Esmark-Māra I and Māra II.

Label: Bureau B.

On the ‘27th’ of July 2017, Esmark, the collaboration between sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz and experimental artist Alsen Rau will join what is one of the most exclusive clubs in music. Its members include musical luminaries like Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes, who have all released two albums on the same day. However, Esmark’s membership is still on the pending pile until ‘27th’ of July 2017. That day they become fully fledged members of this extremely exclusive club, when they release their two new studio albums Māra I and Māra II, on the Hamburg based record label Bureau B.  This is some way for Esmark to announce their arrival on the musical stage.

Esmark is the latest musical vehicle of sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz and experimental artist Alsen Rau. They’ve worked together on a variety of experimental and performative projects since 2001. Their latest project was recorded in late 2016, in Scandinavia, where they beautiful surroundings and solitude inspired them to record enough music for two albums. Rather than save some of the music for a followup album, a decision was made to release two albums simultaneously. 

Having made that decision, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau started thinking on a new moniker for their latest musical vehicle. This was the start a new chapter for the pair, and required a new name. When they started casting around for a new name for the project, they came up with Esmark, which is a majestic glacier at Spitzbergen, in Northern Norway that borders the Arctic Ocean, Greenland Sea and Norwegian Sea. Now that they had settled on the name Esmark for new project, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau made plans to release the album. This was something that both men have plenty of experience with.

Both Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau are experienced musicians, who have enjoyed lengthy and successful careers. They’ve both previously worked together, and have also worked with a variety of different artists in a variety of roles.

In the case of sound architect Nikolai von Sallwitz he was mastered Scheich In China first two albums and has written for the Karachi Files’ 2016 debut eponymous album and Scheich In China. However, Nikolai von Sallwitz is best known as known as  Taprikk Sweezee, which is the moniker he has been using since 2006.

Since then, Taprikk Sweezee has worked in a variety of capacities, ranging from singer and songwriter, to recordist remixer and producer. His career as Taprikk Sweezee started in 2006 as a vocalist and since then, he has served what is akin to a musical apprentice. That is only part of the Taprikk Sweezee story.

Taprikk Sweezee has  written music and has been involved with sound design for film, theatre and a variety of art and pop projects. Somehow, Taprikk Sweezee has found time to collaborate with a number of visual artists, including Chris Hoffmann, Andreas Nicholas Fischer and Robert Seidel. There are it seems, many strings to Taprikk Sweezee’s bow.

In 2010, Taprikk Sweezee released his debut EP Conversea. A year later, and Taprikk Sweezee returned with his sophomore EP Poly. Taprikk Sweezee also finds time to work on projects with his friend Alsen Rau, including on the Barabass, Scheich in China and their most recent project Esmark.

Just like Nikolai von Sallwitz, Alsen Rau has a wealth of musical experience. Over the years, he has been a member of various groups including Barabass, who released an EP in 2006. On + Brr followed in 2010, who released their debut album Peace and Love in 2010. This was followed by a quartet of singles. Alsen Rau’s next project was Scheich in China, who have released five albums between 2014 and 2016. However, this is just part of the story of Alsen Rau.

He’s also one of the founders and curators of Kraniche, a Hamburg-based club, that is renowned for exhibitions of experimental art. They’ve received praise and plaudits from critics and cultural commentators. There’s also been performances of experimental music at Kraniche, which has gained a reputation as a place that is unafraid to showcase ambitious and inventive music.  Away from  Kraniche, Alsen Rau has also curated a number of exhibitions, performances and readings, and is heavily involved with city’s art scene. However, much of Alsen Rau’s time is spent making music.

This includes Esmark’s albums Māra I and Māra II. To make what eventually became Māra I and Māra II, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau decided to head to Scandinavia in late 2016. Rather than head to one of the major cities in Sweden, Norway or Finland, where they would find some of the top studios in Europe, 

Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau decided to head to rural Scandinavia. They wanted to be free from distractions, and hope to enjoy some solitude that would spark a creative spree.

Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau took to their Scandinavian retreat, mostly, an array of analog equipment, including various synths and drum machines. They were joined by a myriad of effects, which would play an important part in the proceedings once work began. 

Locked away in their Scandinavian retreat, the recording sessions got underway, and Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau started to carefully craft a series of soundscapes using the various synths and drum machines. The final piece in the jigsaw were a variety of special effects and filter units, which transformed the dry signal and resulted in a myriad of otherworldly sounds making their way onto the tape. Sometimes, the recordings on the tape were then fed back into the compositions. Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau weren’t afraid to experiment and push musical boundaries to their limits during what proved to be productive recording 

The solitude of their Scandinavian retreat had proven inspirational for Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. So much so, that when it came to naming soundscapes, that Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau named them after the biogeography and cartography of where the recordings took place. They were determined to never forget where Esmark’s first took place.

By the time the recording sessions were over, and Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau returned home, they realised that they had more than enough material for one album. This left them with two options. They could cherry pick the best soundscapes for Esmark’s debut album, and keep the remainder for the followup album. However, given the quality of the music Esmark had recorded, they decided to follow in the footsteps of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes.

This meant releasing two albums simultaneously on the one day. These two albums became Māra I and Māra II, which were Esmark’s debut and sophomore albums. Esmark were about to join a very exclusive club, and do so in some style with Māra I and Māra II.

Māra I.

Māra I features six soundscapes lasting forty minutes, and they showcase the combined and considerable talents of Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. That is the case between the opening bars of Esmark, and the journey through Sirens, Skern Å, Mon, Krav and right up until the closing notes of Keicke. The music is understated, haunting, ethereal and cinematic, as if Esmark were writing the score to a sci-fi movie. Sometimes, the minimalist sound is futuristic and otherworldly as it meanders, pulsates, growls and drones. Always there’s an air of drama, and an air of expectancy as the genre-melting soundscapes takes a series of twists and turns.

As they do, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau combine elements of ambient and avant-garde with the Berlin School, electronica and experimental music. There’s also Krautrock and musique concrète influence as Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau paint vivid pictures during this album of compelling and carefully crafted cinematic soundscapes. However, Māra I is only part of the Esmark story.

Māra II

Māra II picks up where Māra I left off, and as Husby-Klit Bk. unfolds, appears to follows in its footsteps. The music is ambitious, inventive and just like on Māra I, is minimalistic, has an elements of drama as it reveals its futuristic, cinematic sound as meanders menacingly. The futuristic, otherworldly and cinematic sound reappears on Lianen, before Ringen reveals a much slower, spartan sound. Drums provide the heartbeat, and again, add an element of drama. It’s a similar case on Årgab, which has an otherworldly and experimental sound. On Vrig, drums crack as a synth pulsates almost menacingly on another cinematic soundscape. Futuristic and otherworldly describes Pluvialis Apr. which feature a myriad of sci-fi sounds. Gradually, Objekt P62410 reveals a dramatic, cinematic sound, and it’s a similar case with Tæller 3.981, which closes Māra II. It sounds as if belongs on the soundtrack to a movie about intergalactic warfare, and is one of the highlights of Māra II.

As is often the case, Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau have the best until last on Māra II. Just like Māra I, it’s an album where Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau combine disparate musical genres to create the bigger musical picture. Again, this ranges from ambient, avant-garde and the Berlin School, to electronica, experimental. There’s also a Krautrock and musique concrète influences on Māra I, which follows in the footsteps of Māra II and reaches the same heights. 

Esmark’s two albums Māra I and Māra II, both showcase the considerable talents of Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. The day they formed Esmark was the start of a formidable musical partnership. Māra I and Māra II which will be released by Bureau B on the ‘27th’ July 2017, is a tantalising taste of the type of music that Esmark are capable of producing.

The music on Māra I and Māra II follows in the footsteps of some of the legends of German music, especially Adelbert Von Deyen, Ashra, Conrad Schnitzler, Cluster and Klaus Schulze. Just like these musical luminaries, Esmark are capable of creating inventive, innovative music. It’s much more than that though.

Often, there’s an element of drama, as the soundscapes becomes dark, eerie, haunting, moody, ominous and otherworldly. Sometimes, they’re understated and minimalistic, while other times, they take on a mesmeric or hypnotic quality. Occasionally, the soundscapes become ethereal, wistful and ruminative, and as a result, invites reflection. Always, though, Esmark continue to captivate and compel with their carefully crafted cinematic soundscapes on Māra I and Māra II which marks the dawn of a new and exciting era for Nikolai von Sallwitz and Alsen Rau. 

Esmark-Māra I and Māra II.

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