It took them several years, different work phases and many tries, but 2012 saw the release of Centrozoon’s cheekily titled Boner on Iapetus. Or should I say the releases? There are two official versions of this album available, one mastered by Adrian Benavides, the other one by Marziano Fontana. I’ve chosen the Benavides version, as this one is a bit silkier and gentler, both attributes of which are definitely needed in this Industrial Glitch Ambient varmint of an album. The differences between both versions are nonetheless mentioned in the final paragraph of this review, as the decision isn’t an easy one. The German-Swiss trio of Bernhard Wöstheinrich, Markus Reuter and Tobias Reber come up with thirteen tracks of the baleful kind, or so it seems at first, with intermixed beats, frosty hi-hats and acidified guitar layers. Not your typical Drone album, let alone an Ambient one. But in the end, it is an Ambient work, if only a very special one that you need to grow accustomed to. Its harshness might put you off if you simply pre-listen to certain tracks, but believe me, after the fifth or sixth composition, you’re totally soaked in and can properly submerge. And there are reasons to dive deeply into it, and these have to do with the synths that are hidden in-between the enormous amount of clicks, clangs and bursts. They are usually of the liquid and soothing kind, and while melodrama and even remainders of phobia are magnanimously involved in the creation of the metallic wastelands, these places of shelter gleam in vivacious colors. Fans of Autechre should definitely check this album out. But if this band name isn’t on your agenda for good reasons, as their music might be all too hostile and raucous, don’t worry, as both versions of Boner feature many beatless Ambientscapes with lots of surprises and relaxing passages. It’s one of these albums you would have never considered as an Ambient fan, but which grow on you and thus link back to the title in the most poignant way. You can listen to both versions on Centrozoon’s Bandcamp page in full: the Adriano Benavides version which I’m reviewing is here, and the Marziano Fontana incarnation is there. Disclaimer: Tobias Reber provided both versions for review purposes, and such being the case, I'm trying my best to unravel as many strata and entangled paths as possible.


The point of departure and in a way the pitch-perfect vignette to introduce Boner’s endemic peculiarities is Silent, and while it is a rather short intro track, it fires off the incumbent brazen-liquedous hybrid particles whose sustain conflates with the wafting haze of pink noise, Markus Reuter’s unvarnished cacophonous touch guitar twangs and finally the abyssal bass bubbles which accentuate the plasticity of the silver-gray aura. The molecular clangs and plinks continue in tandem, for Mauls Of Reclining launches with static noise waves, overdriven guitar strings of the haunting kind and irregularly bit-crushed bass drums, venturing into the realms of the Jungle genre for seconds, only to hark back to the salad days of minimal Ambient which are then accompanied by a glaringly gelid Glitch gauge. What sounds like a flustered jumble in theory is indeed a proper derangement, but in-between all the various sound layers, ever-changing tonalities and crunchy guitar gusts, there is a certain peace, a golden thread (though shimmering in silver) that might be degraded by the evocative rhythm-related curlicues, but nonetheless keeps the pace in form of Tobias Reber’s bubbling synthscapes and unexpectedly floating guitar washes. Maybe I’m steeled against the deliberately noisy elements thanks to The Orb’s Pomme Fritz or even due to the snare drum-heavy melodrama of Photek’s early works, but there’s a recurring fragility in Boner, as Bright Meowing showcases: AM radio sine waves, hazardously warbled vocals by Bernhard Wöstheinrich, erupting cymbals as well as ephemeral injections of staccato beats altogether induce the type of technocracy that is so typical for the Industrial genre; there are, however, astonishingly resplendent synth pads to be found in here which boost the aforementioned fragility and add a seraphic undertone to the otherwise heavily pulsating Geiger counter-loaded claustrophobia. The last 30 seconds specifically induce pure Oval-esque analogue ambience, whitewashed off any acidic squalor.


While the fabulous By Us juxtaposes vast numbers of retro-futuristic Rave bells to time-shifted spectral streams and rounds the half jocular, half cavernous arrangement off with vinyl-like pops and steel mill quirkiness, the 8+ minutes beast that is known as Smoked Info Monster takes off with the superimposition of pernicious cyberspace choirs plus Wöstheinrich’s gurgling hisses that conflate with the interpolated synth string orchestra. But there are soothing phases intermixed, too. The chinks of enigmatic bells, the almost steel guitar-like majesty of the mesmerizing touch guitar, the 80’s congeniality of the laser effects with the bleeping computer noises and the careful insinuation of a whooshing tempest together with echoey raindrops make this centerpiece an adventurous journey; it really is an opulent composition, but it is entrancing and literally spellbinding, presenting a skillful mélange of miraculous sound effects. By then, the listener should have adjusted to the overarching concept. The proper ambience of the aural sculpture called Knock Outs ploughs ahead with metallic synth pads, aurorally glowing sweeps, an ambiguously relaxing siren and turn-taking phases of nostalgia-driven uneasiness in form of heavily filtered vocals and an admixed scent of doom that is caused by the refreshingly dusky synth choir. La Waltz Of Kirk fathoms the electrifying ambience further, but garnishes it with the occasional interjection of thunderous beats, galactic steel pans and blurred space ukuleles – Cyber Exotica? I don’t know, but the mood is definitely very uplifting on this track. Make no mistake, though: if this was the first track by Centrozoon you’d hear, you possibly couldn’t successfully link my description to the huddle you’ve encountered. But La Waltz Of Kirk is really an eminently good-natured track. OK Without Reheating revs up the layers again, with upwards pitched voice fragments, sun-soaked synth creeks and an eclectic beat pattern around whose nucleus retro hi-hats, silkened frizzles and related Glitch ornaments flare incessantly. The whole track could have been featured on Autechre’s Confield, which itself is known for its rally of warmer synth capsules that are placed in frosty surroundings. Especially the beats meet the requirements.


Bell Hill Minutemen is the second big piece of the album, just in case if Smoked Info Monster wasn’t enough. And thankfully, it’s another proper Ambient panopticon full of wonky 16-bit sounds, softened pink noise layers and clownery-evoking organ grinder loops – minus the organ in order to alienate the listener. After the three minute mark, a delicately relaxing bamboo rod percussion leads into ethereal synth swirls, and alas, these moments are too short and are exchanged with equipollent micro-delineations, but none of them as successful; they remain remarkable nonetheless. Orchestra timpani make room for the most melodious part of the album, a dreamily slapped guitar that is accompanied by coruscating crystals. Bell Hill Minutemen is actually many tracks in one, and so its duration doesn’t feel long at all. A stunning piece! Sure enough, you cannot like all of its phases and states equally, but again, once you’ve adjusted to the specific sound of Centrozoon, you are going to like it. It is the following Weak Spelling that expands the maelstrom with overbalanced hi-hats and snare drums, Glitch scintillae and clicking claves as well as a howling guitar. Smooth sine waves and various different beat patterns round off the Industrial atmosphere, which is then again boosted even more in Radio Sun, though only in parts, as the Ambient structures are kept alive by the interplay of thin strings and vivid melody bursts, but the Industrial parts are stronger than ever, with banefully buzzing machinery, tubby bass blobs and screeching streams. The noise level is still not overblown, as the ambience remains equally important. The penultimate Cervus is for the Shoegaze fans, but you wouldn’t know it right from the get-go, as the glacial bile of the piercing hi-hats and the following ecclesial equilibrium of a soft organ don’t prepare the listener for the fulminant sawtooth-buzz saw that takes over the whole track due to its calamitous tone sequences. Curiously enough, the final phase integrates Far Eastern-sounding koto-esque twangs which are encapsulated by synth strings that scream "desperation". It’s a murderous track that is survived by The Yeah Winces. Quiescence and harmonious tranquility finish the album in this synth-heavy track which is underlined by occasional beats. These are used to accentuate the arcane luminescence, the dolefully portentous mood, thus ending the album as it began: with a contingently hibernal, boldly machine-heavy, carefully Glitch-interspersed superstructure.


Boner is a gargantuan piece. Fans of Autechre will be all over this release, but even those who are put off by the British duo should reconsider their opinion in regard to Centrozoon’s opus that took so long to finish, went through so many stages and hands, only to be resurrected in 2012 as something entirely else. There’s irateness and wrath all over it, with one too many machines and tech-heavy mills included, but most importantly, there are gazillions of moments where synth-related beauty floats through the many fissures, cracks and alcoves that the band allows in each and every track. The entanglement of sound, sustain and space is marvelously maintained, and if you’re a fan of Glitch Ambient, this is a no-brainer as well. What students are told about their very first lecture of Shakespeare is also true in terms of Centrozoon’s Boner (though clearly reworded by me): you will be hugely alienated, even intimidated by its very special soundscape, but once you grow accustomed to its character, you are in for an astonishing psychoacoustic experiment. Whereas students get used to a certain notation or writing style of a specific author, so can listeners fall prey to the thirteen enchanting and deliberately harsh concoctions that made it onto the album. Given the many tone shifts and stylistic changes, the real amount of included tracks might be twice the figure. And once you’ve finished the Adrian Benavides Version of Boner, there’s a second one by Marziano Fontana. His mastering and engineering is even punchier and crunchier, emphasizing the beats, the lower frequencies and the crispness of the hi-hats. And that’s what makes Centrozoon’s latest outing truly special, despite all of its compositional attributes: it shows the power an engineer has over the final mix. Normal listeners (whoever they might be, I’ve never ran into them) don’t spend too much thoughts about the mixture of a track. Sure, they’ve heard about compression artifacts, remastered versions of their 80’s Synth Pop hymns, the loudness race or loudness war, but that’s about it. It’s therefore astonishing that the band gives you the choice to decide between two officially available versions of the same album, with changed running orders and varying track lengths, so that you experience this towering critter of an album in different ways. I’ve chosen the Adrian Benavides version of Boner due to his slightly softer mix that lets the synth hooks glimmer all the more, although the Marziano Fontana version puts the synths into the forefront as well, where they are themselves much more vivid at times. Whatever your choice may be, Centrozoon take no prisoners and present a dissipated kind of a Glitch/Ambient album with strong Industrial traits. The flowing synth cascades work all the better in such surroundings, but seriously, with no offense intended, you better be in love with these genres, for this is no Drone album, and the luxurious panoramas of the New Age genre are lightyears away. If you’re a skilled pro, then by all means check out the almighty Boner!



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Ambient Review 115: Centrozoon – Boner (2012). Originally published on Aug. 29, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.