Rrose x Bob Ostertag: The Surgeon General (Eaux)
Rrose reigns supreme again with this 12" kicking off his/her own new Eaux label. (I already reviewed the second Rrose record on the label, Preretinal.) It’s a curious choice, starting a techno label with a previously unreleased synthesis experiment by Bob Ostertag. Recorded in 1977 at the Oberlin Conservatory, “The Surgeon General” is an ominous piece built around a lonely wailing train whistle and a series of timbral drones from flutes and violins, along with some of Ostertag’s signature Buchla synthesis drips and blips. It recalls the industrial gloom of Alan Splet and David Lynch’s Eraserhead score from around the same time, dark and haunting. Rrose’s takes on the source material are more immediate. The “No Child Left Behind” mix starts with a techno kick drum right out of the gate, with a rousing bassline and some nice syncopated details. In this instance, Ostertag’s source material sets the tone rather than being the focal point; this is the mix DJs will likely gravitate toward. However, I find the “Her Insides Laid Bare” mix to be more compelling as a synthesis of Ostertag’s ideas and sounds and Rrose’s skill as a producer. It’s beatless like the original but not without a sense of rhythm and momentum in the oddly pitched down Buchla sprinkles, capturing the same despondant atmosphere of the original without repeating it. Curiously, Rrose all but fully omitted the train whistle that serves as a bizarre refrain in Ostertag’s piece, but the pieces don’t suffer as a result. In fact, it helps them have their own identity, still feeling quite unified as a release across decades of time.