The Atman Project

Although they never made another album together, on Love and Pain (1989) composers Skeckel and Russe made a significant contribution to Germany's proud tradition of being the first to explore new music technology, Indeed, they pulled off something remarkable: the sound of machines crying.

artist:
The Atman Project

country of origin:
Germany

style(s):
Ambient, environmental, drone, experimental, Synclavia II synth

decades active:
80's

essential releases:

  • Love And Pain (1989, Wergo)

Reviewed by Mike G

Perhaps the most obscure album you'll find here at Ambient Music Guide, I was lucky enough to discover The Atman Project in the late 80's when Australian radio broadcaster Jaroslav Kovaricek played Love And Pain (1989) in its entirety on his Inner Space program on national public station ABC-FM. He also bridged the tracks with an actor reading excerpts from the scared Hindu scriptures The Upanishads. I used to record his shows on cassette, and I held onto that particular tape for years. I was fascinated with the music's odd soulfulness and its mysterious, panoramic beauty.

The album comes from German "modern classical" label Wergo, a label long associated with quality avant-garde electronica and with a distinguished catalogue of releases by such seminal figures as John Cage and Karl Stockhausen. More accessible than the music of either of those, yet extraordinary in its own way, is this album. It pairs Ronald Steckel and Heiko Russe, two Germans whose partnership started with a series of scores for theatre productions and eventually resulted in this one-off, one-of-kind masterpiece.

Love And Pain is the fruits of three years of research into noise, voices and music using the Synclavier II computer synthesiser, at the time a state-of-the-art piece of music technology. Many of the sounds sourced from natural and man-made environments are not simply sampled but totally transformed - a precursor to the limitless capacity of digital sampling which musicians now take for granted. The crying, violin-like opening to the track “What You Will”, for example, was originally a sample of a wolf in the Bavarian forest, although you wouldn't know it unless you read the sleeve notes. But it does, I believe, explain the music's emotional impact.

Over the course of eight compositions, hypnotic melody lines weave in and out of a rich, colourful tapestry of drones and chords which fly, shimmer and rumble in all the right places. What really impresses is the emotional depth. Even when the music reaches the peaks of its trippy, transportive power it is still grounded by a powerful, almost mournful human quality that I've rarely heard in electronic music. Curiously, as an exercise in drone music it's not particularly Eastern-sounding yet the album's thematic cue is explicitly Eastern: the word “Atman” is taken from The Upanishads and roughly translated means “the spirit in man”.

Although they never made another album together, on Love and Pain composers Skeckel and Russe made a significant contribution to Germany's proud tradition of being the first to explore new music technology, Indeed, they pulled off something remarkable: the sound of machines crying.

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