PRINT March 1998


Mouse on Mars

For more than forty years, Germany’s industrial heartland has been the center of electronic musical innovation. The first studio for the production of purely electronic music was set up at Cologne’s Northwest German Radio station in 1952, hosting such avant-garde heavyweights as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gyorgy Ligeti, Ernst Krenek, Mauricio Kagel, and Henri Pousseur. Two decades later, the Dusseldorf-based quartet Kraftwerk fabricated a novel pop/dance synthesis of electronic pulses, cheesy keyboard melodies, and deadpan vocal phrases. Such is the illustrious pedigree of the most recent practitioners of Rhineland electronica: Air Liquide, Pluramon, Kreidler, Gas, To Rococo Rot, and, most notably, MOUSE ON MARS, a duo composed of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma.

If ’90s techno has assimilated Kraftwerk’s metronomic throb and production-line anonymity, it appropriated little of the group’s quirky humor. Not so with Mouse on Mars, whose sublime goofiness pervades each of their four previous records as well as their latest, Autoditacker (Thrill Jockey/Too Pure). Onomatopoeic and neologistic track titles (“Schmick Schmack Meltmade,” “Twift Shoeblade,” “Sui Shop,” “Tamagnocchi,” “X-Flies,” “Maggots Hell Wigs”) give as good a description as any of the duo’s wonderfully bizarre and exotic sound world, inhabited by synthetic insects and amphibians, pornographic glossolalia, and the gurgling of extraterrestrial magma.

Despite their sonic silliness, Toma and St. Werner are also fabulous craftsmen. Each track presents carefully sequenced layers of extraordinary complexity and timbral-textural novelty. Parallel, horizontal lines of rhythmic pulses and melodic loops are traversed, punctuated, and deflected by pyrotechnic pings, pongs, squirts, squiggles, ticks, and bleeps—or treated to studio effects reminiscent of dub masters King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Indeed, Mouse on Mars manage to draw from dub, techno, electro, drum ’n’ bass, elektronische Musik, and lounge exotica to produce a genuinely fresh amalgam rather than a mere pastiche or “crossover.” Hardcore devotees of any of these genres may be perplexed by the group’s irreverent and protean approach. But for anyone with ears open to the marvelous possibilities of contemporary electronics, Mouse on Mars are the state of the art: relentlessly funky, fascinatingly dense, and completely joyful.