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Jan Jelinek (Farben) could roughly be described as a musical taxidermist. Over the span of a half-dozen records and several compilation appearances, Jelinek has been carefully taking the body of house music, extracting certain elements, and replacing what was removed with new sounds. The exterior is familiar — rhythmic structures of 4/4 and a music that can evoke a strong emotional response from the listener. However, what lies inside that outside appearance is radically different. Gone are the sampled female vocals and throbbing bass drums, which Jelinek replaces with drone-like "melodies," clicks, hiss, and subdued, compressed "pops" of bass. The result is what some call "MicroHouse," minimal techno, or any of several other names. Whatever one wants to label it, the result is the same — a musical form comprising primarily rhythm, some emotional essence and a strong knowledge of how to incorporate sonic emptiness as a sound.

Farben is Jelinek's outlet for a more groove-intensive style of this "reduced" music, as contrasted to the comfortable, flowing sounds of his Gramm alias, or the dense, stylistically experimental yet rhythmically structured work he's done under his own name. For this reason, Textstar, a collection of Jelinek's material under the Farben moniker, is more a direct transformation of conventional house — Jelinek tries to capture its essence — than anything else. Describing this transformation, however, remains a challenge. Perhaps the artist describes it best himself during an interview in The Wire (Issue 209): "The idea is that I want to create maximum depth with minimal forms."

Within the small palette Jelinek has allowed himself to use for his music, he still manages not only to create a large and diverse range of structures — from moderately uptempo to nearly ambient pieces — but also transform his influences into something else entirely. At a far distance it bears the marks of its predecessors, but upon closer inspection yields a greater depth of sonic vision and clarity.

Paintings and architecture seem to be a major, albeit secondary influence on Jan Jelinek. The audio-visual connections are obvious as he claims that his early work as Farben was a musical translation of Josef Albers' minimalist paintings "Homage to the Square." Loosely taken, Gramm's Personal Rock could be a sonic tour of Jelinek's home — his personal "rock" — which would explain its often gentle contours and friendly but sad atmosphere. Music journalist Philip Sherburne (a Neumu contributing editor and columnist) even made the connection that Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records "...approximate[s] the moiré effect of Op Art paintings, suggesting an illusory three-dimensional space hidden inside a dense thicket of lines."

As a compilation of Farben material, Textstar unfortunately fails to capture the previously mentioned artistic translation of Albers' work. Admittedly, the album shuffles songs from various releases, attempting to create a more cohesive work, but what results is a fragmentation away from the audio-visual effect Jelinek was attempting to produce with his first Farben releases. The problem is that he was creating musical interpretations of paintings for only the first few EPs, not the more recent recordings. Blending the two eras of separate influences together, while musically pleasing, leaves listeners wanting to experience Farben's works individually, to seek the parallel between Albers' paintings and Jelinek's music for themselves.

Still, Textstar remains cohesive throughout — the album is definitely a testament to Jelinek's style of grooves based upon clicks, bass, and 4/4 rhythms. Interestingly, there is a certain "warm feeling" given off by all the tracks. This could be attributed to everything from Jelinek's attempt to capture the essence and strong emotions from soul and house music to the fact that unlike more clinical, minimal, beat-based work, Farben imbues his songs with simple melodic tendencies. Although the album has a tendency to become tedious at times ("Farben Says: Love to Love You Baby" or "Beautone" overstay their welcome), Jelinek is a musician so ripe with ideas that none of his material becomes completely monotonous. The beats are generally accessible, and although at times they're buried underneath layers of static or hiss, they're unmistakably the focal point of each track. Jelinek pays meticulous attention to his rhythmic work, managing to have songs work within their ever-changing form, or even in their rare, complete absence.

As is typical of compilations, some songs on Textstar elicit stronger responses compared to others. "Suntouch Edit" features interesting gurgling sounds, multiple layers of "clicking" or "popping" percussion, and little points of high-pitched tones coming in at various intervals. Listening to the track, I get the image of seeing an individual being touched by the sun for a moment, a bit of light momentarily cast on some unwary observer who's brilliantly illuminated, if just for a second. "FF" brings to mind the music video to Coldcut's "Natural Rhythm," with beats and sounds originating from dozens of sources such as beetles tapping their shells, waves crashing on the beach, or human voices. Although obviously not recorded from outlets of nature, the track maintains an easily flowing, progressive feel that distinguishes itself from others on the album.

Listening to Jelinek's music, you hear the essence of house music somehow transformed to a radically new context. Both Jelinek and others have suggested that this new context is one of reinvention, of new visions for house and soul music. Jelinek, as he describes it, has no connection to the African-American traditions of soul or house. He is inherently divorced from its cultural meanings and inherited traditions. Thus, as a European, he has to reinvent the form, to innovate rather than imitate, because of a very rational fear that otherwise his compositions may seem more like a form of pointless tribute or clumsy interpretation than an expression of how to reference and hear certain types of music.

Jelinek reinvents not because he wants to redefine the music and put his personal stamp on it, but because he wants to capture, as he feels it, its essence and emotion, and implant them into something new, personal, and equally meaningful to himself and others. Jelinek's legacy to music, then, will not be one of a simple minimization of existing music, but one of transformation and integration of new, interesting forms and ideas.


by Robert Stanton




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