Porter Ricks hang their experimental plaque on new tools
When Porter Ricks released Biokinetics they couldn’t have predicted it would come to be hailed as one of techno’s pivotal albums. Impacting fundamentally for its meticulous and innovative sound design, this essential LP set the benchmark for dub techno and remains for many an album to sink into and breathe in.
The album was released on Basic Channel offshoot Chain Reaction in 1996 and reissued in February 2012 by Type Records. With Biokinetics, mastering and cutting engineer Andy Mellwig and ambient producer Thomas Köner took the ‘Basic Channel sound’ of label bosses Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald and veered deeper into subtle, mutating experimentalism. They took their name from a character in the 60s TV show Flipper where, as Thomas Köner relays down the phone from his home in Siberia, “as a recurring theme, a kind of heroic character appeared when things looked really bad and turned them into a good situation”. They saw this as a metaphor for their production together, work critically acclaimed for its intense, immersive feel.
“There is certainly an aspect in music that is completely pure and without any distractions, this is something that I am very aware of” he says. “It is not polluted by anything other than the sound, because somehow it connects immediately to whatever the person constructs.”
On surface level Biokinetics is straightforward, barely holding together any melody. But as the muffled 4/4 pulse pulls you in, it’s in the swirling, unpredictable details that the album resonates. “The common ingredient is to start from a very centric, core element and process and as the system is going, it just gets bigger”, Köner reveals. These fizzling synths and submerged bass warbles set a precedent for experimental techno that seeps with sonic imagery. Though many processed Biokinetics as a rusty submarine ride through the deep, its aquatic legacy wasn’t necessarily intentional. “The aesthetic, and your personal impression that you have from calling this aquatic, is because it is more like a fluid experience compared to, say, walking barefoot on broken glass, which would also have a certain sound quality in production.
It’s this subtle emotional tone which underlines much of Köner’s work as a dark ambient pioneer, as well as a constant feature in the art world, commissioned for installations and live soundtracks at The Hayward Gallery and The Louvre. Musing on his approach to this prolific audiovisual work, Köner expands on his use of music as a dialectic tool. “I also see the music as a language and a response to the world, and as such it is, of course, also in the dialogue and it appears together with other things, and that is very interesting to me.”
Köner’s latest solo album, 2012’s Novaya Zemlya, was a journey through sprawling Arctic Russia; “the remoteness of the nature has a quality of purity and a certain detail and crispness”, he explains. The same notion that embodies that album’s impact is found here; that even the minutest of mutations in sound can connect to imagery, colour, currents, earth. “In the end it’s only a sound file that is completely disconnected from the situation when it was recorded.Where it is listened to and where it enters your quality of life and your memories and your emotions – this is the moment when the sound matters.”
Both Köner and Mellwig have continued to work with experimental techno long since their initial emergence, the latter as Continuous Mode and ambient drone project Audio Experimental Research with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Pete Kember of Spacemen 3 and Kevin Martin aka The Bug. Though almost two decades have passed since their first work together, Köner is not all too convinced changes in technology since have pushed music forward. “Of course you have access to a bigger variety of tools, but if you want to write a text and you have a choice of a hundred pens or only one pen, this would not affect the quality of your text. And the same is true if you are a producer.”
While we will soon be able to judge how such advancements impose on their catalogue – Köner confirms Porter Ricks are making a new album, with half the tracks in the bag but no working title – the duo are playing a string of shows in which they’ll road test some exciting new developments. “Andy is writing on a software that is supposed to be very sophisticated, allowing us both to improvise and mix, master and equalise and other things. Like two pilots”, he pauses, and says, coyly, “driving one boat.”