They may have shared stages with Damo Suzuki, Fuck Buttons and A Place to Bury Strangers, but the most obvious reference point for Kontakte is Explosions in the Sky. There’s no question over Kontakte’s capacity to produce luscious, chiming post-rock soundscapes punctuated by kaleidoscopic crescendos on a colossal scale, driven by dense waves of guitars that add texture and grain to the smooth, layered sounds.
That they’ve also appeared alongside Vessels and Worriedaboutsatan is equally telling, in the way they draw on the dreamy, drifting sonic spaces of the former, while subtly incorporating elements of the moody electronica of the latter, and to particularly good effect. This is demonstrated in particular on ‘The Owls Won’t see Us In Here’, which adds glitchy beats that eventually give way to a rapidfire drum machine rhythms. These should be at odds with the soaring crescendo of guitars, but in fact works perfectly, not least of all because it breaks the post-rock mould.
As such, the eight intricate noodling epics that comprise ‘We Move Through Negative Spaces’ are archetypal examples of the post-rock genre. Yet, at the same time, they see the band nudge at the parameters and slowly inch them further toward new realms.
This has been sitting in my queue of things to do for some time now and shamefully it has been overlooked. However, having arrived in Poland for a brief break and with my trusty netbook to hand, it seemed like high time to give a few releases a spin which I happen to have available in a handy digital format and I’m glad I did because Kontakte deal in the sort of gentle, tripped out ambient splendour that you might imagine Mogwai jamming on early Porcupine Tree material creating.
Opening with the rippling guitar ambience and programmed drums of ‘Astralagus’, We move through negative spaces immediately strikes you with how gloriously open it all sounds. Like the best elements of Mogwai’s Happy music for happy people filtered through Ennio Morricone’s epic visions of grandeur, the guitars exist as a hurricane, gusting huge clouds of sand across the lens, scratching and obscuring the magnificent view and stirring emotion while the gentle trip-hop style drums provide the perfect backing for the monumental noise at the forefront of the band’s sound. Offering a similar styling, ‘hope’ begins as the saddest song you’ve ever heard before mutating into a storm of distorted guitars which rage away behind the deceptively simple melody which leads the listener through the white noise to the songs broken-hearted conclusion. ‘With glowing hearts’ is a gentler beast, opening with a softly-picked guitar whilst ever-so-slowly building towards a crescendo in the style of Mogwai’s unstoppable ‘Mogwai fear Satan’ although with greater emphasis on electronic elements to help scape the sound and a hint of Sigur ros lurking away in the background adding to the feeling of a subtle sadness that infuses the tracks but never takes hold completely. Indeed, as with most music that can be described either as post-rock or ambient the onus is really upon the listener to provide the interpretation with each track like a canvas, crying out to be painted with whatever images the music brings to mind.
Another gently emotive track, ‘early evening bleeds into night’ has a scattershot beat providing a skeletal backdrop for the piano and guitar-led tune with the band throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the song production-wise leading to an immense denouement that couples strings, drums, guitar and more to show-stopping effect over the course of its six minute run time. As befits its delicate title, ‘a snowflake in her hand’ starts out in a haze of static before a tune quietly raises itself above the hum and proves to be one of the most heart-breaking of the lot. As with all the tracks here, there is a strong soundtrack feel to the music and when the strings kick in it all becomes a bit too much to take with the beauty and sorrow invested in the music threatening to unleash the sort of emotions that contemporary music has no right to have access to. It’s a testament to the skill of the band and the countless hours they put into the composition that their music can have such an effect and it recalls the first time I sat, in wonder, listening to Spiritualized ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space’ or stood in a beautifully constructed fifteenth century venue in Wroclaw watching the Red Sparrowes lay waste to the faithful few who had turned out to witness their performance making this very obviously the sort of record you will return to time and time again. ‘The owls won’t see us here’ is when the band finally let rip and the guitars burst from their previously muted position in the mix to the forefront of the song with a power and vitality that proves wholly unexpected and has all the more impact for that. ‘Every passing hour’ is the album’s shortest track, at just shy of four minutes and it is almost unbearably poignant with a single violin playing a mournful tune over picked guitar and the track serves more as a prelude to the lengthy ‘the ocean between you and me’ than as a track in its own right. The final track rounds out the album with guitars that trip over one another while the electronic back drop returns keeps everything slowly moving forward towards the end.
Kontakte’s stated aim was to make one hour of continuous music and in that they have succeeded. The music is often sublime with moments of extreme beauty and deep sadness intermingling to make the perfect soundtrack to the fading light of Autumn. However, as with much music of this type there is also a feeling that ideas are sometimes stretched and while Kontakte avoid that pitfall more than most there will be as many listeners out there put off by the lengthy meandering nature of the tracks as there are those who fall in love with the music’s simple, elegant sincerity. For my part, ‘we move through negative spaces’ is a splendid album which I will be happy to listen to again and again until I have absorbed every nuance but for those wishing for something more immediate then this is the wrong disc for them. Overall Kontakte have crafted a beautiful, wistful album that needs to be absorbed as a whole and the stunning beauty outweighs the moments when tracks appear to stretch beyond their abilities by some way. I’m glad indeed to have been given the chance to hear this epic work.
When I first saw London post rock outfit Kontakte, named after the famous composition by pioneering modern composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, they were performing their first album Soundtracks to Lost Road Movies in the atmospheric setting of a renovated medieval church, backed by projections of abstract images. Even then, having only recently formed out of bassist Ian Griffith’s bedroom project, they were astonishingly cinematic, creating complex and textured soundscapes shrouding distant melodies in feedback and static. Seeing them perform live, jamming with electric guitars against a backdrop of glitchy beats, was astonishing, like being carried away by a wave of energy. With their forthcoming album We Move Through Negative Spaces, they’ve honed and polished that sound to such a staggering level that they can truly be considered alongside such atmospheric post rock giants as Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor, whilst also carving their own unique space within the genre.
The band’s emotional palette has deepened considerably, something aptly demonstrated by the album’s second track, Hope…, which carries an epic atmospheric charge that explodes in its second half into a souring crescendo of sculpted sound, and then dips again to introduce some subtle melodics and whispering voices. Another track, Glowing Hearts, peels back the static to showcase some truly heartfelt and beautiful guitar work, against a shimmering background drone and crystalline beats. Although the tracks are still shot through with the same energy as before, there’s more variety and subtlety this time around.
The quality of the production on the album combined with the band’s innovative use of glitchy, layered beats is reminiscent of The Last Resort by Denmark’s techno maestro Trentmoller. However the addition of a back bone of discursive guitars and, in some tracks such as the incredibly evocative Early Evening Bleeds into Night, violin, xylophone and piano, demonstrates the truth behind the band’s assertion that they trace their sound back to classical music traditions as much as electronic. Whilst the production quality is almost on par with Trentmoller, his almost clinical precision is replaced here by a very human quality; an emotional core that is uniquely their own.
Double ethereal negative
Kontakte – We move through negative spaces
Post rock is a tricky genre to tackle and it sometimes can be a tag that can be detrimental to a band. I really don’t know any more what “post rock” means (although I like the definition by Joe Shrewsbury from 65daysofstatic), so let’s say Kontakte makes expansive instrumental music, filled with electronica touches and a great wall of sound approach.
This is their second album, called We move through negative spaces. The sound of an old record spinning welcomes you, crackles and all. ‘Astralagus’, heavy on the electronic glitches, is a quite good choice for an opening track. A leisure pace, a lot of reverb (and chorus, probably) and that building arpeggio make it very pleasing to the ear.
‘Hope’ continues the record spinning scratch for a few moments, goes for a quiet approach and rides the wall of sound approach. Thick, expanding all over the earphones (wear good ones for this one) and slowly rising in tempo, reaching not quite drum & bass rhythms, but giving it a good chase for its money. Hard to convey the feeling of “hope” in a wordless song, but this one pulls it just right.
There’s something about how most songs by Kontakte seem to be made up with “movements”. You’ve synth and electronic drums bits here and there, then heavy feedback and arpeggios complementing each other (like in ‘With glowing hearts’). It’s probably their signature sound, but it’s not formulaic, there are real variations here.
I pretty much enjoy songs that don’t shy away from experimenting with real calm sounds and layering over some really loud stuff. ‘Early evening bleeds into night’ is piano-heavy, but the distorted guitars going for saturation are just perfect and the lonely violin by the end is poignant.
By this point, at the exact half of the album, the mood seems to be quite reflective, like a spot of self-assessment about what you’ve done and what you want to change in your life. Or maybe that’s just some self-projection. Anyways, ‘A snow flake in her hand’ got me in that mood, with the lovely guitar work and the string section (heart melting). Title’s quality too.
Still, life moves on, right? ‘The owls won’t see us here’ is a haymaker, leading you into a false sense of security but then going for a punchy electronic beat (paired with more great guitar work – love the feedback in the middle). ‘Every passing hour’ is pretty dark, the sound sample of children playing with that eerie synth line is chilling and it’s the perfect segue, the beautiful ‘The ocean between you and me’. I have personal reasons to be partial to a song with this title, so suffice to say: it conveys the feelings of longing for someone who is pretty far from you, not only in a physical/geographical sense. Love the “explosion” bit where the guitar soars away while the electronic beat keeps everyone grounded. It’s like flying kites in a sunny day.
We move through negative spaces is quite an excellent offering by Kontakte. The stakes of mixing instrumental rock with electronica have been raised from their previous album (the also recommendable Soundtracks to lost road movies) and these 8 songs are a prime cut for lovers of instrumental rock.
“Kontakte”: sounds like a German techno musical, in actual fact a four-piece from London playing post-rock. With their mix of Bavarian heritage and dour British attitude, they might also be descendants of the current royal family. But Kontakte pack a secret weapon in the fact that one of them’s a would-be Brian Eno: along with the usual post-rock components (chiming guitar, loud guitar, pauses, drumming) lies a bank of cutting edge electronics—electronics that could probably go on by themselves to have a successful 36-year solo career. And if the golden rule of experimental music is IDM + post-rock = new heights of preposterousness, Kontakte pack a backup secret weapon in the fact that they hold an actual tune, and play material you can remember without having to cocoon yourself in your bedroom, light candles and wade through a mammoth drone build-up first.
Following the example set on 2009’s Soundtrack to Lost Road Movies, sophomore LP We Move Through Negative Spaces is an equally melodic collection, and not—as you might expect—a concept album written by neutrinos. Already turning heads among the more accommodating post-rock blogs, WMTNS is marked by a string of potential singles (well, if not actual singles, then certainly a pile of standalone tracks that could be dubbed over epic scenes in war films). “The Owls Won’t See Us In Here” is one such example, presumably written for a future film in which a Special Forces patrol gets stalked by hooting birds of prey. That said, given the repetition and melancholy that Kontakte weave their material from, it’s also just as likely to be about someone who’s been dumped and is now walking around a ring road. We’re first treated to the kind of melodic hiccuping that helped bounce Frog Pocket down from the mountains, but then individual guitars start chiming, and you can picture each member of Kontake composing while walking home from a night club, alone. But that doesn’t last long, luckily, and after a blast suddenly there’s that emotion the track was aiming for, arriving just before the piano to distract you from the inevitable repeat of the first half (which doesn’t happen). At seven minutes, “Owls” might be a stretch, but it more than pays off with surprises in the end. And anyway, it wouldn’t be post-rock if it didn’t force you to be just a little bit patient to enjoy it.
This reminds me a little (or possibly a great deal, simultaneously) of Maps, early Mogwai, EITS, 65daysofstatic & Epic 45. Their last effort was a motorik Krauty affair but this is all proper “epic guitar cathedral walls”, whispering, fluttery electronics & galloping, stomping, clattering drum machines with stately arpegiated guitar lines. There’s even some strings and piano in here someplace. It’s certainly not a case of re-inventing the wheel for this troupe of tender dreamers but for the air-punching instrumental post-rock brigade, there’s absolute lashings of heavenly, blissful chord changes & emotive crescendos to be consumed, especially on the monstrous ‘Hope’! Other tracks feature a familiar style of sensitive drum programming that recalls the tentative, stuttering explorations of the Millennium-straddling German/Scandinavian set but those bold, proud star-chasing guitars are firmly aimed at the skies, the sort of guitars that you – fantasy post-rock bro/sis – will totally fall in love with!!
Review of Kontakte’s album We Move Through Negative Spaces at contactmusic.com
Kontakte follow-up their debut Soundtrack For Lost Road Movies with ‘We Move Through Negative Spaces’ their most accomplished work to date. No evidence of any difficult second album syndrome here. Indeed evidence points to the contrary with an EP release prior to the album of which no tracks appear on the album. Instead the band have chosen to continue progressing, honing their sound and as a result have made several significant steps forward.
This album is perfect soundtrack music. Album highlight Astralagus opens up proceedings, setting the scene and from hereon in you find yourself lost on a cinematic journey. Kontakte have employed the liberal use of strings throughout the album and this at times recalls Lazer Guided Melodies era Spiritualized without ever infringing on their own sound. Elsewhere epic sounds a la God Is An Astronaut are employed making this a very intense yet ultimately beautiful listen.
Kontakte have found themselves making many inroads lately, winning over new followers as they travel and this album can only seek to propel them forward. On the evidence of this, 2011 could very well be their year.
The new Kontakte album “We Move Through Negative Spaces” was reviewed by Future Sequence
Intensity and emotion are two really difficult elements to marry effectively in music. Too often, you hear records that fall too far on either side of the line; too focused on what’s pushed out sonically, or on cheap chord sequences – cliched tugs at heartstrings. The bottom line is, at the core of everything you listen to, you need heart. Give someone heart, and whatever kind of music you make, make sure it’s there for the listener to hear loud and clear.
For me, I want to hear it in the loudest moments – even in cacophony – and I need to hear it in the quietest, sparsest moments. If I can get that, I’m going to connect with it, I’m going to come back to it, I’m going to pick out different elements every time I listen, and I’m going to get that little bit more out of it every time. The simple fact is this: Take everything else away, and if all that’s left in your music is heart, you’re going to make some people really happy.
The difficulty is tapping into that and making sure it’s both heard and felt. Maybe you’ll nail it through happy accident, maybe it’s in your production, maybe it’s in your playing, or maybe it’s a combination of all of these. It’s so easy to start off with something that has it, and then produce and master it to hell and back and wipe away all the things that gave it heart in the first place. My music collection is full of these records, records that have been ruined by any number of factors and that only give glimpses of that part of music that’s needed most. These records ultimately leave you with a sense of both you and the artist being short-changed – a missed opportunity, permanent testament to the failure to convey one of the most fundamental elements in music that a listener will ever need.
‘We Move Through Negative Spaces’, is definitely not one of those records. It’s got heart stamped all over it – it’s in the guitar playing, it’s in the strings, it’s in the electronics – it’s everywhere. It’s a wonderful combination of electronica and post rock, and in it’s moments it’s a beautiful example of the marrying of intensity and space. It doesn’t try and and pull your heart out for you. Instead, it works it’s way slowly under your skin, until you’re giving it up piece by piece on each listen. On first listen, I found the electronica and post rock combination hard to reconcile. Yet it’s played beautifully, the production gives it a chance to breathe, and now I couldn’t imagine, and wouldn’t want it any other way.
There are obvious influences, but when music has this much heart, I’m not sure it really matters. This is an album I am loving listening to, and I imagine myself listening to a lot in the months to come. I’m not sure there are too many higher recommendations.
We Move Through Negative Spaces is released 11th April on US label Drifting Falling
Review of Kontakte’s “We Move Through Negative Spaces” from Tasty fanzine.
London-based instrumental 4-piece taking their name from the piece by electronica pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, release their follow-up to 2008’s “Soundtracks to Lost Road Movies”.
Consisting of electro-beat led instrumental mood-pieces that are texturally guitar-heavy, they tick most of the usual post-rock boxes (although judging by their interviews, they would probably resent such generic pigeon-holing) from Godspeed You Black Emperor and Mogwai, to contemporaries like This Will Destroy You. The ambient soundscapes also point to Brian Eno’s work with Robert Fripp, with squalls of guitar sound coming courtesy of 90’s shoegazers Slowdive. Most of the tracks hover around the seven minute mark aside from the album’s focal point, “The Ocean between You and Me”, a ten minute dreamy snow-blizzard of a song that leaves you with a fuzzy feeling inside. Other highlights are the forelorn sounding “Hope…”, the piano led “Early Evening Bleeds Into Night”, and the glacial “Every Passing Hour”.
A fine album for a Sunday afternoon’s looking out the window at the rain. 7/10
A glowing review of “We Move Through Negative Spaces” by Textura, one of our very favorite publications.
When Kontakte visited London’s Metropolis Studios to have its newly completed We Move Through Negative Spaces mastered, they heard the album played back through speakers standing eight feet tall. One can only begin to imagine how incredible the material must have sounded under such conditions, but the album sounds no less awesome when played on one’s living room stereo or even iPod. The second studio album from Ian Griffiths, Stuart Law, Gary McDermott, and Ben Worth can’t help but invite the ‘post-rock’ label when many of the genre signifiers are present and accounted for, with loud-soft dynamics and guitar-fueled climaxes being the two most obvious. Be that as it may, the album leaves a strong and lasting impression for being so clearly a marvel of construction, with programmed beats anchoring electric guitars, strings, and piano in eight meticulously arranged pieces.
Though the dramatic opener “Astralagus” sets the album’s panoramic tone when a sparkling array of chiming guitar patterns segues into an epic storm of guitars, strings, and drums, the song’s attack plays like some trial run for the album’s stunner, “Hope…,” which unleashes a level of six-string ferocity that’s as beautiful as it is crushing. After dialing the intensity down for a lyrical episode of plaintive melancholy, the tension builds until it’s released in a second wave of almost unbelievable force. When Kontakte lets the storm subside during the melancholic “Early Evening Bleeds Into Night” and graceful waltz “A Snowflake in Her Hand,” it also expands on its core sound by dressing up the tracks with violins (courtesy of Brigid McCafferty) and glockenspiels. Apparently Eluvium and Tim Hecker were two of a number of influences that inspired the band during the recording process, and one occasionally hears traces of Eluvium’s melodic fingerprint emerging during the fifty-seven-minute album, and an occasional grainy texture bears out the Hecker influence too. Balmorhea might just as easily have been name-checked also, given how close in spirit the penultimate track, “Every Passing Hour,” is to the Western Vinyl outfit; even so, there’s no resisting the piece when it exudes the pastoral grace of an Appalachian hymn. Given the restrained character of the album’s middle tracks, it doesn’t come as a major surprise when the ten-minute closer “The Ocean Between You and Me” undertakes a slow ascent to what one expects will be an incendiary climax, but there’s also no denying how amazing the moment is when it finally arrives in all its full-blown splendour. Long may the band ride its transcendent wave.