Published Apr 09, 2018Taking techno deep down the loneliest wormhole, with I Started Wearing Black, Cologne-based producer Sonia Güttler — aka Sonae —tracks the soft noise haunting the pulse of the modern world and documents her findings as if with high-contrast black-and-white reversal film, feverishly scratching her own mark in the decaying emulsion with angst and melancholy.
Güttler reaches for a variety of sounds that are both recognizable and familiar (string instruments, pianos, horns, ticking clocks, techno) here, but noise is omnipresent throughout, whether as ambient phenomena or toxic filter, steering stark figures through muted minefields or washing over all like acid rain. It's a bleak and challenging record, but with unique political affect, it manages to build up a temple of its own amongst all the hostilities.
While early tracks, like "Majority Vote" and "Rust," are patient exercises in atmospheric place-making, found rhythms lapping into mechanical monstrosities with careful hands on delay knobs and ring modulators, the album's title track encapsulates Güttler's duelling applications of noise perhaps the neatest, its movements practically divided down the centre — the first half evoking an urban environment that seems innocent enough, perhaps a shipyard or a warehouse strip — the ambience eventually grows to a thundering purr when a deconstructed club beat fit for a demon rave kicks in at the back end of the track, its beats so blown out and cluttered with abrasive reverb and scattered bits of static it would face wholesale rejection on a mainstream dance floor.
But if I Started Wearing Black manipulates the enraptured essence of the club into a brutal and ugly thing, it also celebrates the underground as a place where the noises we take for granted — even inconveniences — can thrive. With "White Trash Rouge Noir," Güttler lets a swinging low-end rhythm take over, a lonely piano calling out in the distant background through anxiety-inducing volume swells and shuffling sounds. Inward glancing and goth as hell, it's all leathered up with nowhere in particular to go; perfect stuff for headphones and a foggy night's walk along the boardwalk. On "System Immanent Value Defect," a critique of Turkey's drift toward authoritarianism, Güttler defiantly paces the roughly drawn horizon of a crumbling landscape, all while migraine tectonics groan and grind, warped horns signalling the apocalypse.
In a press release, Güttler aligns the album with a period of depression and negative body image, explaining she started shrouding herself in black over heartache and as a means to distract from the fact that she had started gaining weight. In a similar way, noise music creates a buffer zone where conventional culture can at once be kept at arm's length and available for reinterpretation, and the idea at the centre of that is perhaps most resonant on closing track "We Are Here." Self-described as "A piece for minorities," and explicitly an echoing response to the fact that "Female artists have long been saying loud and clear that 'we are here' and 'electronic music is not a boys club!'" the piece revolves around a simple music box approximation, but as its twinkling progressions extend, the track increasingly comes to resemble a recording from a particularly active poltergeist occupation, menacing rattles knocking and sputtering while toy train sets kick on in the background with increasing activity. Sadness and vindication fully intact, in the best way possible, it's a haunting reminder that, even when they're relegated to the shadows, it's the "lost" voices that can get under our skin the best. (Monika Enterprise)