B. Fleischmann: Welcome Tourist
Morr Music

Arriving in the wake of vocal-based releases by Guther and Ms. John Soda, Bernhard Fleischmann's Welcome Tourist is a bit of a throwback to an earlier Morr era of instrumental electronica. Vocals do appear (courtesy of Charhizma label head Christof Kurzmann) but in three instances only, on “Le Desir,” “Sleep,” and “Take Your Time.” Don't let the underwhelming graphics (uncharacteristically so for Jan Kruse whose strong design work has distinguished innumerable Morr releases) mislead you into thinking that it's a slapdash affair, because it's anything but. What distinguishes Welcome Tourist from other Morr releases is that it's in two parts: the first CD constitutes eleven tracks of melodic and melancholy electronica in the classic Morr vein, while the second is solely occupied by one uninterrupted forty-five minute epic.

The first half opens with “02/00,” distinguished by the inclusion of a sampled voice quoting a brief passage from Thoreau's 1848 essay “Civil Disobedience.” It's the recording's singular overt political statement but only those fluent in German will get the message. The passage is in fact fleeting and soon makes way for grinding electronic patterns that grow in intensity over the course of the song's six-minute duration. Most of the pieces on the first CD are rooted in melancholy melodies voiced by piano and accompanied by electronics, drums, and sometimes guitar. Fleischmann deploys both electronic and traditional drums, the latter infusing tracks (like “A Letter From Home”) with robust energy. Beats are by turns squelchy (“Pass By”), funky (“Grunt”), and tribal (“As If”); drum beats on “The Blessed” and “Waiting For You to Come” even evoke the busy patterns associated with µ-Ziq. Electronics are often used aggressively. Churning, industrial noise forms a backdrop on “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” while dissonant squawls colour “Waiting For You to Come” and the trance-like “As If.” Kurzmann's ghostly saxophone playing nicely adds to the heartfelt, yearning mood of “A Letter From Home.” Of all the tracks on the first half, “Guided By Beats” stands out most of all for its distinctive guitar treatments laid over a crunchy drumbeat. It's a fine example of Fleischmann's arranging talents as he memorably combines panning bent-note guitar plucks, percussive clatter, and mournful synth melodies. The last two pieces on the first CD, “Le Desir”' and “Sleep,” feature Kurzmann's singing. The monotone qualities of his style are initially jarring but, after repeated listens, his vocals become more engaging as they exude an innocent charm in keeping with the child-like lyrical content. The ballad “Sleep,” a paean to the missed opportunity of lost love, acts as a wistful and touching coda.

While the first half is a suitably strong collection, it's rather typical of the melodic electronica genre. It's the second part, fully devoted to the ambitious forty-five minute piece “Take Your Time,” which makes Welcome Tourist special. Extending the titular theme, it's an atmospheric travelogue that unfolds in leisurely fashion. One might expect to lose interest now and then but Fleischmann keeps things fresh by moving in and out of contrasting moods and spotlighting different instrumental combinations. It registers as a more band-like effort, not surprisingly given the personnel of Fleischmann on piano, drums, and electronics, Werner Dafeldecker on contrabass, Kurzmann on saxophone, clarinet, and vocals, Martin Siewert on guitar and pedal steel, and Burghard Stangl on vibes. What impresses most of all is how Fleischmann manages to create the loose feel of a semi-improvised live session, even though his own contributions of piano, drums, and electronics had to have been made separately. It's a remarkable construction that organically wends its way through multiple episodes.

It begins with electronic sounds of garbled voices and interference from static-laden radio channels, and gradually introduces gentle guitar strumming, stately piano chords, warm contrabass, and dreamy steel guitar. After seven minutes, the piano voices the composition's defining theme, a soulful six-note motif (G-G#-D#-G-G#-D#) that's repeated hypnotically over and over, and that reappears throughout as a unifying element. Traditional drums join in soon after, propelling the music higher and giving it a natural feel. Over the course of the remaining thirty-five minutes, different instrumental groupings emerge as the composition evolves dynamically. Vibes and piano voice the theme in one section, while in another contrabass and electronic percussion are featured. A third of the way through, overdubbed electric guitars and traditional drums move the piece into funkier, post-rock territory, while at the half-way mark, Kurzmann's balladic saxophone floats amongst dreamy guitar figures and singing steel guitar notes. Eventually the opening voices and electronics reappear, after which the piano distantly sounds the theme a final time before the last, vocal-based section occurs. At the thirty-seven minute mark, the composition begins to wind down, with Kurzmann's weary recitation (“Take your time/That's the least thing you've got”) emerging against a meditative backdrop. Interweaving lines of guitars and electronics form a languid bed for Kurzmann's pleas prior to an electronic close of detonating clusters that accumulate into a huge industrial cloud.

If one is searching for a point of comparison, Welcome Tourist is somewhat reminiscent of Static's Flavour Has No Name, given the shared presence of Kurzmann's vocals on both. Both are enjoyable exemplars of the melodic electronica genre so thoroughly developed by the Morr Music and City Centre Offices labels. But what obviously sets Fleischmann's set apart from Static's release as well as others in the genre is the audacious leap he takes with “Take Your Time,” an unprecedented move from the Morr camp. It's what makes Welcome Tourist a truly special recording as opposed to merely another satisfying installment in the melodic electronica genre.

October 2003