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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Melfi

prequel tapes: the sound of present born out of stillness

at times our mind needs a complete silence or even a physical immobility to nestle inside of a still body, forced into a cocoon of our own thoughts, the deepest desires and inner voices. left nearly paralyzed after a freak accident, marco freivogel broke out of the trauma as his new self — prequel tapes.

Injuries are momentous occasions. Quickly, the prospect of permanent change after impact elicits a shift in perspective otherwise inaccessible or avoided. The idea of flexibility takes on a new meaning alongside a feeling of optimistic longing. Marco Freivogel aka Prequel Tapes expressed this sentiment after an injury left him nearly paralyzed and immobile in bed for almost three weeks. After his release, he was forced to learn basic tasks again, like walking and typing. But mainly, his focus centered on re-entering his studio and exercising his ability to make music. But this time around he thought he would do so with different intentions. The products of those intentions were the new artist name Prequel Tapes and two experimental LPs: 2015’s Inner Systems, and 2018’s Everything Is Quite Now.

“I was forced to be in bed – I couldn’t even go to the toilet or anything. I was 18 days in a horizontal position. Sometimes my friend or wife put an iPad in front of me but after some days it didn’t work anymore. And then your mind spins around. One of those days, I was just like ‘I want to play around and run these tapes through my Octatrack.’ There was no plan of releasing, of even writing tracks, I just had this idea in the hospital: I want to have four inputs, I have eight tracks and I just want to run eight different tapes through it and sequence it. [The Octatrack] is a sequencer, but it’s also sampler, and you can use Elektrons parameter locks to grab onto every step of the sequenced sample. It’s an interesting working method.”

Two months after his discharge from the hospital, Prequel Tapes began to revisit his youth, going back to his pre-techno era. He started by digging up tapes of his late 80s industrial band in Southern Germany. In the process of creating the sound for Prequel Tapes he began to arrange and manipulate the old reels. He started to add layers of sound to compliment the dated tapes that would have been too simple and naïve otherwise.

“I have always made music. Where I come from, music was an escape. Bigger cities were far away and when you were 16 or 17, either you did stupid things and damaged stuff, or you did music, which also has a kind of healing [effect] and keeps you going in something. I was lucky that I had a basement where I collected together some samplers and stuff; I learned this and I became fascinated with being able to make music by myself.”

After his medical discharge in 2015, Prequel Tapes was invited to perform an experimental live set at Studio r° in Berlin-Mitte. Not unlike at other ateliers across Berlin, the building owner subsequently sold the space to chase the prospect of more money brought by luxury flats. At the closing of Studio r°, Prequel Tapes decided it was appropriate to play the material he’d been working on in private, although there was no name for the project at that point.

That evening — six months after being released from the hospital — Prequel Tapes presented the first fragments of what would become his debut album, Inner Systems. London’s Ninja Tune producer and DJ Fin Greenall aka Fink saw the performance and loved it. He immediately suggested that Prequel Tapes release the work on Ninja Tune’s R’COUP’D subsidiary.

“I was quite glad, because I went really back to my musical past and had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with it. When you’re on a run like this, often things click. The first album was done in two months; the second album I worked a little longer on. The second album I went much deeper into the composition, this was an important development for me, not to repeat myself. Sometimes if something is very new, it clicks in the right moments and it’s fresh.

Maybe it’s the energy you have and that attracts other people. There is something about it. But no matter how long it takes, it’s all based on this idea from when I could not move.”

Both Prequel Tapes albums overflow with open space. But alongside the use of warm hiss and tape delay at the foundation of Everything Is Quite Now lays a selection of sparing yet sonorous synthesizers. The German musician’s studio has been chock-full of analogue gear for a while. Staples like the Roland SH-101 and TR-808 are just two in an array of dozens that line the walls. It is, however, the method of using the old tools in a new way that has changed with the Prequel Tapes project. Everything Is Quite Now features new approaches to sequencing and more attention paid to the album’s coherence and tone. It’s a combination that Prequel Tapes has been fascinated with since his youth.

“Speaking of room, there are a couple of albums where I am really attracted by how the whole album sounds despite the difference in the pieces. There is as an example: The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. This whole album has such a mood; it’s kind of sad, it’s kind of positive and it has this one red line that goes through the whole album. And this I really wanted to try and express. This idea of place and wholeness. With the release [of Inner Systems] I had in mind how it should sound overall, especially in moods and in speed, but also in terms of reverbs.”

It’s been over three years since those initial experiments. Everything Is Quite Now, his sophomore album, was released in October 2018, following a debut performance at Berlin Atonal festival in August. As a collection, the album is comprised of atmospheric ambient tracks influenced by the throbbing dancefloor basslines he used to make in the past. But on Everything Is Quite Now, it’s Prequel Tapes’ timely use of analogue synths — like his Roland Jupiter 8 and the PPG Wave — that create stand-out melodies amongst a bed of dense drone tones. It’s a compositional method that stems from those first tape sessions.

After Inner Systems was released on R’COUP’D, Prequel Tapes returned to the studio. He spent most of the next few years working on his sophomore album. Quieter than his first as Prequel Tapes, Everything Is Quite Now is a more detailed exploration of sonic subtleties. It’s a beacon of discernable emotions. At times, as on “Core (Red),” it elicits a sense of disorientation, while others, like the spacious chords on “Night Noise Lullaby,” seem poised to yearn, forever.

“With Everything Is Quite Now, the second album, emotion was very important for me. I always liked this kind of playing with very lonely, dark places, but also light, positive moments because they fit so well together. For example, on the track, “Night Noise Lullaby,” it’s very simple; there are only two synthesizers, or three machines used. But they’re so powerful, when you speak of crackle (in this track) it’s more, it sounds like an organ in a church, but it’s a PPG Wave. It has eight voices. You can put them in a panorama and you don’t need anything else. Then there is so much information in this machine when you start EQing, which is fantastic, but takes a lot of time to compose the whole track. Compositions or tracks like this are very important for me, like on Everything Is Quite Now where suddenly things are very slow and time nearly stands and you’re trapped in this feeling. The idea of Prequel Tapes was just everything new, but it’s also a return. Now, I think I can shape and define that much more. I believe you can hear more of what Prequel Tapes is about on the second album.”

In the gap between Inner Systems and Everything Is Quite Now, Prequel Tapes also launched a new label: Gaffa Tape Records. The decision to self-release his music was anything but dubious or unqualified. Marco has managed and released on a handful of independent imprints in the past, and across a string of genres including dance floor techno, industrial wave and minimal house.

“I think it’s the DIY attitude from the 80s — just do it when you can. In those days, things were so far away and you were happy that you could finally do something by yourself. I sent Everything Is Quite Now around to some labels, but there were some options like next year, or in nine months.”

I had periods in my life where i couldn’t do music for five years but i always came back to it.

Unattractive timelines and the desire of complete autonomy led Prequel Tapes to founding Gaffa Tape. Confidence in unexpected directions has been foundational to the project. Since its inception, like the fall that left Marco in the hospital and the addition of Valentin Tszin to the audiovisual performance at Berlin Atonal festival, a similar spirit has continued to propel the project. One example of Prequel Tapes’ artistic expansion is his work alongside Tszin (the butoh dancer, actor and researcher), and visual artist Ksenia Mozhayskaya. It’s also reassured him that solo work doesn’t mean refuting ideas or inspiration.

In addition to work on Gaffa Tape, Prequel Tapes has contributed a tape-only release to Nicola Fucili and Federico Gargaglione’s Mare Nero publishing platform and a dancefloor 12-inch for Kavan Spruyt and Debbie Chia’s Midnight Shift Records. For the former, Prequel Tapes contributed three original, unedited industrial tracks from 1990 to 1991, and three tracks made over two decades later. The Italian designers have used a similarly antiquated method to complete the artwork of their new project.

Negotiating influences of the past with impulses of the present remains a unifying theme in Prequel Tapes’ work, not unlike the red line in The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. Although intensive attention to detail remains the bedrock of his music, there is always space for Prequel Tapes’ sounds — and life — to breathe.

“I had periods in my life where I couldn’t do music for five years and I just thought ‘Oh forget about this.’ But it never worked, I always came back to it. For me, it was very good to follow it, to follow your music, not lose it and go in this direction. I found my family through music.”

Photos by Daan Dam

Originally published in Borshch Magazine no.4

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