East Contemporary

Meetfactory: Oliver Torr “Trans Europe Postal Express”

Prague, May 3 – July 4, 2021, http://www.meetfactory.cz

Oliver Torr is a Czech electronic music artist and sound designer. The showcase in one room at Meetfactory was a presentation of his sound project done last year in the context of the SHAPE platform “for Innovative Music and Audiovisual Art from Europe” that is co-financed from the Creative Europe programme.

I had good vibes upon entering the space. I think the track “Marseille” was playing. It was obvious that thought was given to the installation setup. In the center there was a showcase with the original source material of the project: A heavy-duty transport case covered with stickers of parcel logistics companies, as well as the Tascam Porta02 multitrack tape recorder itself and instructions, tapes and notebook that traveled with it. An mp3-player connected to a mixer was playing the tracks of “Trans Europe Postal Express” in an infinite loop.

Left of the central setup in a corner was a kind of advertising pillar covered in posters advertising the project, bringing in a “street” feeling. Right of the setup was a wall-mounted display showing a static image of the details of one parcel tracking in an excel table.

Next to it, in a corner right next to the door was another small showcase, this time with the actual finished physical output, a nice “fan” package in a silver bubble-wrap consisting of a tape, a flyer and a set of stickers.

The studio monitor speakers used for playing back the sound made it sound really worthwhile, I am guessing it may be the same speakers used by Torr for mastering the release. The constantly changing sound landscape and well as the sound quality made me stay in the space for longer, as I was really curious about the next sound coming up.

Regarding the concept of the project, I felt the title is a reference to Kraftwerk´s famous “Trans Europa Express” track, locating the production within the context of popular electronic music. Because of the Covid-19 lockdown across Europe, Torr had to reinvent himself and come up with a new project in the context of the SHAPE grant that he received for 2020. His idea was to send a tape recorder around Europe, let other (SHAPE) artists record one or two tracks on it, and once back, he would get to work to use the gathered material to produce his own tracks inspired by those sonic messages from across Europe. I appreciated the straightforward openness, honesty and simplicity of this approach.

But I felt a bit ambiguous about the concept, as it made me come up with many questions. Why the tape recorder? Torr´s justification about “limiting the creative process” did not satisfy me. Connecting one cable to the “audio out” socket and pressing record is not really such a limitation. If I think away the tape deck, then we have Torr asking some of his fellow fellowship recipients for some tracks, and using them to produce his own tracks. Why? Because of SHAPE. The connection to a random external element funding the project was too direct for me. If I think away the funding, then I would have to ask the question why exactly this cities, why exactly this artists and why exactly this music style. Also this questions remains unanswered, except by saying that it is the Oliver Torr style. There is another passing remark in the press release about chance music of Boulez, Feldman, Cage and Stockhausen, which unfortunately also seems to be just a thin veil looked up in a wikipedia article without any deeper connection to the tracks itself. The music does not sound anything like that, and I also could not find any structural cues hinting at the compositional methods used by the aforementioned composers. My next question would be why the tracks are named after the cities in which the composers resided at the time being. The obvious answer that this is where the fellowship awardees reside is not satisfactory to me. How do these tracks named after cities represent those cities? Do they reveal something about them audibly? The track naming would be a nice opportunity to creating another layer of meaning (maybe chance?) instead of fixed one to one connections. The conceptual framework did not hold for me at closer inspection.

The music itself was impressive and it showed Torr´s power as a sound designer. The sound was constantly changing and very dynamic. I would locate it somewhere in the post-dubstep and action movie soundtrack area. The length of the tracks is rather short, making them suitable for a presentation setup like the one in Meetfactory where people pass through and must be immediately captured by the sound. I think the shorter length of tracks is also a general trend in the shortened attention span of the Spotify age. This aspect also hints that these tracks fall more into the electronic dance pop music (alternative, of course) category then chance music or field recordings. As a whole the tape sounds consistent. I would say it shows Torr´s style while the “inspiration providers” are moved to the background and not really recognizable. I can hear the connection to Torr´s own solo release “Fragility of Context” from this year. I observe a cognitive dissonance, as I try to connect the artists who provided the material and the locations with the sounds, but I cannot find any connection. My solution would be to release the original tracks or short interludes out of the original recordings besides the “remixes”.

Overall “Trans Europe Postal Express” shows both the good and bad sides of venturing into the “conceptual” realm of musical production. The exhibit and accompanying text made the project more vulnerable to criticism. Maybe this criticism is more a criticism of the creative Europe funding provider that explicitly or implicitly pushed Torr into making up justifications for something that does not really need a justification. On the positive side, the concept provided the physical material for the exhibition. This was a great approach to “materialize” and “exhibit” a musical release that would otherwise drown in the flood of bandcamp lockdown releases. And it is musically a worthy release.

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