Jan Jelinek
Kosmischer Pitch






The literal roots of Jan Jelinek's album Kosmischer Pitch, released in 2005 on the  ~scape label, are of the Krautrock kind. Even though the strongly alienating music of acts like Amon Düül or The Cosmic Jokers is perfectly suitable for use in a new context, in this case electronic music, strangely enough no other artist has done it in a concentrated form like this. Jelinek comes up with new micro worlds all the time, from his Clicks & Cuts classic Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records over his faux-band project The Exposures to his latest Exotica-driven phantasmagoric travelogs Circulations and More Circulations. Kosmischer Pitch relies on two main concepts: it is on the one hand his most obvious entry of loop-based music. Since the loops are repeated incessantly, their melodious or captivating qualities are as important as the slight alterations and modulations of the filters which the loops have to pass. On the other hand, Jelinek tries to come up with a typical German album, relying heavily on a short phase of experimental Rock. Kosmischer Pitch could hence be seen as either a counterpoint or an additional viewpoint of distantly similar albums by Gas, for instance Zauberberg (1997) and Königsforst (1998) with their deep string-heavy loops that depict the yearning for the German forest but also explicitly point to gloomy danger-evoking themes in a pompous manner. Even if you don't know anything about acoustic guitar bands in general or Krautrock compositions in particular, Jelinek adds several interesting twists to the eight songs that make this album tremendously soothing and even more revitalizing.

Universal Band Silhouette is the gateway to the path through a dreamy wood created via German engineering. A soothing, sustained string shimmers carefully, reminding of Jelinek's Jazz album or his work with the Japanese Avantgarde band Computer Soup. Quiet acoustic guitars twang along that are played backwards and twisted in several other ways. Drones of bass guitars and hazy clicks as well as galactic wah-wah bursts shift the focus away from the glacial ambience to the warmer analog realm of Krautrock. Surprisingly warm vibraphone drones enter, and added beats and percussion underline the four-note theme of the vibes plus the accompaniment of the acoustic guitars. Only slightly noticeable are the various whirling bits and laser-like pulses that refer back to the cosmic title of the album, enhancing the organic feel with sun-bathed molecules from space. Curiously enough, Universal Band Silhouette is the weakest link of the album, its melody isn't catchy enough and doesn't live up the hype of the soporific ambience promised at the beginning. However, all of the remaining seven tracks are better, I believe. Take the following Lemminge Und Lurchen Inc. which is a fantastically jazzy obscurity with its blurred glitz of mallet instruments and the pulsating piano melody, both of which are juxtaposed to rattling claves and hazy bass loops, making this the least loop-focused and presumably warmest cut, whereas Im Discodickicht (roughly translatable as in the disco's thicket) is based on a staccato four-note bass melody in 6/8 time with vestigial but sizzling-hot guitar strings that are later enhanced with similar brethren, spluttering bells and various whistles as well as upbeat whirls of static noise, thus making it the dance track of the album, whereas dance is a generous term that is definitely not too applicable here.

The killer track of the album has to be Vibraphonspulen (literally vibraphone loops) with its – you guessed correctly – terrifically mellow iridescence of the vibraphone, the abyssal bass drones and backwards played tambourins. No obvious guitar is used on this track which is purely Ambient and Exotica. It is all about the several vibraphone layers. Taking the press release photos into account, I'd bet that the several vibraphone loops were created by Jelinek himself rather than taken from the Krautrock source material he accessed. Anyway, Vibraphonspulen is magnificent, and though the melodies are diffuse, the metallic – or rather malletic – warmth makes this a very strong, slightly melancholic vignette which delivers the idea of a coruscating cosmos best. Lithiummelodie 1 starts with blurry drones, hisses and a glowing monotonous but pulsating guitar string. The biggest surprise is the catchy martelato guitar melody that is blatantly thrown together via different snippets and bits, possibly forming a new melody that isn't heard like this in the original piece, wherever it may derive from. Additional faux-field recordings of nocturnal insects and occasional clicks round off another gorgeous track.

Planeten In Halbtrauer (semi-mourning planets) continues the Krautrock scheme which really takes off since Lithiummelodie 1. A very catchy four-note guitar riff is repeated incessantly and accompanied by short licks, warped insect noises and the incisive shawm-like sustain of yet another guitar. Since the main guitar loop is so warm and melodious, it carries the whole track which, though repetitive, is not the slightest bit boring. The three minutes long Western Mimikry is an astonishingly polyphonous skit with several guitar layers, bouncy percussion and electronic maracas whose reverb paints a vast wideness. This is one of the more song-based tracks where the loops aren't used in an overly obvious fashion. The final Morphing Leadguitarre Rückwärts again explains the concept in its title already, referring to a lead guitar that is played backwards, permanently modulated and altered. The mercurial loop swells and ebbs, with complemental guitar fragments and another backwards played brightly illuminated loop layer entering after a few minutes and ending the album on a cherubic, peaceful and content note.

Kosmischer Pitch is a very good and, above all, skilled presentation of the former Krautrock era. However, it is not for everyone, possibly neither for me, despite my glowing review. The focus on quirky guitar melodies and related, backwards played bleepy fragments as well as the insistence on bold loops might scare off Ambient fans who prefer a more flowing or synth-heavy approach. I believe that Krautrock fans might have the most fun with this record due to the strong reminiscences and the supposedly obvious sources of the material. I don't know anything about Krautrock which makes me a victim or, to put it more mildly, a reviewer who lacks an important field of knowledge in order to fully grasp and enjoy the little bits and pieces Jelinek intertwines in Kosmischer Pitch. That I am all the more skilled in distilling the sources of his aforementioned Exotica works like Circulations and More Circulations doesn't help me the slightest bit in regard to Kosmischer Pitch. I vote for most of the songs, as the album gets already better from track 2 onwards: the strange but catchy piano melodies of Lemminge Und Lurchen Inc., the vibraphone drones in Vibraphonspulen as well as the various short visits from insects in Lithiummelodie 1 and Planeten In Halbtrauer cater to fans of an earthen, nature-driven ambience, despite the title. The cosmic clicks, hissed splutters and misty fizzles augment the album further. If you can cope with the loop-based approach, this album is totally worth it. If you don't like loops and guitars, there are still the Lemminge and vibraphone tracks available which are both terrific on their own and definitely Ambient.




Ambient Review 041: Jan Jelinek – Kosmischer Pitch (2005). Originally published on May 23, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.