Last night I had the unexpected luck of hearing the German electronic musician Jan Jelinek perform at the new Brooklyn venue Public Records. It was lucky because I only learned of the show, which later sold out, by stopping by the venue, which also includes a café, during the day recently. People had been telling me about the place for a few months, and a couple articles have also appeared that describe a sort of experimental music renaissance in the Gowanus district in which it’s located. I live right on the edge of Gowanus, near the western border of Park Slope, and frankly this was the first concert I’ve attended in Gowanus since Issue Project Room made it’s home there, in two different locations. It left the Gowanus years ago (2012?) eventually occupying its current location in downtown Brooklyn, and suffice it to say that I find it hard to accept the idea of a Gowanus experimental music renaissance now that Issue is long gone.

Nonetheless, last night’s performance at Public Records was exceptional. Jelinek’s particular approach to mixed-media soundscapes, which in this case involved a modular synthesizer and some sort of step-sequencer/sampler, was beautifully rendered through the retro-inspired, hi-fidelity surround-sound sound system that makes the Public Records “sound room” unique. The piece lasted upwards of an hour, with numerous episodes, crescendos and transitional liquidations, and while there were occasional lulls, the sonic journey was mostly riveting. Jelinek clearly has a creative and masterly command of his technology, and over the years has developed a distinctive style of looping, mutating, hallucinatory electronic soundscapes. This performance very much resembled his earlier albums Tierbeobachtungen [translation: Wildlife Viewing] and Kosmischer Pitch [Cosmic Pitch] both of which I’ve always found intriguing, if somewhat lugubrious and, oddly, low-fi. In this setting however, his sound was anything but low-fi, though these days, with the increasing popularity of low-fi aesthetics, would be entirely welcome.

But back to Issue and the Gowanus. All evening I kept thinking of another memorable night of German electronic music that took place at Issue Project Room’s Old American Can Factory location in 2008. That program featured a showcase of the label Raster-Noton and included performances by Alva Noto, Byetone, Frank Bretschneider, and Signal. All of the artists that night used a video animation system that responded to the amplitude and timbre of their sounds, creating a brilliant visual rendering. I felt a lot of connection with Jelinek’s performance, which also included, as it happened, a video component. In this case, a video camera, what appeared to be a GoPro, was mounted on a stand just above the table containing his setup, which projected the artist’s real-time knob twiddling throughout. It was similarly effective in it’s own way.

Whatever the prospects may be for a 2019 music renaissance in the Gowanus, or anywhere in New York for that matter, Public Records, and its sound room in particular, is a welcome addition to the landscape. I’ll probably go back again….

Jan Jelinek
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