A Life Without Fear . Ekkehard Ehlers
2006. cd . dl . lp
No boundaries, please. We live in an age of parallel listening. History is stored in soundfiles, the needle being their connecting factor as it jumps from groove to groove. Sound is information which will not be encumbered by time or space. Search engines like Google bear testimony to this. Robert Johnson, Albert Ayler, Ekkehard Ehlers - one click and you get thousands of hits. Because of Ehlers' ten-track-cd "Plays" (released in 2002 as staubgold 30) they sometimes overlap. With these tracks, he paid homage to the famous delta bluesman and New York's cosmic and universal saxophone player among others.
After his preoccupation with Schönberg, John Cage, blissful techno and happy house, on "A Life Without Fear" Ehlers has been searching for a historic position. This serves as a reference which in turn encourages subjective formulations. In the blues, a world presumed lost or rather: the belief in a world presumed to be doomed manifests itself. Chernobyl, 9/11, New Orleans: Like Johnson, Eddie "Son" House or the other stray protagonists of the blues, Ehlers has no intention to be an accomplice of present circumstances, nor does he want to be their vicegerent. In Ehlers' music, it is rather a room for thought which is opened up by the sound of a guitar reverberating in an amplifier's speaker or the ascending overtone of a harmonica. It is about "a state of consciousness", as Greil Marcus put it in "Mystery Train" with regard to Robert Johnson, "a tension which arises when almost everything is tacitly implied, when the simplest words house the most evil secrets". The lyrics on "A Life Without Fear" operate in the same way, but more often than not their narrative is fragmentary: "Strange things are happenin'" – Charles Haffer jr.'s rendition of this sentence is not a bleary melancholic singsong but a study in alertness.
"Approaching and translating" would be an apt description for the principle with which Ehlers retraced the tracks of the blues. Its roots are common knowledge, they can be found in the archives of John Fahey and – most prominently – Alan Lomax, who with his field recordings began to conserve and therefore preserve the heritage of black America within the Thirties – not as trophies to be hung in the living room of an "advanced civilisation" nor as radical chic, but as the expression of a folk music being "deterritorialized" by a movement from rural to urban regions. But Ehlers is not really interested in using its main topic - the inability to settle or to be home – as a metaphor for a present which is marked by neo-nationalist discourses. On the contrary, he takes the social significance of the artist's outlaw status very seriously. He also does this by asking himself in how far one's own research can already be a participation in the protest of others.
The answer can be found on a subliminal level. It is not by accident that Ehlers has discovered hissing as a language. He arrived at it by wiring up several amplifiers in a way that makes audible the sound they "naturally" produce. "A Life Without Fear" is the acoustic equivalent to what the term "immanence" describes in philosophy: Activity, performance and history meet in this music – be it in the dysfunctional traditional "Ain't No Grave", in the blue-mood-scales of early Miles Davis (in "Die Sorge geht über den Fluss"), in the South African dirge "Misorodzi" or in the precisely interlocked flageolets of "Maria & Martha".
"A Life Without Fear" urges forward to the point, where traces dissolve – even those of the blues. Neither territory nor country can be discerned here. And yet, maybe it is this homelessness beyond all boundaries (be they of the moral, religious or cultural kind) where one is able to live without fear.
In addition to his solo career, Ekkehard Ehlers has recorded under the monikers Auch, Betrieb and Ferdinand Fehlers and as a member of the duo Autopoesies and his band März. In 2001, Ehlers began recording 'Plays', a series of singles to serve as tributes to some of his aesthetic heroes. These releases brought Ehlers notoriety outside of experimental electronic music circles and led to collaborations with the Red Hot Chili Peppers among others.
He followed 'Plays' with the far more abstract 'Politik Braucht Keinen Feind' in 2003, and then with 'A Life Without Fear', which incorporated blues in a typically oblique way, in 2006. Since 2000, he has been working on ballet scores for choreographers William Forsythe and later Christoph Winkler and theatre music for Ulrich Rasche. As a curator Ehlers has been responsible for the 'Lux Aeterna' festival at Berlin's Berghain and 'Audio Poverty' at Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt.