Carefully crafted soundscapes. Delicate melodies, intricately interwoven. Gossamer-thin percussion tracks, pushed to the rear of the mix like so many barely tolerated guests. This isn’t the Apparat of 2001 – the young techno pretender whose bread and butter was beats; whose natural home was the heaving, throbbing dance floor. Rather, this is Apparat – real name Sascha Ring – the electro Berliner whose prolific output is increasingly defined by a preference for ambient sounds over bruising floorfillers.
It’s a long-term trend: by the time The Devil’s Walk LP was released in 2011 – his first on Mute and the first to feature the Apparat Band – ‘slow’ and ‘sombre’ were the established bywords and there was a markedly increased prominence for vocal tracks. His efforts were well in the process of migrating from sweaty clubs to stylish film trailers and TV scenes, including the climactic scene in a Breaking Bad finale.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, to find that the ninth Apparat album sees his stylistic about-face just about complete: Krieg Und Frieden (Music For Theatre) is, as the title suggests, a theatrical score. But not for a modern, contemporary play that would welcome an electro score; no, that would be too easy. Instead, this is the soundtrack to Sebastian Hartmann’s ambitious production of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
So Sascha dives in at the deep end, but his catalogue to date would seem to suggest that he’s equipped to bob safely to the surface, buoyed by a willingness to experiment; to progress to wielding emotions rather than drum machines. Complete the backstory with a 30-strong group of instrumentalists rehearsing for four weeks in an abandoned factory, as well as a curious twist: the music was never intended for release, but was instead to cease to exist when the production’s run came to an end.
Was the reprieve worthwhile? Yes and no. Krieg Und Frieden is, to put it bluntly, uneventful. The first 10 minutes consist of a droning crescendo that, while atmospheric, reveals little of Sascha’s innate talents. Lighton cuts in with soft synth and restrained, careworn vocals, eventually unveiling considered percussive thumps and even a hint of glitch knob-twiddling. Thereafter, Tod reintroduces skittering, shimmering chords; Blank Page does likewise, though its fashion is more conventionally orchestral.
Of course, there is no innate problem with such unhurried soundsmithery – and the album frequently stumbles across poignant movements and passages – but divorced from the stage, it isn’t just the visual aspect that is lost. One can’t escape the suspicion that something intangible has escaped; that the sounds – while occasionally dense and satisfying – are bereft, compromised when presented in isolation.
To make a spurious comparison, Air‘s The Virgin Suicides soundtrack excels in its own right because things happen: it makes its own drama, tells its own story. By the same token, any given Dustin O’Halloran album could conceivably serve as a score because they’re already so evocative. Sadly, this is not the case for Krieg Und Frieden. As a stand-alone piece, it is unremarkable, and even A Violent Sky – the beautiful and wistful closing track – can’t redeem it entirely.