Neoclassical experimenter Rene Hell makes up for lost Sled Island shows

Rene Hell the current musical nom de plume of L.A.-based sound producer Jeff Witscher was one of many acts scheduled to perform in Calgary as part of this year’s ill-fated Sled Island festival. While one Rene Hell set was held before the flood it was the cancelled Tim Hecker-curated showcase that many were waiting for. Witscher’s upcoming show at National Music Centre on Friday October 11 may not have the same Hecker-curated lineup there’s still a stacked bill of local experimentalists and psych dealers to round off the night including Jung People Holgans Barnaby Bennett Tigerwing and Yankee Yankee.

With Vanilla Call Option his first record for the Berlin-based label PAN Witscher once again sidesteps from his previous work. Where earlier Rene Hell efforts on Type reveled in kosmische synth exploration ( Porcelain Opera ) and minimalist textures ( Terminal Symphony ) Vanilla Call Option upsets expectations of anybody continuing to lump Witscher in with the Oneohtrix Point Never/Emeralds/etc. nu-new age continuum by presenting something more in line with musique concrète than any sort of cosmic ambience.

“Yes [ Vanilla Call Option is] definitely less of a musical album in regards to melody and more conventional ideas for song structure” Witscher begins “but I think there is still a narrative for the pieces — there is still some sense of direction. Some tracks are simple environments of sound though so in this case the sound of a computer as almost everything was created and developed on the laptop. With those pieces there is no narrative it’s simply a listening experience that you could pick up at any moment on the track like starting a book on any page you wished.”

The lack of linear structure to Witscher’s tracks emphasizes the physicality of sound eschewing song-form narrative for something more experiential and prone to environment. His use of the term “environment of sound” is telling as very little of Vanilla Call Option could be described as openly melodic — “dynamic textures” is perhaps a more fitting descriptor with the way digital shrapnel hits the speaker.

“I was playing live with these ideas before I started to put together this record. I find that the live application for this is much more effective as it really benefits from a loud output and can do its work on a physical level. Obviously it’s dealing with a lot of multi-dimensional issues and spatialization so playing in a larger room with a broader stereo field is nice though at the same time it can be more difficult if it’s presented completely out of context — if you’ve arranged a dance night then this will not go over well” he says laughing.

If all this sounds too academic well barring relative inapproachability in any melodic sense Vanilla Call Option is still very much an oddly playful-sounding record. It straddles a line between the idiosyncratic and beguiling like if Bernard Parmegiani crafted De Natura Sonorum with a laptop. Not to draw too many parallels but Witscher expresses an affinity for chess and like chess his music requires focus.

“Ah yes I play a lot of chess between 30 to 60 games a day. I’m definitely spending more time with that than with anything else lately” he says pausing to think. “There is no direct correlation between [chess and Vanilla Call Option ] but of course spending so much time with chess really influences my mental behaviour. Aesthetically it’s there certain moments remind me of chess but I could never listen to music like that while I play. It’s way too distracting.”

So don’t try to play chess during his set okay?