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Novaya Zemlya

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Album Review

Thomas Köner's continuing exploration of sonic frost and the ends of the earth found another strong expression in Novaya Zemlya, a 2012 effort that, in keeping with previous releases, was named after a polar location, an island to the north of the Russian mainland. Novaya Zemlya's first track begins with the sound of irregular echoing cracks and explosive sonics swathed in heavy echo, sounding somewhere between a shattering glacier echoing in the distance and the very beginning of Vangelis' film score for Blade Runner, minus the gentle lost melody. In contrast, there is nothing here but moody gloom, the logical extension of Köner's continuing fascination with the landscapes of desolate ice and frost. As the song moves toward its conclusion, the feeling shifts to distant shimmers of drone, as if shifting from one aspect of the landscape to another, but it's no less forbidding and sublimely entrancing. The more regular rhythms on the second track don't provide much more in the way of comfort, the beats feeling more like distant heartbeats or massive steps of doom, like something overwhelming is lurking just over the horizon. Here the equivalent drone shimmer is something calmer, almost sweet at points, though it could almost be an enforced serenity in turn, where the only logical thing to do is to find some kind of beauty in total extremity. The final track extends and concludes this feeling, with the slow, rolling sigh of a wash of sound acting like a wave moving onto a shoreline with the quietest but most unsettling of motions, ebbing and flowing before concluding on the first truly bright, almost hopeful note throughout the album, as if something was finally passed through or at least endured. It's a soft piano (or at least piano-sounding) part moving up through the reverb note by note, and it's a lovely way to bring Köner's work here to a strong conclusion.


Born: 1965 in Bochum, Germany

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the few musicians with ties to the unrelated but somewhat connected fields of contemporary avant-garde, techno, and indie rock, Thomas Köner has released albums of sparse ambience for the Dutch Barooni label, recorded similarly skeletal and lo-fi techno (with Andy Mellwig) as Porter Ricks, and appeared on albums by Bill Laswell's Divination as well as Sonic Boom's EAR collective. A native of Germany, Köner began recording with 1990's Nunatak Gongamur, the first in a series of LPs for Barooni....
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Novaya Zemlya, Thomas Köner
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