"MUSIC: ONE FLIGHT UP"  

by Robert Carlberg

Electronic Musician  11/89 (condensed)

I'm guessing most of today's music will always sound like 1989 (if, indeed it's ever heard in the future).   However, this production is different.

Conrad Praetzel sent in a demo tape two years ago, which appeared in the December 1987 issue.  In the short review, I wished for a "CD of CP", and said, "Somebody should sign this guy up!"  Well, somebody finally did, and now the new CD of CP is here.  It's called Between Present and Past .  

All four tracks on Praetzel's demo made it to the CD (although one mysteriously changed titles), joined by eight more tracks of similarly outstanding quality.  Five are uptempo, using sampled plucked basses and rhythmic percussive noises (not really drumkit sounds), but the seven others are slower, moody Ishamesque "tone poems".  Praetzel does not belabor his music, knowing when to fade out-most tracks are short (one to three minutes).  His synthesizers are not identified, but the samples and digital voicing indicate that my two -year-old guess of Kurzweil or Emulator is probably not far off.

What is it about Praetzel's music that makes it so unusual?  I've asked myself that question in that last couple of weeks, and that is what motivated the rambling at the beginning of this column.  I'm not sure I have the answer.  It isn't the sounds-lots of people have used the same types of sounds recently.  I can only guess that its Praetzel's composing.  He gives little indication that a lot more is going on than meets the eye (to mix metaphors).  Each track has at least one distinguishing feature, something unusual in the world of electronic music, as if he's intentionally pushing the limits of what is expected.  The opening track, "Mistress and Men", uses a sliding pitch bend in the melody, which is at both startling and feels completely right.  You don't here much integral pitch-bending outside of country music.

Or the second track, "Fish That Walk on Land" (I love his titles, too).  He's got a sort of walking bass line going, but every once in a while it sort of hiccups, the way Ron Carter is famous for doing on real bass.  It's a simple thing, but oh so effective.

The track that changed names, now called Forest of Dreams", is followed a couple of tracks later by one entitled "In the same Forest".  They use the same sort of sampled bass line. Coincidence? Think again.  The track called "Prayer Flags" uses a lovely popping reverb sound-again simple but unusual and very memorable.

Most of all, Between Present and Past is a mature fully developed work.  It has such strong composing that I think it actually could be played by bagpipes or fiddlers.  The music does not depend on technology-and as such, anybody could do this themselves at home-and good music outlasts the latest "neat sounds" every time.  Although this is his "debut album", Praetzel has wrestled his machines and come out on top.