By most accounts, one of the most perplexing rock albums ever released was Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Was it a taunting prank directed at Reed’s fans, the grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation couched in the form of an insolent dare thrown at his record label, or—by design or by default—an innovative work of sound art? Choose whichever answers one prefers, forty-one years after its original release—and rapid withdrawal from the market--it has been established as a kind of standard stoppage against which noise music can be measured.
As it is for German saxophonist/composer Ulrich Krieger. Krieger, who composes acoustic chamber music as well as electronic works, found Metal Machine Music to be something like Xenakis for amplified guitar. The sound intrigued him, and he undertook the seemingly quixotic task of transcribing and arranging Metal Machine Music for performances by acoustic orchestral instruments. His involvement with the music continued when he formed the Metal Machine Trio with Reed and with Sarth Calhoun on live processing. The trio, which was formed in 2008, occupied itself with what Krieger termed a “philosophical and aesthetic” update of the original Metal Machine Music recording.
Krieger plays what he calls “acoustic electronics” for amplified saxophone. Starting with extended techniques on the instrument, he amplifies and processes the results into sounds that call up the timbral palettes of industrial or heavy metal music. His latest release, the double CD /RAW:ReSpace/, features him on electric tenor saxophone, saxophone-controlled feedback, effects and delays. The first disc, dedicated to Reed, contains five pieces of approximately ten to eighteen minutes each, which are titled for desert towns of Southern California. Here Krieger is at his harshest, sculpting waves of static, simulating the sound of a car horn, pushing out an abrasive wash of white noise, mimicking the sound of an overdriven electric guitar feeding back or, with drummer Joshua Carro added on Needles, generating the sludge of a heavy metal chord progression. Underneath it all the reedy voice of the saxophone is at times discernible—felt rather than heard, albeit in an altered form.
In perhaps the most apposite allusion to Metal Machine Music, the second disc is given over to a piece for saxophone-controlled feedback and delay. The 74 minute long piece is structured as episodes of subtly modulated feedback broken by prolonged silences—perhaps an oblique acknowledgement of Krieger’s association with the Wandelweiser group. The crossing of the restrained sensibility of the latter with the insolent aggression of Metal Machine Music is, in its own way, a viable updating of Reed’s recording.