Markus Mehr: Off
For this listener, Markus Mehr's Off is unquestionably the most satisfying part of the trilogy that began with In and On. Using computer, synthesizers, processed guitars, piano, and distortion pedals, the German experimental ambient artist has constructed a single-track, forty-two-minute epic that opens in a manner characteristic of the genre but subsequently distinguishes itself as something far more than a standard ambient work.
The opening minutes find Off in ambient-drone mode with a hazy loop cycling endlessly until a piano enters six minutes into the piece, at first tentatively as if challenging the ambient elements for the spotlight but then more assertively. The electronic and acoustic elements establish a truce of sorts as one alternates with the other and Mehr wraps the piano in a thick blanket of symphonic synth and field recordings textures. A hint of classical elegance attends the piano playing, which is generally ponderous in mood, but the listener's attention abruptly shifts when a transporting synthetic swoon emerges at the twelve-minute mark. Though the moment occurs early in the piece, it's captivating nonetheless, especially when it imbues the piece with such a dream-like aura. The piano re-surfaces, its melancholic character a natural complement to the slow-motion context within which it's embedded. Time feels suspended as the mass, which fizzles and sparkles with a kind of clandestine grandeur, rises and falls, its tension released by Mehr ever so deliciously.
Halfway through, an undulating vocal choir emerges, before the piano takes center stage, the other elements receding so much that the creak of the piano bench becomes audible. The moment passes quickly, however, and a new episode, one heavy on field recordings of vocal choirs, moves to the forefront. An industrial quality begins to characterize the recording, with low-pitched noises fizzing at a dull roar alongside the vocals until the swooning synth figures resurface to point the recording home, albeit at a slow tempo that grows steadily slower as the end nears. That Mehr is able to sustain the music's effect so expertly over so many minutes is a testament to his sound-sculpting abilities and sense of control. The literal culmination of his trilogy project, Off offers to the listener a wholly immersive experience that he/she will likely want to re-experience many times over.