(Mute) Apparat is the stage name of German electronic composer Sascha Ring. Ring has been releasing albums since 2001, often in collaboration with other artists like Ellen Allien and Modeselektor. He started out making dance-oriented music, but his career has seen a shift toward ambient compositions in recent years. His latest effort Krieg Un Frieden (Music for Theatre) began life as the soundtrack to a stage version of Tolstoy's War and Peace directed by fellow countryman Sebastian Hartmann. It's an epic, swelling flow of sounds appropriate to one of the greatest and weightiest novels of world literature.
Unless you're an aficionado of electronica, you're probably not familiar with Apparat's name. However, you may well have heard his songs without realizing it. His music has been featured in trailers for films such as Rust and Bone, and in episodes of Skins and Breaking Bad – in which it scored the climax of the Season Four finale. It has also appeared on the soundtracks for the ski and snowboard films Light the Wick and The Art of Flight. This isn't too surprising, as it has a soaring quality ideal for slo-mo images of athletic aeronautics.
Apparat himself describes Krieg Un Frieden (Music for Theatre) this way: “We went to the studio and made a bit of a weird record with not many beats and lots of drones. I hope you like it.” This amusingly simplified explanation is actually pretty accurate when you come down to it. The album starts with a somber string arrangement, then transitions into building layers of droning noise that wash around you like ocean currents. Shades of post-rock outfits such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and Sigur Rós filter through here. The soundscape is glacial and heroic – the strange tones that space explorers might hear in their heads as they traversed the atmosphere of a new world.
“Light On” surprises with the inclusion of ghostly vocals. Stream-of-consciousness lyrics about deserted lands and lost people spill over an intriguing tangle of stuttering percussion. “Turn a light on / Let's go home,” sings the voice as unearthly servo motors whine in the background. One wonders if these pieces went through a significant evolution from stage show to album, as they seem to tell a story all their own. Perhaps some kind of sci-fi adventure tale or space opera?
“Blank Page” mixes strings with odd percussive sounds reminiscent of chattering insects or bubbling water. There's a lovely dissonance to the way the melody bends and vibrates. It could almost be sections from Vangelis' Blade Runnerscore played on an old and distorted turntable. “PV” buzzes in shifting sheets as though a disused electrical array has come to secret life in the darkest hours of the night.
Two versions of “K&F Thema” follow – the first labelled “(Pizzicato)” for its delicately plucked notes, the second full of chiming, watery bells in arpeggiated rhythms. The tension between these and the layered strings is both subtle and thrilling. Three-quarters of the way through, everything drops out and gives way to an almost inaudible throb of hand-drums fading into nothing. “Austerlitz” once again marries droning noise with orchestral invention, and “A Violent Sky” closes out the album with a last bout of vocals on a rising, hopeful note.
Overall, Krieg Un Frieden (Music for Theatre) is a truly gorgeous symphony that plays on the conflict between carefully composed melodies and chaotic, experimental sounds. Perhaps this thematic friction stems from the eponymous forces of War and Peace, or perhaps it tells a history all its own. Either way, Apparat has created something great. Let's hope he sticks to the promise he made to his fans when introducing the album on his website: “If you stay, I'm not gonna leave either.”
Standout Tracks: “Light On”, “PV”, “K&F Thema”, “A Violent Sky”
For Fans Of: Brian Eno, Olafur Arnalds