read this. The same anonymous packaqe wrapped round a slab of heavy black plastic.
This anonymity in their sleeve art is remarkable - line up the Faust discography in order on your living room floor, and you have an lstant exhibition of conceptual art.. It reads like a planned project. It's something to do with peeling away layers, seeing further, seeing more than you're supposed to see. You start with an X-Ray of a fist on the first LP (Faust = Fist in German, the name's nothing to do with the magician Faust) the entire package is transparent, as is the vinyl: they see through themselves. And then see beyond that into the dark unknown of Faust So Far's black sleeve. Empty staves of sheet music on Faust IV suggest a book without words, and alert you to the non-composed, non-arranged, non-performable (non-listenable to some!) nature of their music. Chris Cutler's sleeves for Faust repackagings, such as Faust Party or 71 Minutes of..., disrupt the project and bend things his way. He used too much colour - a 'proper' Faust sleeve is monochrome, or just black and white - and 'Germanic' woodcuts suggesting story-book elements which Faust have forsworn. That said, Cutler's painstaking reissue of the first album was a labour of love and a flawless facsimile. The TOE Live packages are more sympathetic, but somehow lack the humour. In this context, the package of Rien is not only a return to form, but almost a punchline to the whole cosmic joke. The flat silver bed is a virtual mirror; you see yourself in this music, whatever contribution you add from your inner being. It really is Nothing of Faust.Ed Pinsent, " ", The Sound Projector 1997