The German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-86) is now regarded as one of the most important visual artists of the 20th century. I’m no expert on his work, but I have come across a few examples of it in galleries and museums. Particularly memorable was his long encounter with a coyote, in which he was filmed in close proximity to this unfriendly animal in an otherwise bare room for many hours. Throughout his career he exhibited a fascination with fat and felt, which he was drawn to use as raw materials as a result of having been covered in them, and thereby having his life saved, in a wartime incident. Towards the end of his life he became something of an environmental activist, getting involved in tree-planting campaigns and adopting the position of spokesman for a disenfranchised generation.
This release by Holland’s Beequeen (a duo consisting of Frans de Waard and Freek Kinkelaar) is ‘dedicated to and inspired by’ Beuys, and repeats the words ‘nature, matter, form’ (which could be said to be central to his art) in four languages on the insert. However, the parallels break down when one actually listens to the CD. What we have here is an hour’s worth of join-the-dots Ambient, its dogged formalism only occasionally leavened by interesting interventions.
The Beuys influence is most readily noticeable in the opening and best piece, ’10 Minutes Before The Worm’, which has the feel of a processed environmental recording. It begins imperceptibly, with faint clicks and gently breaking waves gradually giving way to insistent sounds of falling water. Eventually a gloomy synth progression comes to predominate, reverberating eerily around the flooded chamber. It’s an accomplished mood piece, richly evocative of old, decaying and abandoned buildings.
Unfortunately, Beequeen cannot sustain this level of creativity, and most of the remaining pieces are fairly sterile exercises in layering and filtering synthesised washes of sound. Interest is sparked by radio tunings and softly circling rhythms, but Beequeen seem reluctant to let these elements intrude too much. Only on ‘Time Waits For No-one’ do things get really interesting, with grinding metallic clashes and focused blasts of noise. Otherwise the CD is content to meander through well trodden Ambient soundscapes, displaying none of the daring and passion of the artist who inspired it.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 9, 2001)