Ralf Wehowsky is sonic artist originally from Mainz in Germany. From the very beginning of his recording career, he was enamored with tape manipulation. At a time when most no-wave bands in Hessen indulged in spitting out their nihilistic messages, Wehowsky’s first band PD chopped, stewed, grilled and mixed contrasting input sources from various group improvisations. Having mutated into P16D4 with Ewald Weber and Roger Schönhauer, Wehowsky plunged in careful research into the tonality of the source material. Combined with in-house improvisations, the inputs would undergo speed transpositions, unusual oscillations and re-modeling of both macro- and micro-structure of the material.
At least half of P16D4’s material fused sonic inputs contributed by other artists. Wehowsky et al would habitually rework the original material beyond recognition. The manipulated arrangements were deemed successful whenever the corresponding parts of the source material and their contiguous sections became correlated. Whenever the inputs were overlaid in a relatively “raw” form, the results ranged from free form abstraction to noisy, chaotic forms with very little, if any, repetition.
If P16D4 constituted an a-melodic revolution, they were never programmatically anti-melodic. Despite the apparent balance between the use of electronic and acoustic tools, it does seem that P16D4 privileged brutal contrasts in the former and rather subtle, organic shifts in the latter. Elements of untreated (or less treated) noise were often drowned in an illusion of surrounding space. This was a lesson of multidimensional abstract expressionism.
The record presented here summarizes well the way “mid-period” P16D4 organized its work. The source material was provided by a number of sonic artists from the early 1980s post-industrial and noise scenes (Nocturnal Emissions, Bladder Flask, Philip Johnson, Die Tödliche Doris, Onnyk, DDAA, Frederik Nilson, The Haters, Nurse With Wound, Hiroki Kocha, Harold Schellinx, Vortex Campaign, Merzbow, De Fabriek). However, this is not a compilation. Rather, it is a sequence of compositions using bared building elements of the original sources. It is pointless to try to detect the threads leading back to the artists enumerated above.
The band, as such, was active only for about two years, between 1981-83. Between 1983-88 the moniker P16D4 was used for recordings realized by Ralf Wehowsky’s social circle.
Flat slabs of ferritic steel respond with muzzled, chinked sound. Burring guitar and wowing bass introduce us to semi-paralyzed, dilatory pace of AMM-like exploration. The big difference is in the guitar treatment – not nearly half as dense as Keith Rowe’s. Ewald Weber’s anvils, clanky plates and empty metal boxes speak with a short, tinny grin. Drumsticks are trying to force some resonance from metallic, wooden and polymer surfaces, to no avail. The guitar wahs numbly, note by note. Steven Stapleton’s deeply treated voice is being played backwards as if in memory of yesterday’s slaughter. The treatment of source material imparts a sensation of intense concentration. Brought to reluctant prominence, some pangy, earthy cymbals choke dryly. Canisters shake and wobbly bass scoops the notes, clipping the release. A modicum of rhythm is unveiled when the metal box hitting is multiplied by skin drumming and distant temple shimmer. The sonic landscape is becoming crowded: shuffling sounds, backward voices, highly-pitched feedback, a sandy cascade repeated over and over again. This last component will become more “rhythmic”, organizing tangential intrusion from jackhammer and obnoxiously pink noise. At its tail-end, a violin attempts a lyrical theme, all too soon lost to jackhammer’s violence.
Meere Giganten und Berge
If the previous track instilled an expectation of reserve, here P16D4 are endeavoring to demolish it outright. Skitter, rustle, footsteps, running, wooden boxes – all these sounds meet, but never mix, inside a large, resonant hall. Electronic microtones squeeze here and there, slurring the effects of abstract percussionism and irregular metallic bangs. Then we hear an unwelcome rhythm box (courtesy Nigel Ayers of Nocturnal Emissions), quickly undermined by another, even faster electro-beat and electric piano arpeggios. A political speech in Russian (apparently V.I. Lenin’s harangue) interferes with references to England and France (how timely!). It is juxtaposed against deep, hollow grey noise and voices sent through by the members of Tödliche Doris. The beat has now long disappeared, but when it does come back, it appears as fragile, orphaned, “pure” drum exhibitionism. A longer note from a poorly identifiable object (a horn?) closes the section.
A wheezing sound is dragged across the range at a breathy tempo. The angelic vocalize barely palpable, while sequenced post-industrial tapestry juts in and out of audible spectrum. A male chorus, a sledgehammer and jackrigs are all layered together with a disorienting simultaneity. Onnyk’s Hedorah-like vibrating noise platonifies a standard guttural growl. Finally, a lonesome saxophone solo dismisses the company of a skittery, a-metric drumming. Both are dying out in a large, “factory-like” space.
Unlike on the first side of the LP, here Ralf Wehowsky’s gestures are determined, his accents are forceful and prefixes abrupt. The snippets, he uses (Soviet marching songs and Peter Lambert’s alto saxophone) are treated with Stockhausen-like non-linear decontextuatlization. The unnerving chop-up slowly gives way to multi-tracked saxophone lines, whose soaring runs are instantly undercut – either by the recurring snippets of the marching song, or by another sax layer, alternatively by a loose crankshaft wheel. The alto sax finally oxygenates the atmosphere in the direction of Anthony Braxton’s intense graphism, albeit with longer notes than the master’s. The higher range is allowed to echo and the treated stacattisimo nearly transforms the reed into an ersatz guitar. All along, electronics bubbles and rumbles behind this frontal complexity.
In this tiny miniature provided by DDAA, Wehowsky demolishes a tape with the lesson of Swedish. You can (almost) hum along.
Although several sources are listed here (notably Bladder Flast and Onnyk), the opening does seem to be overreliant on Wehowsky’s strident cello scraping and sadistic pizzicato assaults, which, by comparison, would turn Tom Cora’s games into tender caress. Unexpected guitar fuzz, and NWW-type retroactive electro-dust complicate the envelope. Saxophones multiply in a most abstract manner, despite attempts to limit the thrusts to 2-3 notes each. Although this is Wehowsky on the piano – its cold, frozen, repetitive stalactites are reminiscent as much of his Permutative Distortion as of Robert Haigh’s Sema. Meanwhile, noisy crowds ooze in and out. The plaintive wheeze is forced into a higher life form, further sacrificed for a prominent, monster-movie guitar in shameful overdrive.
No meter and no beat here. Just metallic skitter, hammering, clanks and such like timbral explorations. Although some electro-buzz appears to underlie the clatter, the sequence is entirely devoted to empty metal boxes and accompanying metallic rustle.
Les honteuses alliances
Phil Johnson’s voice tapes do the trick – processed, vocoder-ed, electro-beaten. Another warmer, inviting voice in British English beckons from the other side of the universe. High pitched sound (Bladder Flask here) goes almost hissy as the space gets populated with wobbly sources. Masami Akita’s flute is inaudible. Instead, it is noise distribution stuck in a rut, repeating on and on, locked in a groove, Asmus Tietchens-style. The entire routine is repeated once again, with the noisy rut getting even more oppressive.
Peter Lambert’s alto sax and Nigel Ayers’s rhythm box do their pentatonic thing in P16D4’s laboratory.
Luxus & Mehrwert
Roger Schönhauer is responsible for this collage-like accumulation of contributions from De Fabriek, Vortex Campaign and Hiroki Kocha. It begins with a charming, old vinyl record crackle reproducing a pre-War orchestra. The turntable arm skips, skips, skips – like Philip Jeck’s or Pierre Bastien’s modern-day machines do. This is followed by a frattage of environmental noises, field recordings, electronic processing, machine-type rhythms, Yasujiro Ozu-style black and white moods, circus melodies, hammering, and then back to the old, Pierre Henry-type cortical take-off. Upon which, the vinyl record skips again. Schönhauer’s art meets here Nurse With Wound circa “Sylvie and Babs”.
P16D4 was strongly rooted in the early 1980s cassette culture and many of these recordings have resurfaced in recent years on vinyl or CD. They contain some of the very best recordings from the “transitional” era, capturing the shift from PD’s post-punk electro-experimentalism to more sophisticated abstract forms. Luckily, Wehowsky et al dwelled on that thin edge long enough to bequeath several high-quality sonic documents of their morose enthusiasm. Most of the material recorded between 1980-82 is highly recommended, with 4, 8 and 13 being my favorites. 6, 7 and 12 include recordings of various members of PD. Recordings made after 1982 are best explored by the lovers of musique concrète and electro-acoustic traditions (to which P16D4 does not directly belong).
1. PD: “Inweglos” (1980)
2. PD: “Alltag” EP (1980)
3. Ralf WEHOWSKY: “eaRLy W one” (1980)
4. Ralf WEHOWSKY: “early Two. Nur die Tiere blieben übrig” (1980)
5. Ralf WEHOWSKY: “early W 4. Ajatollah Carter“ (1980)
6. ERTRINKEN VAKUUM/KURZSCHLUSS: “Ladunter / Kurzschluss” (1980)
7. PERMUTATIVE DISTORSION / LLL: “Brückenkopf / Schlagt sie tot!“ (1980-81)
8. P16D4: “Wer nicht arbeiten will, will auch nicht essen” (1980-81)
9. P16D4: “Von Rechts nach Links“ (1980-81)
10. Ralf WEHOWSKY: “Early W – Three. Neue Deutsche Peinlichkeit” (1981)
11. PD: “Startrack / Freiheitsgeschmack” (1981)
12. P16D4 / Der APATISCHE ALPTRAUM: “Tödliche Schweigen / Der Apatische Alptraum“ (1981)
13. PERMUTATIVE DISTORSION: “Brückenkopf in Niemandsland“ SP (1981)
14. P16D4: “Kühe in ½ Trauer” (1980-83)
15. P16D4: “Distruct” (1982-84)
16. P16D4: “Tionchor“ (1982-86)
17. P16D4 / SBOTHI: “Nicht niemand niergends nie!“ 2LP (1986)
18. P16D4 / ETANT DONNES / ESPLENDOR GEOMETRICO / VIVENZA: “Bruitiste“ 2LP (1986-87)
19. P16D4 / Asmus TIETCHENS / SBOTHI / NACHTLUFT: “Captured Music“ (1987)
20. P16D4: “Acrid Acme” (1981, 1987)
21. P16D4 / MERZBOW / SBOTHI: “Fifty” (1989)
22. SLP: “SLP” (1989-90)
Naturally, Ralf Wehowsky has continued to record prolifically throughout the last two decades, but digitalization and sampling transformed his work since the early 1990s.
Among P16D4’s recordings included on various compilations, the following ones can be considered the most significant. Indeed, position 2 belongs to the most important monuments of monochrome post-industrial collage culture of the early 1980s.
1.“Schau hör, Main Herz ist Rhein” (1981)
2. “Masse Mensch“ (1982)
3. “Sensationnel Journal no.1“ MC (1982)
4. “Ohrenschrauben” (1982)
5. “Bad Alchemy Nr 5“ MC (1983)
6. “Ohrensausen“ (1984)
7. “Strength“ (1984)
8. “Devastate to Liberate” (1985)
9. “A Gnomean Haigonaimean“ (1987)
10. “Ciguri” (1988)