Thomas Fehlmann has much to celebrate as he passes the 30-year mark as a producer, musician and DJ. In addition to solo albums on Apollo/R&S, producing Detroit's Juan Atkins, Blake Baxter and Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes as 3MB and collaborating with British psychedelic ambient project The Orb, Fehlmann now adds film music composition to his resume with Gute Luft: Original Soundtrack from the "24H Berlin" TV Documentary. But perhaps the Berliner's chief accomplishment is his music's consistency since joining the Kompakt roster in 2001. Fehlmann's Visions of Blah album injected warmth and color into the roster's otherwise staid techno output in 2002. Whereas Kompakt's dance floor 12-inch releases often explored nuanced repetition, songs on Blah exalted in melody, featuring song structures with emotive tonal shifts and elegant instrumental flows.
Fehlmann continued in this vein on Lowflow, Okie Dokie It's the Orb and Honigpumpe. In each case he married echoey ambient-dub touches with rich pop melodies and restrained techno rhythms. For a lesser artist such sonic consistency can easily descend into predictability and formulaic rehashes. Not so with Fehlmann. His playful compositional approach allows improvised elements to wander among his work's intentional landscapes. Gute Luft, which translates as "good air," has many such refreshing revelations that blow in like the wind. Take "Im Berblick," which appears near Gute Luft's conclusion. The track is bookended by ambient clouds with two melodic key shifts in between. It's the music equivalent of reading a short story packed with intimate details, revealing dialog and a satisfying conclusion. But there's more to this man's novels.
In addition to work originally commissioned for the documentary, Gute Luft contains bits of Fehlmann's previous recordings in mixes that blend old and new compositions for a kaleidoscopic effect. In some cases Fehlmann uses a familiar instrument or riff from a previous album, in others an entire section appears, reconstituted to suit the present track. In one case, "Berliner Luftikus" reanimates recognizable elements from Vision of Blah's ""Du Fehlst Mir," yet it sounds like an entirely new song. He also reprises moments from Gute Luft's original works throughout: Melodies from the album's fourth track "Schwerelos" reappear in tracks eight ("Permanent Touch") and nine ("Von Oben") in subtle, often indistinguishable ways. Like life's familiar coincidences and déjà vu moments, Fehlmann has overlapped notes, sounds and themes in intriguing ways.
However, this album is not overly intellectual or difficult to absorb. Whether you listen closely or as a background soundtrack, the all-instrumental material leaves a soothing emotional residue. Taken as a whole, Gute Luft sounds like a continuation rather than a culmination of Thomas Fehlmann's rich career. He's not out of ideas yet. In fact, they just keep getting more interesting.
- Published /
Wed / 31 Mar 2010
- Words /
Tomas A. Palermo