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Silent and still with Ulrich Schnauss

by Josh Edgar

The concept of electronic music being performed live may seem like a bit of a paradox to some, especially when it’s not even vaguely danceable. Walking into the Drake Hotel on August 10th to see Ulrich Schnauss, a German musician whose sound is often described as ambient techno, I myself had doubts about the how engaging it would be to watch somebody jockey a mixing board for sixty-plus minutes.

Descending the stairs to the basement, I was surprised to discover the venue at near-capacity, peopled with aging hipsters, club rat types, and stray diehards eagerly watching Schnauss as he set up his equipment on stage. I wasn’t expecting so much draw for a musician known for a steady but quiet output of releases; what really surprised me was the diversity of his fan base.

Joined on stage by visual artist Nat Urazmetova, Schnauss slowly built the sounds and textures for the beginning of a set of lush arrangements from his new record, A Long Way To Fall, while borrowing from his extensive back catalogue along the way. Schnauss’ sonic architecture was complimented elegantly with Urazmetova’s visuals, which were projected on two large screens in the venue. As Schnauss’ music swelled and ebbed, Urazmetova matched its emotional resonance with videos of machinery, cityscapes, and nighttime train rides.

The duo played their encore and wrapped up, and I found myself surprised at how quickly the set seemed to have gone by. Schnauss played for over an hour to an audience who stayed virtually silent, transfixed by the visuals and the emotional tide that only music so meditative can elicit. I left with a new perspective on performativity in music, and a further admiration of Schnauss’ ability to hypnotize an audience with buttons and knobs.