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The Importance of Being Tedious: Daniel Jones on Rene Hell’s Vanilla Call Option

The Los Angeles-based, PAN-released, electronic artist Rene Hell’s new album of conceptual synthesization of tedium gives Daniel Jones existentialist pause for thought.  


People generally dislike being bored. It’s just not very fun. So we fill our lives with distraction; we read books, watch TV shows and go to movies. We fight, fuck and spend absurd amounts of money turning our brains off in fun and sometimes illegal ways. And we travel. We spread ourselves into new places for the sake of knowledge, escape or just to rub it in their smug shitty faces back home, by God. Unfortunately, getting somewhere usually means going somewhere, and the interim can be just as boring as the reality we left behind. Rene Hell has often expressed his interest in this form of self-propelled tedium; he does, after all, enjoy playing chess. His latest work Vanilla Call Option has an accompanying press release describing it as meditative, crisp and minimalistic. A more literal descriptor might be, “synthesized boredom.”

“Meow, Daniel! Saucer of milk for you,” but I’m not being catty. Hell approaches tedium with an academic mind, and his compositions reflect that. All those in-between banalities that come with moving from one place to another are represented here, cataloguing time which so many of us push to the fringe of memory—unpacking clothes in unfamiliar rooms, a minute spent on an elevator or escalator, conversations half heard while waiting in line. Indeed, the album was pieced together entirely during Hell’s travels. While the perspective is a cold one, evocative of past emotions without evoking any new ones, it’s intriguing to consider just how much of our lives are scissored away by the expectation of imminent arrival.

Hell’s work is often compared to the musique concrète and krautrock experimentalists of an earlier age, though certainly there’s more of the weltlichen here than the kosmische. Squiggly textures build and chatter in dementia, as though the pressing machine for the latest Faust record had fucked up and begun eating itself alive. The shattered electronics call out to each other from across a wash of static. A voice whispers something for a half-second and is gone—a brief snippet of indecipherable and singular humanity, swallowed up. Spatial comfort is nonexistent. As soon as you begin to detect a rhythm, metered as a train station clock, something shifts and your intimacy is invaded. The drones of mass transit hum beneath the babel of the surrounding crowd:  communication distorted and wiped of legibility by sheer weight, echoing like a symphony.

If Vanilla Call Option succeeds in evoking emotion at all, it’s of the tense and melancholic sort. It’s the subtleties that drive it more than anything: a lonely piss at twilight; a brush of fabric, the thick sort you might find covering an uncomfortable hotel sofa; a perpetual whisper of heavy rain in a strange place; the discordance of off-time pulses signalling breakdown, delay—stillness. Like a dirty Glass, Hell uses the minimalistic usual in unusual ways, reminding the listener that even the most banal and frustrating moments of our lives are still moments lived. ˜


Rene Hell’s Vanilla Call Option is out today on PAN.

Published September 17, 2013. Words by Daniel Jones.