Peter Rehberg (1968–2021)

Peter Rehberg, 2020. Photo: Kali Malone.

IN 1995, I received a fax from Peter Rehberg stating that Mego, the label he co-ran, wanted to work with me. It was the start of a twenty-six-year relationship that ended with the album I released this year. To reflect on the late artist, who performed as Pita, one might start with his work there. Mego’s first release, General Magic and Pita’s 1995 “Fridge Trax,” is a twelve-inch record that features four pieces constructed using recordings of refrigerators. For decades of avant-gardists, utilizing found sounds evoked musique concrète, but in nonacademic electronic music, at the intersection of techno, house, and ambient where many early Mego releases staked their claim, the staging of such mundane sounds marked a distinct otherness, a new vocabulary. “Fridge Trax” is an ultralightweight construction—focused, clear, conceptual, rhythmic but static, witty, and utterly new. A year later, Pita’s first full-length album, Seven Tons for Free, with its powerful computer-generated high-frequency tracks, would drive broadcasting engineers crazy. The broad consensus was clear: This can’t be music. Peter, who was never was fond of such categorizations, often joked that his tax documents classified him as a “composer” regardless of his lack of training.

Seven Tons for Free presents an advanced lexicon of otherness. Gone are the beats, melodies, and atmospheric textures often present in techno and ambient works. Instead, Rehberg’s short pieces, which are highly structured yet spiked with fluctuations and detours, employed sounds at the limit of human perception. The album also marks the beginning of a number of longtime collaborations: Album-artwork creator Tina Frank went on to author most of Mego’s covers and to perform audiovisual seances with Rehberg, while Christian Fennesz, with whom Rehberg and Jim O’Rourke would regularly perform as “Fenn O’Berg,” also contributed to a track. Rehberg subsequently released three albums—Faßt (1997), ballt. (1999), and Passt (2001)— with Ramon Bauer, who was credited on Seven Tons for Free for his technical support. These albums might be examples of “grey music,” a term Rehberg began using to describe his compositions after hearing Bruce Gilbert’s Work for ‘Do You Me? I Did’ Parts 1, 2, 3 (1984), a soundtrack commissioned by choreographer Michael Clark. Years later, Rehberg republished it as part of Gilbert’s double vinyl This Way with the Shivering Man (2011).

In a recent interview with Reinhold Friedl, Rehberg recalled his skepticism as a teenager toward rock, heavy metal, and other reasons “why anyone would grow their hair long.” Perhaps Rehberg’s initial experiments with harmonic distortion on Seven Tons for Free, together with his work as de facto musical director for Gisèle Vienne’s choreographic works, led to his enduring musical partnership with Sunn O))’s Stephen O’Malley under the acronym KTL (Kindertotenlieder). Their 2006 self-titled debut quickly became the reference point for the intersection of extreme computer music and metal.

After more than seventy releases, Mego closed in 2004, only to be restarted as Editions Mego the following year, this time under Rehberg’s sole direction. As of the publication of this remembrance, the Editions Mego catalogue numbers more than 300 editions. Its diversity of artists and sonic forms is unparalleled. As Rashad Becker put it, “Peter was truly one of the best things that ever happened to music,” not only for his releases but also for his modus operandi: Peter ran Editions Mego as a one-person show. He was just as excited about a UPS delivery of new releases as he was about posting them to direct-mail-order customers. Sourcing a specific, hard-to-find jewel case was as gripping as any of the other mundane aspects of running a label. Rehberg’s holistic approach celebrated these aspects of the business. I never heard him groan about administrative work, something for which most smaller labels would hire an intern.

Rehberg’s strategy was extraordinarily pro-artist. When releasing a record with Editions Mego, one could be sure that it would be precisely as one envisioned it, from the format to the cover, the mastering down to the press release. Rehberg shared his infrastructure with others on several occasions, resulting in a range of associated labels like Ideologic Organ and Recollection GRM. As a result, long-out-of-print electro-acoustic compositions such as Luc Ferrari’s Presque Rien cycle (1967–98) and lost ethnographic audio documents became available on vinyl. These musical links always made sense for Rehberg; within seconds, he could give you the rationale behind their coordinates in the expanded Editions Mego “system.” Artists working with him usually stayed with the label. He was unconditionally supportive and focused without ever being overwhelmingly didactic. A continually generous well of stories, experiences, and information, Rehberg accompanied many on their sound-making path right from the start.

On July 22, I received a phone call saying that Peter had passed away suddenly. We had spoken a few weeks earlier. After a long hiatus from travel, I called him from an airport; somehow, it felt apt to talk to Peter from there, one of those places we had been together so many times. The topics were music, life, and various mundanities. We chatted about an overdue dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant in Vienna. It was not to be.

Florian Hecker is a Portugal-based artist who experiments with psychoacoustics across installations, performances, and publications.