"Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus form a Berlin duo
that under different names produces remarkable music and insists on vinyl."

Simple and short named "W/ The Artists" and "The Versions", two remarkable CDs in almost identical black & white covers. Riddims slowly lingering on in a bewitching rhythm, languid and static, yet extremely fascinating and compelling. That's the slowed down rhythmical movement, the skank, of Jamaican reggae, getting a magical effect in the hands of German duo Rhythm & Sound. Both discs are each other's mirror-reflections, acknowledging dub: the Jamaican method to revise existing tracks outrageously by erasing the singing largely or completely and treat the remaining parts with more of less heavy soundeffects, especially echo. Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald use these effects economical, yet sometimes even more effective, their whole works are filled with it. Spooky echoing remnants of the singing and percussion float as if by coincidence through the rhytmical static and stripped down soundscape, with an undefinable tension as the ultimate result. "W/ The Artists" is composed of a series of singles with guestvocalists like often used Paul St.Hilaire (check also the reviews of his albums "Unspecified" and "Showcase w/ Rhythm & Sound") and Jamaican singers Cornell Campbell and Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnees (using his Chosen Brothers moniker). "The Versions" contain the instrumental, revised B-sides of the singles. Because for this duo music exists thanks to vinyl: the 12" single, the main soundcarrier for dancemusic. Even their CD-compilations carry the encouragement "buy vinyl".

Moritz von Oswald,
descendant of 'iron' chancellor' Otto von Bismark,
prefers anonimity.

Paul St.Hilaire (formerly known as Tiki Man).

What Ernestus and Von Oswald look like remains a well kept secret. Pictures are scarce and when they have one of their exceptional meetings with the press no quotations are allowed. Although they do seem to play out these day with a DJ-set comprising mainly very obscure Jamaican dub records - they are scheduled to play alongside Paul St.Hilaire on Saturday May 29th in Aix en Provence, check "Warp Records" - their world is in fact limited to what happens within the walls of their own studio, recordshop and label in Berlin. This extreme enforced anonimity goes along with the styles Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald so admire: reggae and especially its dub-offspring, early house and techno. Musicians and producers, the difference is vague in these areas, release obscure records under constantly changing monikers. The white label culture, records with blank labels, emphasizes the importance of the music, and nothing but the music, especially not the maker's ego. The simple fact that exactly this attitude breeds curiosity, is not Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald's responsibility. To them their responsibility as soon as their records leave the pressing plant.

But they do have a history. The classical trained Von Oswald, a great-great-grandson of chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the 19th century founder of the German federal state, played in the 80s in groups like Die Doraus Und Die Marinas and Palais Schaumburg. Together with Thomas Fehlmann, the mastermind of the latter group, he took his first steps into the world of techno at the start of the 90s. They worked together with Blake Baxter, Eddie Fowlkes and Juan Atkins, pioneers of the Detroit musical style that met a warm welcome in Berlin. The just then reunited city of Berlin was round about 1990 the spot where electronic dance music, often dismissed as casual escapism, had an important political and social meaning. While the older generations from the former East and West were still looking suspicious at each other, the younger generations from both parts of the city reconciled on the dancefloors of the undergroundclubs like the now famous Tresor. Under these circumstances the profound relationships with techno of Von Oswald started. That he and Mark Ernestus would develop an equally profound relationship with dub can not be coincidental: dub is the spin-off of reggae, the music having in third world country Jamaica a similar social and political meaning.

So straight has the music of Von Oswald and Ernestus never been, but these considerations do reverberate somewhere in the background of it. Their work isn't just performed on the crossroads of techno and dub, but somewhere aside from both, in a parallel shadow-existence where earthly worries seem to not to count as much. The methods of dub - deep basslines, echoes, an extreme awareness of space, the art of variation - were already employed for their first records released under a number of aliases for their own recordlabel Basic Channel. Rhythmically spoken these works adapted the laws of techno: a marching four-to-the-floor beat, meant to get the dancefloor into ecstasy, but captured in an almost intangible abstract from, in which rustle, buzz and other often unwanted bysounds are indissoluble connected to the music, and the slowly shifting layers produce a ruthless tension.

Basic Channel in fact only operated for two years, from 1993 to 1995. Obstinate as the duo is, they took new roads, although even now complete generations still struggle to cope with their legacy. Besides labelprojects like Chain Reaction (for related artists), M, Main Street and the dub-reissue-labels Basic Replay and Wackies these days their main outlet is Rhythm & Sound.

Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The hallucinating, strict 4-to-the-floor beat of techno was sacrificed for a unique sound, hallucinations in slowmotion. It's the improbable connecting factor between the stern German electronic heritage of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Kraftwerk and the loose Caribbean culture that as by coincidence produced dub. The Winkler Prins Encyclopedia attributes to Otto von Bismarck an 'untameable intractability'. That applies as much to his descendant and his descendants musical partner.


Source: Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad, Monday May 10th, 2004.
Article written by Jacob Haagsma,
(translation from Dutch to English: Souljah)

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