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Now Hear This: Camera | Prosthuman

The Krautrock guerrillas retool their lineup & sound on their firth album in a decade.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “With the band’s 10th anniversary in their viewfinder, Camera are all set to push the button on Prosthuman, their fifth studio album. As befits an age in which realities can change in the blink of an eye, from one day to the next, the Berlin band never tire of changing themselves, their music or personnel. As Karlheinz Stockhausen noted: “New methods change the experience. New experiences change man.” Taking this as their lead, Michael Drummer (the drummer) and Camera surprise us once more on Prosthuman as they reinvent and reformulate their sound without sacrificing the project’s identity which has matured over the past decade. Less surprising is the fact that some record stores give Camera their own section, alongside Krautrock pioneers like NEU!, Can and La Düsseldorf.

Emotional Detox, the predecessor to this album, was distinguished by the presence of two keyboard virtuosos (Steffen Kahles and Camera founder member Timm Brockmann). Finding replacements for Prosthuman was, as Michael Drummer stresses, “a difficult process.” The two keyboardists had — in different creative periods — formed the backbone of a band structure otherwise prone to fluctuations. Decisive input came from an unlikely source: Tim Schroeder, who first teamed up with Camera as a performance and video artist on their six-week tour of the U.S.A. in 2017. Over the course of various jams and recording sessions, he was able to offer ample proof of his synthesizers skills. Alex Kozmidi, a musician and composer with a flair for experimentation, completed the triumvirate on guitar, with Drummer adding his own guitar riffs here and there.

Change and friction can be useful allies in pursuit of creativity, something to which Drummer has grown accustomed as the only ever-present member of Camera. The pleasures and pain of isolation — suddenly a mass phenomenon in pandemic times — are well known to the quasi frontman of the group. Over the years, he has spent many hours alone or with a shifting cast of co-musicians in the band’s basement studio, beneath a former factory site in a less than hip southern district of Berlin. Virus-induced social distancing and quarantine measures that came into force during the recording process (June 2019 to June 2020) thus posed no great challenge.

Photo by Jan Michalko.

Finding the musical framework for Prosthuman required a great deal of commitment, enthusiasm and — clearly — plenty of time, Drummer admits. This is, in itself, an impressive achievement. In spite of shifts in instrumentation, the 10 tracks comprising the album fall into place like a progressively unfolding narrative. There is no apparent beginning to the record, no obvious ending. Rather more a sense of being right in the middle, with no immediate reference to any of the previous albums. At the same time, traces of the paths travelled on Radiate! (2012), Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide (2014), Phantom Of Liberty (2016) and Emotional Detox (2018) are discernible. Drummer’s approach to drumming is more than a constant reference point, emerging as the decisive element which pins everything together. From surgically precise aggression on the galloping album opener Kartoffelstampf, Drummer is able to switch the tone to refreshing nonchalance on the record’s most placatory pieces, Freundschaft and Chords4 / Kurz Vor.

Julian Cope compared the evolving Krautrock movement of the 1960s and 1970s to Doctor Who’s time machine, a particularly apt analogy. “You pass through a narrow portal and arrive in a gigantic, dynamic space.” In the early 2010s, Camera discovered this very portal which had generally been forgotten by German music history, presumed lost. Without asking for permission, they cleared away the rubble blocking the entrance and bravely made their way through. Thanks to DIY gigs in underground train tunnels and above ground on road junctions, they became known as the “Krautrock guerrillas.” Franz Bargmann, founding member and guitarist of the band in those days, is now one half of the ambient duo Brockmann // Bargmann with Timm Brockmann and a member of the Michael Rother (NEU!, Harmonia) live band. Five albums later, it is clear that any attempt to label Camera as epigones falls well short of the mark. Michael Drummer’s collective moves through the “gigantic, dynamic space” in thoroughly engrossing fashion, even though the portal in question has widened to admit wave after wave of transnational Krautrock-inspired projects. Once you have found the way in, there would seem to be space for everyone and everything.”

Photo by Jan Michalko.