Celebrating the release of ENTKUNSTUNG’s fifth record, Maximilian Mauracher and David Rindlisbacher teamed up with Berlin based digital artist Herwig Scherabon and design studio Refrakt to turn this musical exploration into an absolute ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ as they describe it – and it truly is, without exaggeration. The title ‘Fun ist ein Stahlbad‘ refers to a phrase by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer from their book ‘Dialectic of the Enlightenment’ from 1944. The eight-track album was written and produced by Felipe Duque and mastered by Cem Oral at Jammin Masters and is full of drone, ambient and loop-techno music. In order to create a unique listening experience, an AR app bring the vinyl’s booklet to life and shows interactive visuals by Herwig Scherabon.
“We were curious about the possibility to create an alternative streaming platform for those who don’t have turntables, which goes beyond Spotify, Soundcloud or Youtube”, the team behind this extraordinary project explains, “So we created an app – an app that augments our reality and adds a visual layer to the limited spaces we’re all moving inside of right now thanks to a pandemic that makes us stay at home.” On top of the utilitarian concept of making it possible to listen to the record without a record player, the AR app enables users and listeners to create an immersive experience in their own home, adding a visual layer to the narrative. Eight sentient objects – 3D scans from actual objects, but digitally transformed – come to life when using the app together with a 16 pages booklet sold with or without the double 12” transparent vinyl. Each spread triggers a track and audio-reactive animation that complements the sound and illustrates the music in an immersive and dynamic way, allowing people to interact with it.
“When we first started talking about ENT005, Max presented it as a ‘do whatever you want’ kind of a project, which I’d say was the ideal starting point”, David reflects, “I think having this mindset from the beginning really stimulated us to push boundaries and try to do something we had never seen before, at least in this context.” A lot has happened, since we last wrote about the duo about half a year ago. Since then, they have continued to go from strength to strength, producing more and more distinctive work for an exciting range of clients. Among the projects they have released in the past couple of months are many books, such as ‘B-Sides’ by Philotheus Nisch or ‘Act of Sitting’ by Anna and Maria Ritsch.
Working on ENTKUNSTUNG’s fifth record has been a special project through and through. Not only is it a fascinating collaboration between so many different artists, contributing their skills and expertise, it also forms a bridge between digital and analog realms through Augmented Reality. The previous releases of the label, like ‘Desire caught by the Tail’ or ‘Fictions’ focused more on the sound, instead of the design. This time, the visual world around the sound is just as experimental and conceptual. “The idea of releasing a new musical project in vinyl-form in a time where technology has made it so that we mostly consume music digitally might seem counter-intuitive, and yet, this apparent contradiction informed a lot of decisions we made conceiving this project”, David concludes, “This technology allowed us to bring together traditional and contemporary media, and experiment visually within those contrasts. Every time I’ve worked with AR, it’s been a steep learning curve. Being that the medium is relatively recent, for the most part it’s uncharted territory, which really complicates the process. Luckily we’ve been able to collaborate with amazing professionals that have made the whole process go by a lot smoother.”
The impressive and multi-layered visual feast brings together multiple artistic expressions and disciplines. “Oftentimes, you start out a project with a lot of grand ideas, which you then have to water down to fit the logistical limitations of the project. This time, it really didn’t feel like that, which was very exciting for me to see”, David states. Bringing together art, sound and technology resulted in this truly immersive experience the listener can enjoy in his own home, in times of lockdown and self-quarantine. “Everybody involved was confident about their skills and expertise, it was a great experience seeing it all come together in the end”, Max adds, “It was a pleasure to see everybody’s level of passion and love for details, it really elevated the collaboration and project. Everybody brought something to the table.”
The project revolved around the historical dialectical relationship between nature and man, exploring the nature of things, in this case music, digital photography and video, design and entertainment, but also humanity’s subjective and – therefore anthropomorphic – understanding of nature. The renderings by Herwig Scherabon are inspired by his travels to the Amazon where he scanned trees and plants, actually whole forest, to manipulate and distort them digitally – taking up the duality between mankind and nature again. “What is nature and how can it be seen digitally? How is mankind distorting nature? There are heads dissolving into plants or mushrooms growing into trees and vice versa”, Max explains, “We first asked him to contribute only one artwork to the project, but it developed into a really in-depth collaboration where we all of a sudden ended up with eight animations.” Each object morphs into another in an endless loop moving to the sound of the music – which is a reference to the looping techno tracks on the album.
The artwork on the album represents both the idea of thinking and writing in constellations, first introduced by Walter Benjamin and seized by Theodor W. Adorno later on, as well as the duality and repetition present in a mirror. The two transparent vinyl represent the medicinal bath’s steam – in German: Stahlbad – referring to the title of the record. It hints at the transparency which is present more frequently since modernity, introduced by writers like Baudelaire, Benjamin and Adorno – and today embodied in a device in which we continuously reflect ourselves, the smartphone.
The design in general was bold, but minimal, manifesting predominantly in their typographic awareness. “Only where it’s really necessary, where it has value and communicates information. The stark contrast between huge and tiny typography picks up the contrast between black and white, between mankind – big, bold, destructive – and nature – small, subtle, quiet”, Max tells us, “The track list on the outside is a translation of the track lengths, not a simple grid – we wanted to push the medium not by overloading it, but with love for details. Literally every decision that has been made was discussed about and everything you can see or hear has a reason. I think that’s what makes the project so special and the outcome so great: Nothing has been a purely visual or aesthetic decision – some might call it too conceptual now, but we think it was necessary to go deeper than what’s already out there.”
As Max and David are well attuned to each other having quite a number of projects under their belt, it was an exciting learning process for them to get other designers and artists on board to collaborate on the record together. “Collaboration takes time, exploring new paths too. I’m somehow used to very quick turnarounds, working mostly alone or with David – having other peoples involved to such an extent was definitely a new experience. But the project profited from it a lot!”, Max states, “Another learning: AR is just at is beginning – it’s still limited by our phones’ performance, which is why the AR animations had to be simplified compared to the renderings in the booklet. It’s clear: This is just the beginning!”
With a creative process that is never the same, Max and David are always interested in exploring new media and technologies. It’s an approach they adapted across their recent projects, like their glow-in-the-dark identity for Vienna-based radio station VLAN or their experimental design for the newest book ‘New Fashion Containers’, initiated by one of the most noted figures in avant-garde fashion, Linda Loopa. Whatever the duo brings out next, we’re sure it’s going to be no less than a Gesamtkunstwerk.