Online biographies of Asmus Tietchens peg him as a legacy of Karlheinz Stockhausen. It may well be true, but still Tietchens diverges from Stockhausen’s influence by turning out music that is both intellectually stimulating and entirely listenable. This is in addition to keeping his flirtation with modernist obscurantism to a tolerable minimum.
Associations between Tietchens and Stockhausen probably have to do with both being avant-garde musicians operating in Germany at approximately the same time more than anything else. The stylistic gap is wide, however, as is the manner of achievement. Stockhausen is primarily known for being Stockhausen. Tietchens may be comparatively more obscure by name, but a quick spin of his In Die Nacht from 1981 is sure to stir memories in more than a few music fans. The track also reveals Tietchens’ skill at both melody and compositional innovation in a way that puts him more in league with Brian Eno than any local contemporaries.
Still, much of Tietchens’ vast output is deeply experimental, employing synthesizers, tape loops, and mathematical and formalist concepts—the entire experimentalist tool shed. The result is a quantity of work under his name that will be difficult for the rank-and-file listener. But put any of this experimental output up against the likes of Stockhausen or Schoenberg, or even later-era popular experimentalists such as Merzbow or Genesis P-Orridge, and it becomes clear that Tietchens maintains a practicality that is rare among the avant-garde; the way the work sounds is as important as the ideas behind it.
Parergon, released in 2016, is certainly one of those releases that won’t readily submit to casual listening. The program here cloaks itself in an aggressive minimalism. It’s easy to put Parergon on and eventually forget that it is playing. With attentive listening, though, the music quickly reveals itself as an assemblage of well-textured sounds that move along unpredictably, but logically. It all unfolds in a patient, quiet way, creating a sort of macro-lens effect forcing the details into focus. The end-result is that no single track stands out from the others. It seems the disc as a unit is meant to be experienced as a conveyor belt of small sonic sculptures.
This is appropriate considering that Tietchens has referred to his music as “absolute music.” That may be a dash of the aforementioned modernist obscurantism, but it can still be parsed to mean that he aspires to nothing less than pure abstraction. The music should be heard as it is, stripped of context and relieved of baggage. Or, in other words, res ipsa loquitor.
Amidst modern life’s chaotic onslaught, it can be something of a relief to listen this way. A few moments spent focused on the details of a few sounds can clear the mind and return it to reality. Tietchens has long been an underappreciated composer. It’s possible that it takes an underappreciated artist to unleash this underappreciated power of music.