Journeyman German producer puts a Schrödinger’s cat among the pigeons
Despite a career spanning five decades, German electronic composer and soundscapist Zeus B Held (Bernd Held) is not exactly a household name, but his production credits add up to an impressive role-call of the bleeperarti, encompassing the likes of Gary Numan and John Foxx, alongside post punk luminaries such as Spear Of Destiny, Pete Wylie and… erm, Transvision Vamp.
Yet there can’t be too many instrumental concept albums devoted to philosophical and mathematical ideas of chance, so it falls to the recently revived seminal Belgian new wave label Les Disques Du Crépuscule to dish up this deliciously off-kilter piece of existential muzak. Les Disques, a kinda Factory Records for the Low Countries co-founded by the late Annik Honoré, have long championed wilfully uncommercial curates’ eggs in the past, including the poetry of Richard Jobson and the long post-Josef K career of Paul Haig, so clearly Zeus is in capable hands here.
At turns loungy, spooky and ambient, Held’s production chops are very much in evidence. Everything is rendered with striking clarity and brightness. Bells ping and ball bearings ripple along creaky floors with a preternaturally vivid sheen. There are wafts of Air and Four Tet and an unabashed intellectualism combined with musical playfulness reminiscent of Momus. At points it recalls the gallows humour behind the ‘Portal’ video game, where a sadistic robot tortures its human quarry with a series of mindbending gravity puzzles. Any recording with track titles featuring words that get your Google finger itching earns instant brownie points and this had us looking up all sorts, including “Sisyphus” (‘Chaos In Sisyphus’) and “Tyche” (‘Five Beats On Tyche’).
Despite the lofty title and concept there’s evidently a mischievous wit at large, as demonstrated by the irresistible vocoder-ed nocturnal jazz funk of ‘Sho Pen How Air’ along with the Metal Mickey boogie of ‘Kant Can’t Dance’ that recalls Saint Etienne in their mid-90s floorfilling pomp. ‘Kepos Garden’ sounds like it could have been composed for Douglas Adams’ ‘The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe’ and would comfortably hold its own on a Café Del Mar compilation, while ‘Stay Epicure’ has more than a whiff of early Human League with its queasily doom-laden chords. Half of the album is given over to more abstract soundscapes and there’s such an impressive range of textures and swatches on display that at times it begins to sound more like a demo for synth manufacturers than a cohesive work.
The coup de grâce of ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ is undoubtedly the opening track, ‘The Glass Dice Bead Man’, and its companion piece ‘Surrender Your Soul’, both of which feature Luke Rhinehart reading from his cult 1970s novel (and Held’s favourite book), ‘The Dice Man’, over an urgent, quasi-classical march. Which, unlike most self-help, feels strangely invigorating.
If a lift shaft falls through a wormhole in space would anyone hear it? Who knows, but if they do there’s a good chance this is how it will sound.