Performing, recording, and then releasing an album titled Funeral Musik… takes a lot of courage. As a listener, the title imposes a set of preconceived notions of what an album that purports to contain “funeral music” should sound like, as well as the emotions one would expect it to convey. Mourning and coping with loss through music is obviously nothing new; humans have been doing it since we figured out that we could make the air vibrate with our mouths and generate sound from hitting on hollowed-out objects like a tree trunk or dried and stretched-out animal hide. Throughout the history of music, much of it was and will continue to be created as a means for the composer and performer to cope with pain, loneliness, suffering, and loss.
I’m not familiar with Marek X. Marchoff’s music so this disc serves as my introduction to his work. Based on some minimal research, I could gather that Marchoff has been performing and recording since the early 1990s within Europe’s metal, industrial, noise, and experimental milieu with projects like Different State and the Vein, as well as solo and in collaborations with others. He continues to be active, predominantly as a solo musician performing mostly electronic ambient/experimental music. His main tools for composition and performance are analogue synthesizers, tape loops, manipulated recordings, and tone generators, amongst others.
According to the label’s provided description for Funeral Musik fur Jenny Marchoff, the music on this disc was recorded—in just a few hours—fifteen years prior to its release after Marchoff’s grandmother, a person who was a key figure in his life, passed away.
The opening track, “Thorpe Lea Road,” is entirely composed of retro sci-fi waves of synthesizer chords that would fit perfectly with an instructional science video. It’s a strange beginning to say the least. The second track takes a more traditionally “dark ambient” route and it far overstays its welcome, clocking in at nearly nineteen minutes. “Arlyska” is a playful xylophone-like 36-second intermission between the aforementioned track and “Brixton,” which returns to the spacey synth-leads and sci-fi movie soundtrack sounds of the first track. “27th Street” is more upbeat and ventures into late-80’s Tangerine Dream territory, or at least what I remember thinking Tangerine Dream sounded like then since it’s an era of theirs that I choose to avoid. The following track, “Broadway,” returns to the minimal dark ambient sounds while “Amityville” actually sounds like it could have been featured in the soundtrack for the horror movie of the same name. “Chrysler Benz – New Yorker 86” is a minimal loop repeated over and over, ad nauseam. A lot of the synthesizer work on Funeral Musik… sounds extremely dated and, I hate to say this, even tacky.
So does Funeral Musik fur Jenny Marchoff live up to my expectations? Well, no, and this is both good and bad. It’s good because much like the grieving process and the memories of a life lived interacting with a person who is no longer present in this realm, the emotions expressed on this CD are all over the place. Funeral Musik… is not an entirely dark or gloomy ambient album, but it’s not uplifting bubbly electronic music either. It has moments that convey joy and playfulness, and others that are peaceful and meditative. Darkness creeps in and out, but Funeral Musik… never feels completely bleak or hopeless. I believe the performer here was trying to create a soundtrack for the memories he has of Jenny Marchoff, a musical accompaniment to the retrospective view of this person’s life.
Now for the bad: in trying to encapsulate the emotional roller-coaster that is the loss of someone important to you, this album possibly tries to encompass too much. Its non-linearity does not help me remain attentive and interested. This would be fine if this were a compilation instead of a conceptual album framed as such by its title. The compositions do not flow easily into each other, and some are bit too long for their own good.
Maybe it’s the fact that these eight pieces were improvised rather than performed and reshaped over time that makes for compositions that could have benefited from some revisions or editing before their release.
Based on what little I learned about Marchoff while doing my homework for this review, he does at least occasionally make good music that should be right at home on a label like the Polish Zoharum, who has released excellent work by fellow ambient and experimental performers like Rapoon, Machinefabriek, Dead Voices On Air, and many other projects that are a regular presence in my personal listening habits, but Funeral Musik fur Jenny Marchoff unfortunately doesn’t really fulfill my expectations of how powerful and personal a memorial album should sound. In the end, I think the title hurts this release more than it helps.
01) Thorpe Lea Road
05) 27th Street
08) Chrysler Benz-New Yorker 86