Concurrent with an exhibition at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (which runs through February 9), MORO20 is a celebration of the work of German video artist Marcel Odenbach, as heard through the lens of the music. Long-time scoring partner Richard Oijio was invited to revisit his oeuvre, resulting in a beautiful hardbound double LP and book. While the 20 years refers to their partnership, Odenbach’s work stretches back for a total of 45, long enough for the auteur to be able to see his influence on a younger generation of filmmakers.
The irony of the release is that many listeners will be arriving at Odenbach’s work through Ojijo’s music, while experienced cinephiles arrived at Ojijo’s work through Odenbach. With dialogue samples threaded throughout, the reworked pieces speak to the contributions of both. One can tell that the artists share the same vision: social commentary laden with subtlety and wisdom. At their heart, these pieces hum with the undulations of drone, punctuated with the static charges of electro-acoustic experimentalism. “in still waters crocodiles lurk” is particularly foreboding, as crackling radio transmissions travel speaker to speaker over a dark hum. Twenty years ago, these sounds would have been considered incredibly forward-thinking, much as the images of Odenbach; two artists fortunate to have found each other, each enhancing the appreciation of the other’s work.
“turning in circles” grows in menace before toppling into an occluded heartbeat. The piano plays for a while before it is noticed, contributing texture to the nearly industrial piece. When the bass arrives, it only underscores the premonition of danger. “foundering, and you can’t swim” offers ocean sounds as an audio cue, while “proof of nothing” begins with marching boots, suggesting discipline, conformity, invasion. The fact that these pieces operate as audio films compliments Ojijo, who never loses sight of the collaborative aspect; even without visuals, MORO20 is both standalone work and homage.
The success of Odenbach’s films is that they defy easy interpretation, even when the subject matter lies on the surface. There’s always something extra riding along the outskirts of the frames, just as there is in these compositions. On paper, Ojijo’s works may seem straightforward, but as soon as they hit the speakers, they begin to morph. “he, who suffers, cuts” is a prime example; clattering percussion gives way to backward masking and masking to snatches of melody; but the melody is never complete. In contrast, “Verzettelungen” (“Frayed”) makes a quiet comedown, flirting with silence but eventually settling on restraint, a perfect place to end this chapter of not one, but two rewarding careers. (Richard Allen)