Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Ursula Bogner - Sonne = Blackbox

By Steve Jones.

Ursula Bogner was, purportedly, a German pharmacist who dabbled in electronic music during the period from the late '60s up until her death in 1994.  She also may be a creation, a fabrication, an alter-ego of electronic music producer Jan Jelinek, who used her first album, Recordings 1969-1988, as the herald for his then-new Faitiche label.  The question of her existence or non-existence is a fascinating one, but, as it has no bearing on how the music sounds, I will save that for another article.

Sonne = Blackbox is the second collection of previously unreleased and unknown material from Ursula Bogner.  Although I did enjoy the first collection, it felt like the noodlings and experiments of someone still enamored with the novelty of the tools available to her, and not so much a group of songs which create an album when placed together.  Sonne = Blackbox is an improvement, as the tracks feel much more developed as songs, and there is a sense of logical progression throughout the album in terms of its tone and thematic sense, and by virtue of many songs flowing naturally into the next.

The music is very much steeped in the past, whether or not that past actually existed.  Sounds are very organically electronic, and the inclusion of processed vocals (possibly Ursula's) and other kinds of instrumentation, such as the jerky guitar in "Trabant," give this album an unique flavor.  It is reminiscent of a time where electronic voices were primarily utilized by composers like Raymond Scott or Karlheiz Stochkhausen, and the pioneering attitudes of musicians like Kraftwerk or Isao Tomita still had a ways to go before catching on.  Bogner obviously never saw her music-making as more than a hobby, but there is surprising sophistication and variance throughout these tracks.

It is difficult not to imagine the cold light and darkness of space accompanying many of these tracks.  The title track relates the feeling of an interplanetary journey, the rocket cruising along at a fast but uncertain pace.   Many sounds and motifs sound like they belong to an early NOVA program on PBS about stars.  But the presence of vocal melodies and harmonies, even when chopped and screwed, give the album a definite accessibility, and even a pop sensibility, that makes Bogner's work stand out for me.  Don't mistake anything here for synth pop, however, and those sensibilities are balanced nicely with contrastingly traditional and futuristic tendencies.  The alien sounds of "Uranotypie" and "Signalfluss" communicate well the kind of Cold War paranoia that would have been a constant presence in Bogner's life.  In that sense, it's important to note that even the most abstract sonic experiments here are tempered with a sense of humanity, and a person's voice always come through the bleeps and clicks.

Sonne = Blackbox is science fiction music with a heart, the product of a woman who may have in fact been science fiction herself.  But I personally love the early days of electronic music, and hearing the kinds of sounds people were able to produce before it was as simple as a few keystrokes is an oddly heartwarming experience for me.  Bogner's music may be better suited in the background, and some of her experiments or sound collages may not be to your fancy, but if you love the sound of early, warm synths and want to hear them in alien yet accessible context, you will find much to enjoy in these 15 tracks across 35 minutes.

Score: Lite 8

You can listen to the album preview below, which gives you a good taste of what each of these songs sounds like:

  ursula bogner - sonne = blackbox (album preview) by experimedia

What do you think?  Interesting sound experiments in the guise of an interesting social experiment, or simply empty noodlings of thought?


  1. i love this record- perhaps not as much as the first but this is really beautiful. sublime electronics wobble in space as atoms blip and blop inside a sun.

  2. "sublime electronics wobble in space as atoms blip and blop inside a sun"

    This one sentence is better than my entire review.

    I'm glad you enjoy the record!