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Anton Bruhin: Speech poems/Fruity Music

At first glance, the tracklist for Speech poems/Fruity Music , with its 26 pieces, the longest clocking in around a couple of minutes or so, looks like it should belong to a grindcore album, but that’s about as far from the Dada-ish nonsensical experiments of eccentric Swiss artist Anton Bruhin as it’s possible to be. An album of sound pieces made in 2006-2008 using the very basic Fruity Loops audio software, it expands on Bruhin’s older audio works in which he experimented in, it has to be said a more innovative way, with tape machines and found sounds. Compared to the dense and sometimes chaotic sound of those works, Speech Poems/Fruity Music is minimalist and clear and if not for its inherent silliness, a little austere. As the title suggests, what is presented here isn’t always music and, as often as not, is based around computer generated speech, with all its glitches and absurdities.

The opening “Fruity Loops Music 1” is incredibly basic but oddly evocative electronic music, its cheerful texture being made of squelches and whines that could have come from the dawn of the computer age, but which will forever sound futuristic. Unlikely though it seems, that minute and five seconds is about as accessible as the album gets, not that any of it is actually difficult to listen to – it’s just that it often feels random and meaningless. The spoken word, or synthetic spoken word pieces generally have flatly prosaic titles, such as as the first one; “abc für Anglophone,” in which a robotic voice dictates the alphabet and “aughntone brooheene,” which consists of thirteen seconds of the artist improving the way that the speech program pronounces his name. Five short nonsense, or at least mostly incoherent, poems are far more enjoyable and funny, the glitchy robotic voices struggling with language, pitch and tone changes in what feels like a paradoxically human way. In fact, it’s the strangely moving human quality of the voice, especially on pieces like “4th Poem” – an unaccompanied ‘female’ robot voice singing – that makes the album feel like more than just inconsequential sound games, although it remains light-hearted and playful, rather than pompous or self-consciously ‘artistic’ throughout.

The musical pieces, like “Bastei mit Strohdach” are in some ways easier to enjoy, but are also generally more likely to outstay their welcome when more than two minutes long because, at this point, we have all heard what old arcade game music sounds like. In fact, that particular piece sounds like a cross between old (i.e c.1983) computer/arcade game music but also – a niche reference perhaps – like the kind of incidental music that appeared on the movie tie-in book and tape sets back in the ‘80s, with little synthesized classical piano flourishes which are at once charming and completely laughable. The same is true of one of the album’s highlights, the charming miniature baroque of “Lieber Markus,” part oompah, part classical, all very sweet and silly. In fact, listening to the album is an experiment in relativity, with a “long” musical piece like “Lieber Markus” – 2 minutes 23 seconds – feeling short and sweet, while the 59 seconds of the immensely irritating “99neeneenee99” – basically the robot voice repeating the title – is nigh on unbearably overlong; which may even be intentional. When the tracks – like “tchakk” or “voo poo poo pott f m z” consist of just a voice, ‘singing’ nonsense or near-nonsense words, the tunes tend to be a simple scale, making it entertaining only for as long as it is amusing, which is a shorter and shorter period as the album winds on, although it’s entirely possible that the artist didn’t consider the album as a listening experience at all when making the individual pieces and, if there’s a particular logic to the running order, it isn’t apparent.

As an album, if you’d call it that, Speech Poems/Fruity Music is often intriguing and at times very enjoyable – largely thanks to Bruhin’s engaging personality – but charmingly retro though it is, the fact remains that comparable experiments were being made back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when computer sound technology was new, and the analogue equivalents as long ago as the original Dada movement in the nineteen teens. In the end, the album works best in the context of Anton Bruhin’s work as a whole, and it is recommended most of all to followers of the artist, though others will find bits and pieces to entertain and amuse here too.

Swiss artist Anton Bruhin breaks no new ground in his collection of sound experiments from the early 2000s, but the album has a very human charm.
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But is it art?
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