Jan Jelinek






Jan Jelinek's follow-up album of his Krautrock-infused loopventures he assembled in Kosmischer Pitch (2004) is his most stripped-down work at a first glance, but nonetheless very intriguing: Tierbeobachtungen (animal observations) is the last entry of his string of albums that were released on the Berlin-based ~scape label, and it is interesting for three particular reasons, all of which Jelinek targets at some point and deliberately misses in order to expand the allusions of the cover artwork and the title. Firstly, Tierbeobachtungen was created in transit when Jelinek moved his studio gear and audio equipment to another destination. Will this nerve-racking process of movement and narrowed-down organization alter his music in any way, does it become rougher, more rushed or even tense? I am willed to answer this later. Secondly, one notices the conceptual juxtaposition to Kosmischer Pitch. Piles of loops mesh and disentangle on both albums, and once a melody isn't particularly strong rather than purposefully blurred and sketchy, it is the textures that make up for the loss and inject an aural haze of dreaminess or sleak coolness. While Jelinek reinvented himself on every album, Tierbeobachtungen really does seem like a six-track addendum to the artist's Krautrock phase. Finally, the concept of depicting nature or the titular animals is of high interest. There are basically four cornerstones in electronic music: the artist uses field recordings of animals, or decides to intermix related sound libraries. Another way is to use the own voice to enchant listeners with birdcalls or other noises – an often-used trick in the Exotica genre –, with the fourth possibility being the one Jelinek decides upon, namely mimicking animals via sound pulses. This is all the more astonishing in hindsight, since his succeeding monikers like the Exotica-flavored Society For The Emancipation Of Sampling or his straight beat-focused Farben releases on his own Faitiche label are embedding animal samples of all kinds every so often. The animal factor is thus low on Tierbeobachtungen, but what remains left on Jelinek's strictest Ambient album mostly shines.

Launching his album with the most splendid eight minutes,
A Concert For Television is a proper Drone track with delicately liquid steel guitar droplets, a luminescent, monotonously wafting haze plus gelid, vibraphone-resembling bells, altogether parts of the same four seconds long loop that is created to the point, perfectly carved out and never tiresome. While it harks back to the salad days of Krautrock, it is actually way more dreamy and less spacey than the guitar-fueled pieces of Kosmischer Pitch. After around 100 seconds, a quirkily buzzing two-note motif is fading in, meshing well with the resplendent lushness of the aural panorama. After the inclusion of an almost unnoticeable analog test pattern-evoking sine stream and relatedly wonky bird-resembling particles, the arrangement is enriched with further textures. Despite the obvious ploy in regard to the chirping birds and frog-like pink noise sweeps, the sound thicket is enormously relaxing and bright. The landscape is both carefree, uplifting and mysterious at the same time, making this one of Jelinek's very best loop-based transcendent Ambient tracks and a strong favorite of mine. The following Palmen Aus Leder (translatable as leather palm trees) boosts the wildlife atmosphere in a different way: instead of featuring all too glaringly fake animal noises, it is the bonfire guitar loops and rivers of crackling but silkened static fizzles that make up the two-second loop structure of this Ambient track. Once this frame is set up, trembling synth crickets scuttle through the track while distant owl-like breezes and storky squawks are subtly intertwined. Since the guitar lasers are so warm – now truly linking back to Kosmischer Pitch – the animal noises are less obvious than on the opener. This changes during the end, when a vignette of 50 seconds encompasses belling deer and the snapping noise of the observant's camera. 

The epic track title
The Ballad Of Soap. Und: Die GEMA Nimmt Kontakt Auf (roughly translatable as the German collecting society GEMA makes contact) is yet again oscillating between Kosmischer Pitch material in the form of backwards-played six-note acoustic guitar loops and equally reversed but way more punchy two-note guitar slaps that interestingly enough resemble the characteristic traits of temple gongs, boosting the Far Eastern mentality of this composition ever so slightly. Gently whistling sine waves are yet again interwoven, and due to the album title, I'm willed to link them once again to chirping birds, which is something I admittedly wouldn't have done otherwise. One of the guitar loops is heavily altered later and fades out in a gurgling, spluttering way, like a malfunctioning Geiger counter, only to make room for a Space-Age vista of laser particles, analog 60's molecules and other otherworldly warped and warbled noise concoctions. This track feels rather rustic to me since I am no fan of such stripped down to the bones acoustic guitar loops, but the endemic mood of the album is retained. Up To My Same Old Trick Again is quite a realistic, but definitely not pessimistic confession of the Berlin-based producer who delivers, well, more of the same. Around the core of three-note bass guitar pulses orbits a two-note acoustic guitar loop. A third catchily blurred guitar lick is glued onto the loop and completes the trio, which is then placed in-between whitewashed drone layers of static noise, crackles and clicks. 

The fifth track is called
Happening Tone, and it's an eminently saccharine beauty of a Drone track, with a rather thin beginning in form of a – now firmly established and hence expected – golden quavering two-note. Various long guitar strings are heavily filtered, flangered and modulated, howling and wah-wahing around the skeleton. What sounds like an acidic Shoegaze anthem is actually a rose-tinted, mild-mannered mélange of occasionally gelid, but otherwise entirely sun-soaked protuberances of bliss and warmth. It is the second truly strong track after the opener that detaches itself from the majority of the Krautrock material and can only, if ever, be linked to the outro track of Kosmischer Pitch called Morphing Leadgitarre Rückwärts. Two things are missing on this track, and that is a proper bass guitar or synthesizer-created Dub bassline as well as a gallimaufry of artificial animal noises, but their omission does not hurt the arrangement and lets it glimmer all the gentler. The final track is called Tierbeobachtung, and it is a boldly experimental and analog Ambient tune with not much else than repetitive sine spirals, hazy veils and vibraphone-like bells. It is about creatures from cyberspace, if you will, with no melodies in sight. In a way, this is the most stringent scoring of the promised wildlife, relying on repetitive cycles, but keeping the music-related aspects to a minimum. 

Tierbeobachtungen is a good follow-up of Kosmischer Pitch with a wonderful overarching concept and no signs of arbitrariness, but the limits Jelinek sets himself can also narrow the listener base. The most obvious example is the lack of any real animal noise, be it from a sound library or a unique field recording. Since these are scattered among so many Ambient releases, the approach of simulating them via synthesizers is definitely appealing, though. The 60's nature documentary-evoking scheme is also nurtured by the purposefully cheap and thin sine tone generators; the tones do not sound like animals, even Amiga games of the late 80's sound more realistic in this regard, but every piece of the puzzle is put together in the head of the listener, and from a psychoacoustic viewpoint, Jelinek succeeds, as the listener transforms the audio waves into noises known from the real world. The melodies are also strongly reduced, no theme or motif contains more than six notes, no distinctive loop lasts longer than four seconds. Drone layers camouflage these conceptually justified shortcomings, but if they don't, it is the task of the textures to enchant the listener. If you are a fan of guitar-driven Ambient music and acoustic guitars in particular, this should be a splendid release for you. However, I would have wished for a return of the vibraphones and a mixture of more varied guitars on Tierbeobachtungen. In the end, Jan Jelinek's best carved out Ambient album comprises of two huge hits – A Concert For Television and Happening Tone – and three even more loop-focused guitar tracks, with the finishing phase of an analog, guitarless sine pulse dreamscape. Since the album is coherent and provides great backdrops of haze drones, I am all in all satisfied with the earthen-cosmic dichotomy of his Ambient hybrid and recommend it to fans of strongly loop-based music and those who want to experience the commonplace nature-related approach in a different manner.




Ambient Review 149: Jan Jelinek – Tierbeobachtungen (2006). Originally published on Nov. 21, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.