As a hardcore IDM and drill'n'bass wizard living in a place like Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (one of his recent CDs is titled Winnipeg Is a Frozen Shithole), Aaron Funk (aka Venetian Snares) isn't likely to be seduced by visions of mainstream success. Even discounting geographical isolation (and desolation), techno extremists like Funk are more interested in challenging themselves and their peers than in winning over legions of shallow, style-conscious fans. This particular offering from Funk is typically uncompromising and unsettling, although it is certainly constructed with great technical skill and maintains an abrasive beauty throughout. Material for the CD was supposedly gathered during a trip to Hungary; the CD title and song titles are all in the Hungarian language. The suspicious listener might wonder what an underground techno musician from the Canadian prairie was doing in Hungary, but stranger things have happened. Musically, the world has truly become a global village. The literal facts of Funk's Hungarian connection are not important anyway. What really matters is that he has used the Hungarian theme as an impetus for the integration of various bits of melancholy and/or brittle classical string music (some of it from noted 20th century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók's catalog) with his own jackhammer beats and crazed sonic manipulations. Moody and sometimes fevered minor-key string themes combine (or alternate) with the violently aggressive sounds of hyper-rhythmic slash 'n' burn electronic percussion. This is the basic framework, but Funk tinkers with it a great deal throughout the CD, opening the first song with solo piano, for example, and using bits of narrative material, including observations of a young girl who can't remember what it was like to be happy -- and, at another point, who meditates poetically on her emotional response to a pigeon. The one vocal track on the program, "Gloomy Sunday," samples from a Billie Holiday recording (the song itself was written by Hungarian composer Rezso Seress in 1933 and known as the Hungarian suicide song because of the many suicides popularly attributed to it). Track five, "Hajnal," is perhaps the most ambitious piece on the program, introduced with a nervous, stabbing string pattern, then jazzy clarinet, piano, a few blasts from a trumpet, and finally Funk's blazing, signature Venetian snares, that is, sampled snare drums, plus some absolutely sick turntable work and lurching breaks. Several other pieces, particularly "Szarmar Madar" and "Masodik Galamb," include horn fanfares and have the occasional epic sweep of dramatic movie soundtracks, although Funk's crazed kinetic clatter succeeds in undercutting or at least twisting the surface mood of whatever it encounters. Occasional frantic movements of the strings up or down a scale can sometimes suggest a Looney Tunes soundtrack, but Funk deftly sidesteps musical slapstick. There is a fundamental seriousness to his vision here; the music is emotional and at times violent. Funk himself might disagree, but one dimension of his synthesis seems to be the conflation of morbid romanticism with a defiant will-to-live, not denying the essential sorrow of much of human existence but fighting (even ripping and tearing) a way through and past it. The result is a dynamic musical and spiritual tension -- and an awesome listening experience for those who can handle the strong stuff.
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AllMusic Review by William Tilland