To Rococo Rot & I-Sound
Music Is A Hungry Ghost






Whatever the true meaning of the title Music Is A Hungry Ghost really is, the German trio of To Rococo Rot delivers a tremendously warm and modern-sounding Glitch avantgarde album with the help of electronic and Contemporary Jazz musician I-Sound aka Craig Willingham. At first, I wasn't particularly fond of the album when it was released in 2001. This doesn't mean that I disliked it. But I simply wasn't ready back then, maybe too young, my musical horizon shattered and rotten to the core. Over the years, though, I kept coming back to the album for various reasons. I noticed a few of its obvious strengths before, mainly its saccharine melodies, the mellowness of the allotted guitar notes and the glistening percussive clicks. But altogether, as I've just stated, the beats weren't tight enough, the melodies seemed too arbitrary et cetera. The story has a happy end for me: nowadays, I can't understand why I disliked the fragile, lively and improvised compositions by the brothers Ronald & Robert Lippok and Stefan Schneider. What's so utterly appealing now is the cozy shelter the majority of the 13 tracks provide, even though some stylistic choices seem to be counterintuitive, and yet these curlicues add to the specific soundscape of To Rococo Rot's best album to date, at least on my list. It's not exactly a proper Ambient album, but it resides in close proximity to this genre nonetheless.

A Number Of Things starts harshly and by the numbers with static noise, radio frequencies, short bursts of modem sounds and chopped-up vocal samples, altogether things we've heard before and after this release in very similar contexts. But once the majority of the static noise fades away and makes room for a short loop of pops and an icy monotonous pulse, a few crackling particles in the background and the band's typical guitar themes – here in a four-note version –, the song morphs into a hybrid of whitewashed, pulse-laden parts and organic tremblings. It is not a catchy opener per se, but a good indicator of the mélange of styles presented on this release. The following For A Moment is much more catchy thanks to its coruscating pulses of ice, zipper-like acid remnants, punchy electronic drums and terrifically down-spiraling synth drops. Hazy synth washes and polyphonous blurred eruptions lead to the second phase of the track, a dark three-note mid-tone line through which the already introduced sound effects permeate incessantly. The fast Hip Hop-like beat denies this entry the status of an Ambient track, but the whirring sounds and the reoccurring pauses and spaces are remnants (or rather foreshadowing devices) of the Clicks & Cuts movement. Since these sounds are so soothing and relaxing, I come back to this track often. A perfect blend of modern home architecture with warmer sound carpets. Another track worth mentioning is the 2+ minutes long First with its rhythmical buzzes that are accompanied by deliciously deep Detroit synth stabs, thunderous rumblings and fuzzy needle printer-like loops. It is so reduced, so busy and yet utterly warm and deep that it is enchanting. Only recently have I been able to digest and worship this delicate mixture.

The band remains in this chopped-up dreamy state: while the appropriately titled
From Dream To Daylight is based on synth stacks, scattered shakers, a faux-bongo groove, sunlight-transporting guitar goodness and the unexpected romance of violin strings by Alexander Balanescu, Your Secrets, A Few Words consists of a splendid rhythmic pattern of electronic buzzes and metallic clangs, all the while incomprehensible spectral voices, clichéd computer noises and the return of the zipper-like pulses evoke the feeling of an anthem for the modern lifestyle. Even though all ingredients are electronic, potentially harsh and glacial, the track feels warm and cozy. Fans of Oval know the drill and should be happy with this construction. The 4+ minutes long Overhead relies heavily on both a two-note Detroit synth loop that varies ever so slightly, and on an accompanying Rave-like pad. Add pumping beats and hollow water-like drops to it, and this song with a definite robotic feel encompasses organic and technical ingredients. It's a retrograde skit about modernity. Futuristic elements consist of galactic swirls and incisive clangs. If it wasn't for the deep Detroit remnants, I would have considered this a misstep. But as usual, the tiniest fragments of warmth elevate a typical To Rococo Rot track to higher, more melodious regions.

One of my initial favorite tracks even back in 2001 is
Pantone, which was released on an EP of the same name, but in a different version. The album version presents a sparkling glockenspiel melody as the superstructure which is accompanied by two slightly different rapid-firing multitextured synth stabs of pure warmth, mellifluous bass drones and laser-like chirps. The typical guitar melody blends perfectly with the mix, and a beautiful synth string main melody of contentment takes over the song for a too short timeframe. The song ends with the staccato stabs, percussive clicks and a long glimpse of the backing synth washes. It's a beautiful small ditty, not particularly syrupy or catchy rather than humble and laid back. Although the penultimate She Tended To Forget is a rare dud with too many frosty bit-crushed eruptions that destroy an otherwise wonderfully easygoing, deliciously blurred electric piano melody, the outro The Trance Of Travel finds the band in poppy fields of, err, Pop with a sleazy funk rhythm, a gorgeously catchy filtered two-note melody whose sustain merges with the silent background. There is not much else to this song despite a few additional percussive clicks and cowbells, convivial stereo-panned sound effects and a very short guitar intersection. This song is as Pop-like as the band will ever go, and if you dig this style, there's an alternate version on the aforementioned Pantone EP as well.

Though I've only reviewed nine of the thirteen tracks off
Music Is A Hungry Ghost, I could've written this review for therapeutic reasons, to show myself that I've grown accustomed to a cultural artifact of modernism that once bewildered me despite its obvious qualities – and due to a fear deep inside, I've striked off four songs. But seriously, this is a great downbeat album with Ambient ingredients and Detroit deepness scattered all over it. However, a few warning words about a phenomenon I've experienced myself: Music Is A Hungry Ghost is meant for skilled Ambient listeners! Whatever your definition of a skilled listener is and whether you find his term insulting or not, it is clear from the get-go that the band has hidden the melodies and euphonious bursts in-between the alcoves of each track. This is not an album of Pop Ambient tracks. It demands both the listener's attention and the willingness to savor the interplay of space and sound, Glitch elements and percussive clicks, Detroit synth stabs and warm guitar motifs. The occasional coldness or clinical sterility is only maintained for a few seconds before some element of warmth enters the scenery. I suggest to pre-listen to the Detroit-y First, the liquid drop-driven and click-laden For A Moment, the melodious Pantone, the saccharine Disco Funk of The Trance Of Travel … or just read my review of the much warmer and more melodious successor Hotel Morgen, released in 2004. 




Ambient Review 094: To Rococo Rot & I-Sound – Music Is A Hungry Ghost (2001). Originally published on Jul. 18, 2001 at