The best way to experience the music of Thomas Koner is not to experience it as music at all. That is, merely conventional listening or looking is less important to the process than you might think. The German electronic composer, who began adding visual elements to his live performances a few years ago, creates music that's meant for total body immersion.
Koner's frozen soundscapes are made up of field recordings and captured images from his frequent visits to the arctic. They are then compressed and sculpted in his digital studio into something even more alien. Subsonic bass drones, wild animal groans and phantom voiceovers in various languages transport you to this party in isolation, one of the strangest that can be imagined, framed only by nothingness and static.
If this sounds boring and pretentious, Koner is ready with a response: He says his work is intended to "stretch the attention span, [where] I can see and hear subtleties and details." Once there, "image and sound are allowed the space they deserve." As for boredom? Koner says it's a doorway to "rooms that are rich with unseen and unheard experiences."
Koner, 40, is a legendary figure in the European art and music underground. He took his languorous modern composition out of the academy (he went to music college in his native Dortmund, Germany, then to the Center for Electronic Music in the Netherlands) and brought it into newly developing chill environments within rave culture. From 1990 to 1995, Koner released four influential CDs Nunatak Gongamur, Teimo, Permafrost and Aubrite, all on the post-industrial Dutch Barooni label that helped launch the so-called dark ambient movement. But a year later, Koner who confesses that he does not dance moved on to form Porter Ricks, a project that helped re-shape and re-energize Berlin techno. The indie rock elite took notice when E.A.R. (which included Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine) collaborated with him on 1997's The Koner Experiment. More guitar-rock/techno crossover cachet came when Porter Ricks remixed a track by Low in 1998.
Since the late 1990s, Koner has kept up a rigorous schedule: traveling and collecting sound samples, recording, installing sound and video exhibits, performing solo concerts. His resume couldn't be more stellar: He's shown his work recently at the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Venice Biennale, the Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels and the Rotterdam Film Festival. Koner's North American appearances have been rarer, though he has installed work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and performed several times in Montreal.
His appearance at Windsor's Media City Festival of Experimental Film and Video Art will be his first in the Detroit area, though Koner did contribute a piece to last year's event. He will perform selections from Suburbs of the Void, a video-sound project that won the Transmediale Award at the 2005 Berlin Media Art Festival; material from Nuuk, which is compiled from sights and sounds in Greenland; and work from a new piece called Peripheriques.
Koner describes his live performances this way: "It is indeed my party and it does not need to be a big or important party. To me, such a presentation is never a preset situation. I try to create a space in which my time may connect to other peoples' time, more like an invitation than an obligation." Then he delivers this unexpected punchline: "I don't mind if people walk in or out, or talk or drink during my concerts. If there is content, it cannot really be destroyed. If there is no content, you cannot create it by shushing people, keeping the doors shut or by making people close their eyes."
Koner performs Saturday, Feb. 25, at Windsor's Capitol Theatre, 121 University Ave. West; 519-253-7729. Showtime is 8 p.m.
'Bout ready to jack
If monolithic, trailblazing electronic art performance isn't your bag, then dig these options:
Saturday, Feb. 18, at Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (5141 Rosa Parks, Detroit. 313-899-2243), it's disco, Italo disco and more variations on disco from Scott Zacharias (Soft Curls) and greenSKY. Doors are midnight. 18 and over. $5.
On Feb. 24, the third edition of Dethlab's Sex & Sedition features Toronto's Solvent, whose "Radio Ga Ga" was one of the club tracks of summer '05, with Dethlab residents Bethany Shorb (aka Toybreaker) and Michael Doyle of Dorkwave. At Oslo, 18 and over. $5.
For more about Windsor's Media City Festival, see "I'll take you there."The Subterraneans is a column dedicated to Detroit dance culture. Send comments to [email protected]