White Out (edition 2000) - Reviews

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Last review added: March, 7th 2002

The albums concept itself is fairly unique. Inspired by Axel Engstfeld's film 'Antarctica Project', the book 'The Terrors of the Ice and the Darkness' by Christoph Ransmayrs, and an experimental sound performance he was working on with author Martin Burckhardt, WHITE OUT paints a musical portrait of the great lost continent in a manner that takes instrumental, synth-based music to a whole new level of creativity. Here, Schmoelling had the opportunity to utilize all the different elements of his career: intricate musical composition, conceptual presentation, and even elements of live theatre. As a result, the style of each track varies somewhat from the others that surround it, which isn't something you'd normally expect on a "theme" album such as this. Cuts like 'White Out' and 'A Great Continent' build very slowly and deliberately, with each new sound that's introduced blending into a structural relationship with everything that preceded it until they become fully orchestrated, driving pieces. The title track in particular is a good point of reference as to where this type of music was at in Europe in 1990 (a path which was unfortunately far too short, by the way). Both these tracks are somewhat darker in tone, but not so much as you'd call them bleak. Conversely, cuts like "Icewalk" and "Navigator's Chatter" are more uptempo, and the latter even has hook that's ever so slightly reminiscent of a sea shanty.

I won't go into detail comparing and contrasting the two releases and breaking down what's been remixed, rerecorded, and so forth, though I will mention that the new version contains two new tracks: the subdued (but sometimes ominous sounding) 'Rain Echoes', and 'A Long Way Home', a piece that aptly reflects how those explorers must have felt all the way down at the bottom of the world. There's also a new mix of the aforementioned 'Icewalk' that closes the album out.

Musically, it doesn't get any better than this, and I'd have to agree that this is Schmoelling's strongest release to date. Believe it or not, he actually managed to improve on the original, which, again, is no small feat, and I believe his own comments reflect upon the thought that went into this project. "White Out- an optical illusion: the merging of Heaven and Earth, the absence of shadows, space without depth, without horizon.

          (Chris Lawless, written for openupandsay)

The original WHITE OUT album was produced in 1990. This CD release is a newly recorded and remixed version composed, mixed and produced by Johannes Schmoelling at the Riet Studio Berlin in 2000 featuring two additional new tracks. The sonic result is stunning work of dense, dynamic, electronic music. Layers of heavy synthe are laced with subtle melodies and undulating sonic currents to create a total sound environment unlike anything else I've heard.
          (Archie Patterson, eurock)

Legendary album released in a reworked version, including new tracks and a sensational remix of 'Icewalk'.
This album is one of my personal favourites of all time. It has been out of print now for some years and the original was fetching high prices. It has now been re-released in a very sympathetically remixed form (nothing like the treatment 'Zoo....' was given) keeping all the character of the original and with the addition of two completely new tracks and an additional version of 'Icewalk'. On this album Johannes left all safe preconceptions of what an electronic music album should sound like behind. There's loads of melody and nothing too outlandish its just how it is all put together that makes it stand out from the crowd.

The title track begins with a collage of effects which sounds like someone breathing through an aqualung under water with samples of radio communication accompanied by perfectly placed soft pads which gently swell. There are then various plucked string melodies and percussive effects. The combinations of sounds and lead lines really are unique. Its all highly atmospheric yet retaining drive and intrigue at all times- comments really that are relevant to all the tracks here. The layers of instrumentation become more intense but also increasingly accessible as the track progresses and it works itself up into quite a frenzy. 'Navigator's Chatter' starts with the sound of primitive sirens then its straight into a quirky melodic number with something of a French flavour. 'Icewalk' is one of the stand out tracks. Its slow and moody but the main melody though simple is captivating. Then half way through it suddenly changes to sounding like early Synergy but with a much more delicate touch. 'The Big Nail' begins with a combination of vocal loops which sounds like they were taken from switchboard operators then its into yet another fantastic lead line. I couldn't get it out of my head, it kept coming back even when taking the dog for a walk. It goes fast then slow and has a sort of skipping quality to it and again the sound chosen is just so perfect and so untypical for EM but it works superbly.

'Rain Echoes' gives plenty of space to build up the atmosphere. It gets moodier all the time never staying still. Then well into the third minute in comes the guitar and heavy drums both played with attitude turning it into a very powerful track with a mean twist. 'Native Eye, Native Ear' is probably my favourite track of the lot. It consists of a slow piano melody and a simple sequence with colour being added here and there. It doesn't sound anything special from this description. But just listen to it and I hope you will see what I mean- awesome! Initially 'A Great Continent' is the most atmospheric, even slightly spooky track so far. The samples used adding to this feeling still further. Some are so abrupt and jarring they will almost make you jump. A sonar type sound picks up, more effects are added then another exquisite lead melody accompanied by electric guitar and great rhythm are chucked in and I'm in heaven (it's almost 'Underwater Sunlight'ish actually). 'A Long Way Home' is an exquisite melancholy track. Again the melody is fantastic- heart rending even, backed by ethereal pads placed perfectly in the mix.

'Anian Path' is a soothing atmospheric track taking us to 'Icewalk (mix 2000)' which finishes the album off. Its excellent and more in yer face than the other version found on the CD. It loses some of the subtlety of the source piece put easily makes up for it in energy. This CD is a very difficult one for me to review as it is away from my usual points of reference. What I have written here will be understood when listening to it but only vaguely gives an idea as to what the music is like. It certainly doesn't do it full justice. In my opinion this is a work of genius.I must have played the original more than any other album over the last ten years and still get more out of it with each play. This re-issue breaths further life into what was already a classic. How I'm ever going to get it out of my player to do any more reviews I don't know.
          (Dave Law, SynthMusicDirect)

© 1998 - 2002 by Johannes Schmoelling