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Mouse on Mars kit everything up with botox muzak. #HF17

The Shadow of Ideas (De Umbris Idearum ... The Acousmatic Memory Palace) is the title of one of the pieces that electronica duo Mouse on Mars plays with Ensemble Musikfabrik. The shadows are indeed shooting against the scrap of the Music Building. Ideas, however, have not yet formed. Instincts to that effect roar loosely through the room.

Transportation elsewhere

Akoesmatic music they would play. That means: sounds that sing loose from their source and can evoke alienation in time and space. Sounds too that can be deployed to transport the listener to another place in a new story. School examples are etched in musical memory courtesy of pioneering work done at the GRM in Paris was performed. Think of: Luc Ferrari or Bernard Parmegiani. Nowadays, Main, for instance, can also do very well with the acousmatic idiom.


That bit of sonological lecture the gentlemen of Mouse on Mars apparently did not wake up to. Their litany of scattered beginnings does not yet form the prelude to a narrative. That turns out to be fnicking. The percussion robots playing bright beats (accompanied by flashes of light reacting to the music) are undoubtedly more capable than a human version. However, they are only obediently deployed for fluxe tapping. This reduces high-tech to gimmick.


Literally playing from dark to light hardly has any originality these days, nor is the whole thing mystical. After all, you are looking at frontal concert theatre. And that's how it sounds too; in glorious stereo at punishing volume. Akoesmatic music precisely calls for an embrace. All around, not even necessarily, but at least not high and distant.

Idea poverty

Thus, the grand narrative line never wants to emerge, and as separate elements, the phrases (vaguely reminiscent of samples of snippets from Stockhausen's Kontakte) do not seem to want to reach for poetic eloquence either. Epigrams it seems, each in turn lamenting the previous epitaph. Up and down it goes through the slag-heap world of idea poverty. But it could be worse.


After the break, André de Ridder may take his place in front of Ensemble Musikfabrik. Again with Mouse on Mars at the electronics (but without the robots), they play a victory lap for botox music. Otherwise, the densely lubricated bank of notes cannot be called anything else. Dynamics are lacking. That's not too hard to understand either. After all, De Ridder has his orchestra play forte where piano is called for. Everywhere. Constantly. Nuance is sorely lacking. Every ripple is smoothed out. And if it wasn't already, it is quickly taken care of.

Full open

Many styles are incorporated in Paeanumnion. From folk tunes to calypso and ribald romantic kitsch that would put James Horner to shame. Sometimes the rhythm whips up swinging towards Dixieland or hoempa. At other times it looks like disco at a Bavarian kindergarten. Everything wide open. Invariably without an ear for detail or any breathing space for phrasing or texture. Hook in = experience: all together, with â-hû-lûh....


Sad moment then is when the bows make a swishing motion that you don't hear. That must be vocally accompanied by the ensemble members. That, of course, is too explanatory. It is also telling that about ten minutes before the end of the piece, De Ridder has to ask if his monitor speaker (by the way!) can be louder. Only then. So what has he heard from the electronics and his ensemble in the half-hour before?


Many little ideas that do not want to become a unit and an excess of (bulky) sound an sich do not make for an exciting musical argument. Indeed, what Mouse on Mars and Ensemble Musikfabrik present is tedious. Indeed, all direction is missing here. In this form, the pieces last far too long. They lack unifying direction, direction and purpose. And any point is delayed for so long, until it is lost and no longer matters. If so, the second half of the Champions League final provided more entertainment.


Ensemble Musikfabrik says it aims to create music that does not yet exist. That may be called a very laudable progressive motto. Only: it is entirely questionable whether it would have been so bad if these pieces had remained - in this way - unmade. Now afterwards, little is left that sticks than squeaking ears after lots of thumping on as many very hollow drums.

Good to know
Robots|Non|Robots by Mouse on Mars & Ensemble Musikfabrik conducted by André de Ridder, seen: Saturday 10 June 2016, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ.

Sven Schlijper-Karssenberg

Sets his ear to places he does not yet know in today's sound. Writes the catalogue raisonné of Swedish artist Leif Elggren's oeuvre, is a board member of Unsounds and programmes music at GOGBOT Festival. His essays on sound art have appeared on releases by Pietro Riparbelli, Michael Esposito, Niels Lyhnne Løkkegaard and John Duncan.View Author posts

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