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Framing Wallpaper
Terre Thaemlitz
March 6, The Kitchen

- Kyle Gann

In Village Voice, June 24 1997.


Terre Thaemlitz's Die Roboter Rubato: a live performance as self-conscious and ambiguous as the recording it satirized and transformed.

AMBIENT ARTIST Terre Thaemlitz, the previous evening, crashed the concert stage from the world of recording; but he knew it, and framed his performance in suitably self-conscious ambiguity. His Die Roboter Rubato, a deconstruction of technopop tunes by Kraftwerk, strung together lovely, wandering, ambient vignettes for sampled and heavily reverbed piano. Apparently - to judge from postmodern jargon-laden comments that Thaemlitz read robotically through a harmonizer - he has a problem with what he consider's Kraftwerk's macho slickness and motorically phallic thrusting rhythms. Therefore, he performed in convincing drag at a synthesizer propped on the keyboard of a grand piano, in between pieces playing snippets of the Kraftwerk songs he satirized and transformed.

From where the audience sat, then, we saw a rather voluptuous woman playing a Steinway, whereas the reality was a man triggering sequences that multiplied by dozens the notes he actually fingered. Kraftwerk's hard-edged melodies came back to us feminized, pretty (though not always consonant), and hesitantly halting - thus the "rubato" of the title. Having gotten out of college before deconstructionist fashions took over, I couldn't always follow Thaemlitz's critique of Kraftwerk's "permeability" and "referentiality." But for all I care, he can spin theoretical spirals around his music in pig-Latinized Urdu as long as the music sounds good, and Die Roboter Rubato was haunting, elegant, and enigmatic. No one would mistake Thaemlitz's sound for Eno's, yet Thaemlitz is the only ambient musician I've heard take up the Zen spirit of Eno's seductive sonic incense.