It’s always affirming when you’re forced to realign your musical parameters. It doesn’t happen too often, those moments at gigs where you’re constantly questioning whether you’re in the presence of greatness or lunacy. Everyone likes a challenge and tonight’s freeform analogue exploration by German minimalist and ambient specialists Ambiq is among the most challenging musical experiences I’ve ever encountered.
Fronted by Max Loderbauer with the quite amazing Claudio Puntin on clarinet and Samuel Roher on drums and pads, tonight’s special show in the spectacular auditorium setting of the Funkhaus is given an extra boost by the fact one Ricardo Villalobos is operating modular synthesisers. Coupled with an early cinema screening of the much talked about documentary I Think Of Germany At Night and an afterparty heavy on the minimal and microhouse running until 7am, this was quite the ticket.
However, those expecting a live analogue reworking of Villalobos’ finest techno moments probably weren’t prepared for the weight of abstraction on display. Ambiq is very much its own experimental entity and Villalobos was an invited guest; from the off the freeform nature of the performance was apparent. With perpetual regularity, sound was essayed with very little regard to time signature, the focus being, always, on spontaneity. Exemplified by Roher’s off-time drum work, the utilisation of a symbol sweeps and delicate knocks of the high-hat interspersed with pad work allowed for little semblance of a linear pulse.
Perhaps the most musically captivating moments from the evening came in the unlikely form of the clarinet. Deployed as a constant among the synth meandering, it’s increasing potency in the second half of the performance was welcome.
The contrast between Villalobos and Loderbauer behind their two modular synths was marked. The former in a constant state of flux, constantly manipulating and moving, the other still and clinical with a fixed expression of stoic reassurance. Loderbauer has always provided Villalobos with an outlet for the not-often-seen part of his character that places experimental sound on an equal footing with more rhythm-led music and, while this borderless parameter occasionally infuses itself into his techno, tonight a lack of syncopation will cause many to leave before the two hour performance is over. The breaks between the tangible pieces of rhythm in the performance are minimalism at its most challenging. A bleep here, a squeak here and yet somehow it does hang together, with sections eventually finding their path or seguing into others allowing for a finale of sorts.
Ambiq’s charm lies in its complete disregard for form. On a soundsystem as strong as Funkhaus’, and in such a grand setting, the magic here lay in letting go of preconception – and the fact that one of techno’s greatest innovators was playing live. This was adhered to by those who knew what to expect, and by others whose open-mindedness is to be applauded. Although you were left with the feeling that, should the bar have been pushed too high this evening it wouldn’t weigh at all heavily on the minds of the performing protagonists.