Thomas Köner
Unerforschtes Gebiet






Talk about a tongue twister, regardless of the temperature one faces at any given moment: Unerforschtes Gebiet (oon-air-forsh-taz ga-beat, gulp!) is German multimedia artist Thomas Köner’s seventh album, created and released in 2001 on the Die Stadt label in a limited edition of 700 vinyl copies, then followed a year later by a CD release of 1000 copies with an added bonus track. The latter is the version I am reviewing. Even though it is not the preferred version to own – vinyl always wins – it has its qualities, and there is much to write about the bonus track Les Sœurs Lumière which is based on Belgian filmmaker Karen Vanderborght’s millennial movie. Unerforschtes Gebiet translates to unexplored area, so it is interesting to see how sorcerer of drones enmeshes that track with the arctic beauty of Unerforschtes Gebiet A and B. Since this work is made by Köner and part of my Winter Ambient Review Cycle 2013, one knows what to expect, and expects what one knows: frosty superstructures, turbulent storms, field recording intertwinements and a Drone galore with adjacent Glitch vestibules. A remote arctic region is illustrated on the front artwork, showcasing the artistic task of coming up with the illusion of being in this life-threatening place. As usual, the listener should not even expect the smallest vestige of a melody, and yet Unerforschtes Gebiet is indeed keener on melody-like structures than the artist’s eternally wintry Permafrost (1993). The two title tracks see many a monotonous synth-oid drone injected. In addition, there are cautious and fragile movements which could be denoted as melody-esque, though in Unerforschtes Gebiet, Köner is keen on presenting the respective area as is, with not too many obvious adjuvants intermixed. A meticulous look is about to follow which carves out the many strengths of this release, but also addresses two big flaws.


Unerforschtes Gebiet A is a particularly synergetic track even – or especially so – when Thomas Köner’s versatile Drone concoctions are considered. This long-form vignette draws from many a different setting, there is so much going on that the title track gracefully yet distinctly denies the majestic solemnity of works such as said Permafrost. Launching with dun-colored abyssal sine tones and the expected hazy airflow, the topic is firmly set, but the textures and patterns themselves are freely floating and twirling in this comparably turbulent sequence of events. Fluttering flysheets, pompous and utterly threnodic horn signals of far-away ghost ships plus injected Geiger counter particles unite field recordings with the Drone and Glitch genres in an aural cinematography par excellence. The dynamics of Unerforschtes Gebiet A are impressive to this day, although their shapeshifting complexions tend to become more elasticized and prolonged seven minutes into the composition. Around the thirteenth minute, the snowstorm becomes more granular and silky at the same time, enchanting with its whitewashed plateaus of spheroidal pink noise, all the while a Celtic-Nordic horn or stretched string floats in-between the girdling turmoil. Unerforschtes Gebiet A ends with an encore of its triptych-evoking ingredients: increasingly daemoniac synthetic drone washes, glacial gales and bubbling asbestus-alloyed clicks.


Unerforschtes Gebiet B again marries an aficionado’s expectancy with the work's Drone structure, sure, but right from the start, the siliceous ice floe and high-plasticity circumambience of the crackling coruscation is bolstered, augmented and interpolated by the means of Köner's distinguishing prime example, one which was integrated in Unerforschtes Gebiet A already, but not in such a feisty, bone-grinding way: abysmally low frequency rivulets and protuberances. They neither absorb nor swallow the icy forces rather than backing and accompanying them, but the omnipresent, next to incessant impact they emit is frightening and soothing, a dichotomy that becomes all the more perverse within the safe boundaries of one’s home sweet home. The bass-driven drones are not even purposely dark. They are often reaching out for the mid frequency range, a state which lets them pierce and cut through the blizzard-pestered air all the better. Compared to the first incarnation, Unerforschtes Gebiet B is a tiny bit more industrial and aerose, in lack of better terms. The drone strata seem vaulted, sound more machine-like and are entrapped in a cavity. The quiescent interim phases are filled with tranquility, the pith of nullity is able to creep into the arrangement. Taking the well-known Glitch vesicles into account as well, Unerforschtes Gebiet B takes all the particles of its kin, but is no mere appendix rather than a paradoxically mellow place of shelter complete with traces of warmth as emanated in close proximity to the low frequency rivulets.


When I write that Unerforschtes Gebiet B is no appendix to the first track, then the same can be said of Les Sœurs Lumière, the bonus track of the CD version. Yes, it does leave an infinitesimally bad aftertaste, if only for the fact that – gasp! – spoken word samples and snippets off Karen Vanderborght's eponymous movie are prominently interwoven into the soundscape. To be honest, this is indeed a big flaw, but since it is advertised as a bonus track, it does not necessarily degrade the aloofness of the original two-part album. Why then do I mention this potential flaw? Because Les Sœurs Lumière is by the same token stupefyingly compatible to the endemics! The voice of Varina Cantovilla sounds hollow, reverb coats her pseudo-exhilarative timbre, but once this introductory phase of over three minutes is overcome, the piece improves and unites the hibernal harshness of Unerforschtes Gebiet A with the brazen plant cellars of Unerforschtes Gebiet B, notwithstanding the fact that this industrialism is only accidentally spawned on the B track. Les Sœurs Lumière creates its scintillating iciness via a mélange of vibraphones which face melancholic guitar twangs. To make the piece fully stringent, distant wind gusts are blowing over the land as well, but they are perceived from inside a complex or concourse. To be perfectly honest: the added movie portions feel horribly de trop. If they were included in the beginning only, all would be fine, but they reappear time and again, intersecting the scenery and disturbing the flow. But hey, what do I know? Actually, there is quite a strong line delivered, and anyone who has siblings and is in constant touch with them can possibly relate to the power of this exclamation: “Whoever dies first becomes the guardian angel of the other.”

Unerforschtes Gebiet is a prototypical Köner monolith, it delivers “more of the same,” a sentence which radiates a usually ashen afterglow in regard to the possible connotations of standstill and formulaic endeavor, but this is exactly what Drone fans want from the artist. Since his discography is quite small and much thought put into each soundscape, the three-track CD reissue is an addictive addition, although with two particular flaws whose impetus depends on the listener’s good will. You already know what I am hinting at: the first flaw, of course, is embroidered in Les Sœurs Lumière and consists of the citation of lines off Karen Vanderborght’s film. I do not mind the sampled words of wisdom per se, only their recurrent appearance when one least expects them. The very moment one has adjusted to the frosty melancholia and dualistic diorama, Lucia arrives, bemoaning the death of Stella, challenging the listener by readjusting the focus away from the textural qualities and onto the meaning of her words. Another part of one’s brain is suddenly in demand, one that Drone fans do not normally use often when listening to the genre: the speech center. You can like that or not. Conceptually, it is on the edge of feeling wrong, as the perception of an unexplored area is neglected, but then reintroduced due to the gorgeous surfaces and micro-tonal formations. The second flaw is found in Unerforschtes Gebiet A and its odd line of rapid sequences. Despite its runtime of over 21 minutes, Thomas Köner places one shift after the other, gyrating around winds, placidity, Glitch globs and field recordings. The changes happen all too swiftly. That said, I for one adore the liveliness of Unerforschtes Gebiet A, as it does not destroy the adamant gravitas of the depicted panorama, but your mileage may vary, and I could not possibly argue about that. Unerforschtes Gebiet B is, in the end, the real deal: it seems to have all the time in the world, stacks multitudinous bass drones onto each other and sees Thomas Köner grafting blizzards and clicks. Whatever your poison is, Unerforschtes Gebiet is a rough, deliberately jagged Drone work of the most glacial kind. The vinyl version has been sold out, but webshops and digital music stores have the CD or its purely digital incantation readily available.




Ambient Review 298: Thomas Köner – Unerforschtes Gebiet (2001). Originally published on Dec. 25, 2013 at