Breaking news! A dense cloud on the horizon heralds a fresh onslaught from that infamous swarm of free jazz killer bees, a new project from self-described “conceptual kleptomaniac post digital free jazz outfit” DRONE OPERATØR. Riding hard along the line between experimental electronics, blockbuster sound design and the loosest jazz improvisation, this rogue’s gallery of players, headed up by art world provocateurs Paul Barsch and Tilman Hornig, take the fevered pulse of the relentlessly flattened now and note down four key observations which presented together make up Welcøme To Anxiety Group, their debut release with William Markarian-Martin and Richie Culver’s imprint, Participant. Coaxing lively theatricality from a continually provoked altercation between acoustic instrumentation and synthetic sound, each of the project’s four tracks provides a new perspective on what it means to improvise through technological mediation. “Here we are now,” write DRONE OPERATØR. “22 after 2k. mp4 flex to 32bit float. The sax – the heart. The quadcopter – the brain. Duo d’Allemagne not wasting a life time learning jazz standards.” The EP’s opening salvo, ‘Bot Møther’, launches us headlong into the terminal velocity at which our faithful operators move, smashing together squalls of saxophone and ripples of percussion with the sounds of sci-fi artillery, like an amphetamine-fuelled, midnight jam hammered out oblivious to an ongoing alien invasion.
CGI artist Darío Alva taps into the surrealist barrage of ‘Bot Møther’ to bring us an urgent new bulletin, a scabrous send-up of the ludicrous spectacle of the sluggish spin of new cycles spewed forth from outdated legacy media institutions. Following a renegade predator drone, mounted with a grand piano and operated by the most experimental of musicians, Alva dodges billowing smoke and incendiary explosions as exquisite dissonance and errant leaves of infinite sheet music litter an ill-defined battlefield, an expanding locus of potential targets that stretched from icy wastes, over urban environments, through humid jungle, before ultimately transcending the material world, up into the stratosphere. Unravelling as an extended pastiche of modern day propaganda in an age of second-by-second social media discourse, a constant overlap of livestreams and updates, as well as the contemporary proliferation of OSINT (open-source intelligence), Alva renders missile strikes as indiscernible from fir works, 24-hour news journalism shot through the hyperactive lens of a Marvel movie. As our consummate pianist hammers out DRONE OPERATØR’s conceptual kleptomaniac composition on a piano both prepared and player, the perfectly dysfunctional instrument for such an iconoclastic sound, it becomes less and less clear whether the breaking news is an imminent celebration or an ongoing extinction event.
The stark image of a predator drone piano and pianist, the cover art for Welcøme To Anxiety Group, sets the tone for the entire project. “From iconic spamming to intellectual nonsense. Always never predictable, never not cheesy,” Paul Barsch and Tilman Hornig continue. “Battery life cycles full of joy. You say you like free jazz. We don’t believe you.” In both sound and image DRONE OPERATØR and Darío Alva excavate unlikely clarity from multi-sensory confrontation delivered by the most maximal means, picking out a comedic through line through the culture war on multiple fronts. By finding joy in absurd provocation, the artists turn a beautifully rendered CGI mirror on the anxious contours of their audience, finding the life-affirming joke that encapsulates both the dissolving of everyday stability and the energetic response required to accurately diagnose this downward spiral. This can be heard in the furtive creep for ‘German Satellite’, picked out in suggestive plucks, stuttering clacks and strained wails, or the cacophonous gallop of ‘Røhrstøck’, on which we’re invited to hold on for dear life during a mad scramble towards the ‘The Vessel,’ a staggering sequence of tumbling synthetic chimes, embellished with peals of ornate sax that flare up and out to illuminate the track’s irregularity, alternately submerged and retrieved through a subtle manipulation of filters. Welcøme To Anxiety Group is a soundtrack for the frantic, crammed with as much difficulty and as much revelation as any good therapy should. “There is a German satellite falling to earth!” a woman’s voice urgently announces. “She says, what if it hits me? Welcome to anxiety group.” (Henry Bruce-Jones for FactMag)