Activity Center is the duo of Burkhard Beins (percussion, zither, mixing desk and more) and Michael Renkel (acoustic guitar, amplified stringboard, electronics and percussion). At the duo's inception in 1989, their sound sources included a range of electronics, but their first CD in 1999 focused on the players' main acoustic instruments, guitars and percussion. Their first release in a decade shifts the emphasis back to the electronics, though with devices relocated on the table top.
The result is an intensely musical improvised sound art, by players uncannily gifted in exact choice and fine replacement of sounds. That description might seem paradoxical - isn't sound art distinguished from music? What I mean is that in this mix of musical and non-musical sources, a musicians care is devoted to both - Beins and Renkel create spontaneous compositional structures, by finding musicality in non-musical sounds. The results are best listened to on headphones - preferably noise-cancelling ones to block out extraneous sound, which would conflict with the 'worldly' sounds on the recordings.
Three long pieces are seperated by two brief interludes. The floating, spacious "arbeit:material" begins with the rubbery sound of spring-loaded floor toms, against spare, eerie, and, eventually, hauntingly melodic guitar and zither. Even in the dense middle section, the recording is so vivid that every fragment of sound leaps into sharp relief. In the half-hour centrepiece "zone:produkt", electronics are prominent at first, in a finely-detailed mesh of unhurried small sounds. An interjection like a dentist's drill initiates hectic percussive activity - Beins and Renkel are active but never merely busy or overbearing. The final section contrasts a repeating bell motif with seething, bubbling, low-end electronic sounds - again there's a beguiling opposition between tone and noise. A concluding crescendo, combined with briefly emerging groove, intriguingly re-conceptualises the classical dénouement. This is masterly improv, worth waiting for when the duo's very infrequent recordings are as superb as this.
- Andy Hamilton, The Wire -

Activity Center - the long-standing duo comprised of Burkhard Beins (drums and cymbals, objects, table percussion, e-bowed and propelled zither, mixing desk, and handheld electronics) and Michael Renkel (nylon acoustic guitar, preparations, amplified stringboard, live electronics, and percussion) - has come a long way since their earliest recordings. While these were never necessarily idiomatic to their 'base' instruments, they were far more recognizably a part of a branch (admittedly remote) of second - or third-generation EFI. Now, with their instrumental allsorts, Beins and Renkel play a duo music that seems to be activated by seasonal change, wind, and wood rather than any recognizable quality of instrumentalism. On lohn & brot they play three lengthy pieces with sherbet between them. There are audible strings strummed and surfaces struck, especially on 'arbeit : material', where spring-loaded floor toms with their rubbery sound contrast vividly with muted or scratched strings, chiming zithers, and a bestiary of sourceless noise. It gathers itself into a drillbit roar and then relaxes into a pump organ and gently struck hammer chords, unwinding further until the only sounds remaining are a music box and a spinning top on a table. The half hour 'zone : produkt' is almost entirely electronic to start, but contains such a multitude of whines and slurs and voicelike elements that the boundary between acoustic and electric is nearly effaced as it morphs ever so slowly into a fantastic twittering machine. And the long slow grind of 'station : prozess' is vivid, focused on peeling away the layers of a single territory. A bracing disc, filled with weird wonders like a nineteenth century inventor's shop.
- Jason Bivins, Paris Transatlantic -

Michael Renkel and Burkhard Beins run Activity Center since 1989, working over the years with a bunch of instruments, gadgets, devices and disparate treatments - usually placed on tables - so we're not terribly wrong when we define their fields of exploration as heavily influenced by the preparations they love to use. For this recording, which follows 1999's Möwen And Moos, the 'orchestration' is mainly characterized by Renkel's nylon string guitar played with hundreds of atypical techniques and Beins' usual array of astutely utilized percussion, stringed stuff such as an 'e-bowed and propelled zither' and electronics (also manipulated by his companion).
Lohn & Brot is a long-lasting record at 70 minutes, yet the adjective that keeps remaining in the mind for this music is 'fresh'. This derives from several factors. The first is that both the whole program and the single pieces do not remain stuck on the same ideas until corrosion but - either via surprising discoveries or plain aborted experiments - the scenario is changed after a few instants. In that sense, the continuous dynamic shift of the opening track 'Arbeit : Material' epitomizes the duo's researching spirit and open-to-instant-suggestion ears. Small bumps on wood weigh similarly to a series of glittering rasgueados on the zither, microscopic clattering and carillon fragments preceded or accompanied by unyielding harmonics whose duration is manually prolonged through the electric gadgetry. A mixture of luminousness, grubbiness and pulse that results extremely sympathetic, its acknowledgement unproblematic.
'Passage' and 'Transit' are two short links between extensive improvisations. They're infused with a sounds-from-a-forest quality that makes them welcome even as autonomous statements. 'Zone : Produkt' - the longest chapter at almost half a hour - starts with deeply resonating, sparely percussive touches then mutates to become a determined analysis of molecular improbability, lengthy acute frequencies and swift stops maintaining our attention busy throughout. The auditory channels are constantly stimulated: initially quite gently, then more vivaciously, the junction of motionless stability and noisy intoxication basically faultless. Time flies and still no tiredness, especially in virtue of the artist's irrefutable talent in placing the sonic incidents, further enriched by a peculiar combination of sincerity and incongruity, the best example being the succession of minimal shimmer and synthetic farts found around the 20th minute, flowing into a splendidly organic blend of drone and acoustic mayhem in whatÕs perhaps the disc's finest moment.
The conclusive 'Station : Prozess' is a cross-pollination of toneless emissions, speckled overtones and hallucinated serenity caused by obliquely sliding strings and glissando insanities of the third kind, mixing - at the very point in which I'm writing - with the faraway echoes of a ceremony taking place on the opposite hill, marching band and firecrackers included. A bizarre, entirely human concoction that ultimately leaves us ready for another spin, like if what was just heard had never occurred.
- Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes -

A pleasure to hear once again from Michael Renkel in Berlin. Can it really be over ten years since we dug the Möwen and Moos release from Activity Center, his electro-acoustic improv project duo with percussionist Burkhard Beins? The calendar cannot lie! lohn & brot is the new release to issue from the nimble fingers of these musical watchmakers, a natural development of their work which finds them continuing to hammer, scrape, pluck and blow musical instruments in exciting new ways that completely subvert "normal" musicianship, but now adding electronic devices and computer software to the equation, and doing more of it on the table top. The pair distinguish themselves from one thousand other gosthoons who think that if they pick up a spinning top, cover it with cheese and attach a contact mic to it they're well on the way to being the next John Cage. This is mainly because Renkel and Beins use their brains, they can actually play and improvise in meaningful ways, and they connect and interact to produce music and sonic effects of the first water. This is particularly evident when you hear them stretching out on the three long tracks here (one of them nearly half an hour in length), where they sustain the music unflaggingly and abundant low-key genius continues to flow from the speakers in unfailing supplies. Enough intricate detail here to keep your mind occupied for many moons as you untangle the skeins of thought. Limited edition pressed in an outsize cream-coloured greeting card folder, decorated with treated photo-artworks by Renkel. Fine work all round.
- Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector -

With this Activity Center project, Michael Renkel and Burkhard Beins have been using guitar and objects creating a bunch of damn interesting electro-acostic tracks, what surprises me about both is the fact despite their apparently inexpressive/abstract musical style they haven't lost a sort of melodic edge and that is not a natural consequence of the fact there's a string instrument, in fact they reach the shape of a song even while playing non melodic parts with the shade of a structure. When dealing with this structure thing we encounter some of the most interesting characteristic of Renkel plus Beins' CD, a good example of that could be represented by the ideas floating in the opening track where they pass from electro-acoustic to quasi contemporary classic influence to what sounds like ambient music. In some way this work brings my mind to "All cracked medias" from Dean Roberts but it's more difficult, dead serious, if Berlin was still the grey town it used to be we cold speak about the influence of the architecture. Another things that here and there resurfaces quite easily from the music is a Seventies aura even. Three long tracks and two short intervals and the usual Absinthesque-7" format. The strength of this duo and their music lays in composition.
- Andrea Ferraris , Chain D.L.K. -

A favorite pairing returns. Something just so right about Beins and Renkel, the ratio of grit to tonal content, ringing to grinding, that tends to make their work simply sound good, which is half the battle. There's a great deal of apparent space between the sounds, very wide open. Too, the pair is quite content to play vigorously, even with abandon, imparting the sense that they're actually be enjoyable to watch. Perhaps 'colorful' is the word I want. The five tracks are arranged rather symmetrically: long-short-very long-short-long. On the first, 'arbeit:material', they get great mileage out of some bowed strings and rubbed percussion among many other pleasures. Had Malachi Favors and Don Moye been born 20 or so years later, in Germany, they might have created music like this. 'zone:produkt', the central cut, begins quite agitated and includes spasms of violence; the agitation remains over it's almost half-hour but splays out into a kind of mechanical clatter, a very complex plane of sound with multiple beats and drones in various timbres, eventually settling into a furious kind of rhythmic drone -- very, very fascinating. The concluding 'station:prozess' is a whirling, dizzying journey via any number of fervently bowed or struck objects, spiraling off into ever more complex eddies, loosely hanging together by a hum or drum rumbles; it's rather psychedelic, after a fashion. 'Activity Center', indeed. These guys manage, and it's no small feat, to be almost hyperactive yet never feel busy or overbearing (much less 'gabby'), lining out a clear, highly defined space in which their sounds float about and bang into one another. Excellent recording, highly recommended.
- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside -

Ein Berliner Projekt, das über das Übliche hinausweist, ist Activity Center mit dem Schlagzeuger Burkhard Beins und dem Gitarristen Michael Renkel. Interessant daran ist weniger, dass hier die Gitarre präpariert und die Zither propelliert wird, sondern vielmehr die Haltung, mit der musiziert wird. Ihre CD Lohn & Brot hat etwas Offenes und Freies, das bisweilen sprunghaft und verunsichernd wirkt. Die Musiker lassen den Klang kommen, um sich gewissermaßen selbst beim Spielen zuzuhören, und zwar selbst in den hoquetusartig verschachtelten Passagen. Mal ist es ein stumpfes Klopfen, das auch einem Schnitzel gelten könnte, dann ein elektroakustisches Brummen, das irgendwo zwischen Bordun und Betriebsamkeit liegt. Der CD liegt ein Programm zugrunde, das den Titeln nach allerdings nur angedeutet wird. Auf Lohn & Brot werden Arbeits- und Verwertungsprozesse thematisiert, was zur Folge hat, dass die Klänge auch etwas mit ihrer eigenen Entstehung zu tun haben bzw. in Momenten kruder Klangklischees (Gitarrenarpeggien) auch die Disziplinierungsmaschine Musik thematisieren. Wenn auf Arbeit: Material und Zone: Produkt schliesslich Station: Prozess folgt, scheinen Beins und Renkel solche Entfremdungszusammenhänge nicht überwunden zu haben, aber sich doch wirkungsvoll dagegen aufzulehnen.
- Björn Gottstein, Positionen -

Der Mensch lebt nicht von Lohn & Brot allein. Aber ohne lebt sich's auch schlecht. Burkhard Beins & Michael Renkel scheinen auf Mattins Frage in Noise & Capitalism, ob Kunstaktivität als Lohnarbeit oder als Spiel, Gabe, Potlatch betrieben werden sollte, als nüchterne Ameisen Stellung zu beziehen statt als leichtsinnige Grillen. Explizit deklarieren sie ihr Tun, ihre akusto-elektrische Ameisenpoesie aus Perkussion, Gitarre, Software und Devices, als 'Arbeit' und reden von 'Material', 'Produkt', 'Prozess'. Das ist so absurd im Hinblick auf das, was da, je nutzloser, desto sinnvoller, 'produziert' wird, dass ich eine 'Umwertung der Werte' dahinter vermuten möchte. Wie Nietzsche den 'Willen' und die 'Macht' stark redete, um dann Schmetterlinge und Seifenblasen an die 'Front' zu schicken, subvertiert hier 'absichtsloses Spiel' als vorgebliche 'Arbeit' jenen Totalitarismus, den Ernst Jünger in Der Arbeiter diagnostizierte. Es gibt keinen Moment der Moderne, der nicht 'Arbeit' wäre, bis hin zur Trauerarbeit, Sexarbeit oder Arbeit an sich selbst. Activity Center ist, als knarzende Mühle, als uhrwerkartiger Klingklang, näher bei Tinguely-Automaten oder Duchamps Junggesellenmaschine, ein phantastischer Maschinenpark, der, wummernd, sirrend, schleifend, unwahrscheinliche Arbeit leistet. Dazu kommt Handarbeit, perkussives Tamtam und Dingdong, mit schnurrenden Spielzeugmotörchen, Krimskrams- und Spieluhrklimbim, Saitengekrabbel und -geplinke, jaulende Glissandos, Dampflokgeschnaufe, Aufstand in der Krabbelstube. Können wir uns das Spielerische wieder 'erarbeiten'? Oder auch nur die Stöpsel der 'Spielsachen'-Matrix aus dem Hirn reißen?
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

This is quite a beautiful work.
- FdW, Vital Weekly -

So last year we had a new Phosphor album, and this year a week before I watched a Sealed Knot concert there appeared a new album by Activity Center. Anyone would think it was 2001. In fact, as the sleeve notes to this new album indicate, the Activity Center duo of Burkhard Beins and Michael Renkel has been musically active since 1989. Whilst I knew theirs was one of the longer musical associations in the improv world I didn't realise they had been playing together quite so long. This release then, the first in a decade captures a new version of the group. I have always known Activity Center as a mostly acoustic group, but here a fair degree of electronics have been added to the musical arsenal of both musicians, and while Renkel still focuses primarily on guitars, and Beins on one form of percussion or another, my ability to tell each musician apart has become much more difficult than it was a decade ago. Or maybe I'm just getting old.
Lohn & Brot, as this new disc is titled is a fine release however. There are five tracks here, two of which are just a couple of minutes in length, serving as little interludes between three longer pieces, the first and last tracks on the album clocking in at approximately seventeen minutes each, with everything revolving around a half hour long centre piece. The music of Activity Center in 2009, when this was recorded remains a detailed, constantly changing mesh of interwoven little sounds - whirrs, scrapes, tinkles and tones that never feel as if they are in a hurry, and yet are continually evolving, shifting and surprising. There is a nice balance struck between pretty and ugly sounds throughout the release, one often offsetting the other, and a mix of short and long, tonal and grainy and small and loud elements keep things from ever slipping into any kind of formula.
The opening 'arbeit : material' is the most spacious on the album, really letting sounds float freely about, with silences here and there but a general air of looseness pervading. There are more obviously acoustic sounds here than elsewhere as well, and overall the feeling is closer to the Activity Center recordings of a decade ago on this piece than any other. The second track; passage is a low level murmur through small scraping sounds and distant sounding pops and whistles played with a degree of delay added. The real tour de force is the central piece however. 'zone : produkt' really takes the listener on a journey, from the slow mournful chimes and gurgling electronics of the opening through nervous little patches of agitated stop/start tension containing a wide variety of sounds from soft, purring hums to sudden careering oscillations and crunching percussion. There is always something changing, new elements to pay close attention to, something new arriving as something else might make a sudden departure. There is almost a feel of musique concrete to the music, such is the way it jumps about quite naturally from one thing to another, sounding composed but always fully improvised.
As 'zone : produkt' ends with an almost mechanical sounding clockwork structure rising up from behind groaning electronics so transit begins with a different form of rhythm, oddly angular mostly acoustic percussion, suggesting patterns but actually some way out of sync, making for a short and rather unrelaxing interlude. The final 'station : prozess' flies about all over the place, full of tiny detailed events that spin about and change as fast as on the other pieces. The sounds here seem to collect themselves together into little tornado like flurries, dropping off into inactivity as each blows itself out to leave a continual low tone humming away through much of the track.
Lohn & Brot is a really nice record put together by two musicians that know each other very well and whose music fits together perfectly. It is varied in style and content, really showing off the depth of skill and ability of the two musicians but it also works really well when all brought together onto the one CD. This is a disc that will appeal to a wide range of improvised music fans, offering enough pace and aggression to those that like things to show a little muscle just as it also has a delicate, detailed and poetic side when listened to closely and carefully. Fine stuff, on the excellent Absinth label and wrapped in an extremely attractive sleeve adorned by a quite beautifully photoshopped image.
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear -

Activity Center startades av Burkhard Beins och Michael Renkel 1989 med en uppsjö olika instrument och ljudkällor, inte minst elektroniska. Men snart rensade de och började koncentrera sig på sina huvudinstrument, det vill säga slagverk och spansk gitarr. De började utforska sina akustiska ljudkällor, även om en och annan smågrej hängde med, och visst legerades de akustiska ljuden med de digitala och elektriska, vilket också framgår av instrumentariet på konvolutets baksida: nylonsträngad gitarr, elektronik, slagverk mm fšr Renkel och trummor, cymbaler, småprylar, e-stråke, propeller, mixing desk mm för Beins.
På det numera smått legendariska, och då knappt ens lokalt tillgängliga etiketten 2:13 gav de 1999 ut Möwen & Moos, en sammanfattning i tiden parallell med t.ex. Barcelona Series, Annette Krebs, Axel Dörner. Den himlavälvande nivån lades fast och ligger där ännu som ett märke att navigera efter. Till detta vill jag gärna foga, att Activity Center med en skiva per dekad verkligen är ett undantag i dag. Med desto större omsorg har båda albumen gjorts. Vart och ett laddat; en sammanfattning och ett påstående samtidigt. Jag vågar säga: oumbärliga.
Det är alldeles uppenbart att det kritiskt kreativa inventeringsarbete Burkhard Beins gjorde under 90-talet ledde fram till några centrala hållningar inom den så kallade Echtzeitmusik-scenen. På samma sätt pekar hans sätt att använda slagverket fram mot hans numera alltmer klanginriktade soloverk. Det är fruktbart att jämföra med den andre centrale slagverkaren i dessa kretsar, Sven ke Johansson. Duoalbumet med Beins från 2003 är informativt. Johansson bygger rena slagverksklanger med en överväldigande känsla för både stora och små rytmer, medan Beins har en hackigare, på sitt sätt rockigare, attityd, där han nästlar sig in i Johanssons former som seglar över en klar tydlig musikhimmel. Det finns även en möjlighet att fem år senare studera Johansson tillsammans med Renkel på *Kalte Welle *(Kning Disk). Här blir det fragment, som att jumpa från flak till flak, där den strålande musikhimlen speglar sig i vart och ett. Med dessa album i minnet skulle Activity Centers nya kunna bli en västgötaklimax, eftersom det inte är helt säkert att ännu ett verk av samma intensitet vore möjligt. Fantastiskt nog blev det ännu en flik av himlen.
Activity Center påminner på ett vis om Beins målande soloprojekt. Ett slags väderbitna fuktiga landskap suggereras fram. Det är inte den skarpa linjen som gäller, mer stämningsskapande klangmåleri. Men rörelsen är tydlig. Det finns en underliggande puls som liknar en uttöjd punkattityd. Ett slags ultrarapid råder för att varje detalj skall uppfattas. Klangerna är skärande, gälla, nylonsträngarna på gitarren svirrar lagom plastigt, den elektroniska stråken skär vasst och en lavaström av ljud släpps loss, där de tar tillfället i akt att slamra runt på olika småinstrument. Det känns som att komma in i ett rum fyllt av överraskningar. Det konventionella undviks. Om Sven ke Johansson till exempel kan skapa events av en uthållen virvel eller precisa slag mot golvpukan föredrar Beins att vispa till och röja runt med inbyggda avvikelser. Då han slår takten är det som en skev marsch eller uppkäftig källarrock.
När många andra blandar elektroniska och akustiska instrument med diverse småkrafs, brukar det bygga på överrumplingar och litet småhemligt allvar. Men Beins/Renkel skapar en musik som öppet redovisar sina medel och vågar ryckas med av dansen i det mentala stroboskopiska ljuset.
Sällan hörs musik med samma självklara utstrålning Š och genomarbetning; man får söka sig till Harry Partch, Helmut Lachenmann, Morton Feldman eller till Beins och Renkels egen tidigare produktion.
Slutligen är det väl onödigt att konstatera att skivdirektör Michael Renkel här lagt ännu ett handgjort, utsökt konvolut till raden av "artists records" på Absinth.
- Thomas Millroth, Sound Of Music -

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