Markus Mehr is often compared to and grouped in with ambient composers like Tim Hecker and Fennesz for his use of timbre, bass, and unusual sound sources. But his collected works—In, On, Lava, Hubble, and now, Off—display an artistry and forethought that are more unique than he gets credit for. He recognizes the power and emotion that can be conjured from a focused process and an immaculately dense sound. But he came to that conclusion independently, not as an imitator.
Off builds in intensity slowly over the course of its 42 minutes. Mostly, this consists of a steady drone of white noise and menacing bass rumbles. Above that, there are piano chords, hissing synths and non-sequitur electronic noise scattered around. I am always drawn to the contrasts of light and dark that seem inherent; the frigid atmospheres and distant whirrs, where subtle textures leave me unsettled and the pleasant moments stay grounded by their dissonant counterparts.
At the halfway mark, Mehr abandons a cacophony of wind and buzzing that has built up, leaving the piano and whirling drones alone for a few brief seconds. It feels like emerging from a tunnel only to find that I am driving into the path of a tornado. As it builds up into a storm of guitar feedback and reverb, I have forgotten about where the piece has begun, entranced instead by a tonal shift into some kind of hellish union of choir voices and endless noise. This slips in and out of focus as Off continues to evolve, often resolving nicely but easily tempted to return to a strange abyss.
Markus Mehr has crafted a sharply clever piece of music. It a evokes a presence that is rarely found; a balance between the ugly and the pretty where both can exist at once. I continue to be impressed by what Mehr is capable of.