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(77.41, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. String Theorie 15:24 2. S.E.T.I. 8:44 3. Elfenstaub 8:21 4. Dishwasher 10:18 5. Traumphase 6:08 6. Theta Null 16:31 7. Sonnenwind 12.35 SOLO PILOT: Uwe Cremer – all instruments
Prolusion. LEVEL PI is the name of a solo project by German multi-instrumentalist Uwe Cremer, born in Duesseldorf in 1965, though currently based in Cologne. “Electronic Sheep” is his second album, following his 2006 debut, “Entrance”. The album was originally released in a shorter version and with different artwork, then reissued by the Dreaming division of Musea Records with a new cover and a bonus track.
Analysis. While “Entrance” had been strongly inspired by Pink Floyd, “Electronic Sheep”, Uwe Cremer’s sophomore effort, was mainly conceived as a tribute to the electronic music of the Seventies. In a world where so many bands and artists rehash things done much better in the past, all the while presenting them as the best thing since sliced bread, Cremer’s honesty and openness about the nature of his music are refreshing. Indeed, “Electronic Sheep” is a disc that offers in quality what it might lack in originality. Although electronic prog, especially the variety rooted in the ‘kosmische’ music of Seventies Germany, can be very much of an acquired taste, and somewhat lacking in bite for those who privilege the ‘rock’ component of progressive rock, if approached with some open-mindedness it can make a rewarding listening experience. Unless you need music to be relentlessly exciting, like a series of caffeine shots, there can be something satisfying about relaxing and letting the music take you away for a while, or even use it as a background for other activities. This is not to say that “Electronic Sheep” is mere wallpaper, since there enough moments on the CD to please more demanding listeners. As seems to happen all too often these days, the main flaw of “Electronic Sheep” is its length. Already long enough in its original version, the addition of bonus track Sonnenwind (not a particularly successful composition either) pushes the album’s running time to almost 80 minutes. However, as odd as it may sound, this is less detrimental to this kind of music than it would be to other genres. Repetitive and hypnotic by definition, electronic prog is meant to create a certain mood, therefore the composition need some scope in order to achieve their full effect – which for some can be positively soporific, while for others it borders on a mystical experience. Each of the tracks originally included on the album is meant as a homage to a different outfit or musician of the Seventies German scene – with the exception of S.E.T.I., dedicated to Porcupine Tree keyboardist Richard Barbieri (formerly a member of the highly underrated Eighties band Japan). On this track, Cremer creates compelling moods and atmospheres through the use of loops and assorted effects, as in Porcupine Tree’s earlier output. The Jean-Michel Jarre-inspired Elfenstaub is also a deviation from the ‘German’ theme of the album, with its pulsing synthesizers and ‘space rumba’ rhythm pattern. On the other hand, opener String Theorie, the aptly-titled Traumphase (Dream Phase) and Theta Null reference classic German electronic prog, with nods to Klaus Schulze, Michael Rother and Tangerine Dream – all three lengthy, entrancing pieces full of atmospheric potential, relying on the use of the sequencer or drums to provide a precise, sometimes almost military pattern to the mesmerising exertions of the electronic keyboards. Interestingly, String Theorie opens in a very similar fashion to Pink Floyd’s iconic Shine On You Crazy Diamond, though minus the guitars, and interspersed by bucolic birdsong effects; while in Theta Null (the longest item on the album) a somewhat chaotic section is bookended by two slower, evocative ones. The real standout of the album, however, is definitely its least accessible item, Dishwasher. Intended as a tribute to Cluster (one of the boldest, most innovative outfits in the original Krautrock movement), it employs the real sound of a dishwasher in motion as a rhythmic base, while the organ drones on and the guitar weaves intriguing noise effects. Not an easy offering by any means, but oddly appealing. On the contrary, even according to the artist (who used it as a sort of creative outlet), the bonus track Sonnenwind, is somewhat patchier and less cohesive than the previous efforts, and not a completely successful addition to the album. Paying homage to one’s main sources of inspiration sounds like a very nice thing to do, and Uwe Cremer is clearly a gifted, highly motivated musician. However, it is to be hoped that, for his third album, he will try to produce something less derivative (even if, as in this case, of undisputably high quality) and more based on personal inspiration.
Conclusion. Though not an entirely original proposition (nor pretending to be either), “Electronic Sheep” will certainly be appreciated by fans of old-school electronic prog. On the other hand, those who are looking for the rock component in ‘progressive rock’ may find the album somewhat lacking in energy and dynamics. It is nevertheless an honest, heartfelt and well-crafted tribute to the creativity of an iconic era, and a pleasing listen for anyone who does not need to get constant adrenaline rushes in order to enjoy music.
RB=Raffaella Berry: March 14, 2010
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