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Pete Namlook
Techno


If most artists in contemporary electronica are like islands unto themselves, turning out tracks in relative anonymity, Pete "Namlook" Kuhlmann is a whole continent. A dizzyingly prolific composer who's steadily built up an entire industry around his Frankfurt-based Fax label, Namlook's name is inextricably linked with the post-rave resurgence of ambient music, and many of his solo and collaborative recordings with the likes of Mixmaster Morris, Tetsu Inoue, Klaus Schulze, Bill Laswell, Richie Hawtin, Geir Jenssen, Dr. Atmo, Burhan Ocal, Atom Heart, Jonah Sharp, Charles Uzzell-Edwards, and David Moufang, among many others, number among the most lauded and influential in new ambient. Although Namlook got his start releasing quasi-new age (as Romantic Warrior) and hard trance (as Sequential, 4Voice, Escape, Deltraxx, and a host of others), he and his label have become synonymous with new ambient since Fax began exclusively releasing the style shortly after the label formed in 1992. Fax helped give shape to ambient's new school by allowing the artists to freely experiment while making a living from their music. (Fax's label structure confers the majority of its profits to its artists.) Countless Fax releases, particularly those dating from 1993 and 1994, are considered classics of contemporary electronic ambient, and while the label has suffered a certain degree of repetition in recent years, Fax remains one of the most important and influential German electronic music labels. Namlook has been criticized for adopting a quality-over-quantity approach -- his label's release schedule was up to a CD per week for more than a year, and currently produces 24 per year, many of them Namlook's own -- but he's succeeded in attracting a devoted, ravenous following that allows him and his label to continue releasing new music. Fax has released more than 250 full-length CDs, dozens of 12-inches, and several compilations -- including the sprawling 4-CD Ambient Cookbook, which remains the best introduction to the label -- and has expanded to included four Fax-related labels and two subsidiary labels (Rather Interesting and Headphone, run by Atom Heart and Higher Intelligence Agency's Bobby Bird, respectively). Fax releases have been licensed for reissue by R&S, Music Man, Rising High, Instinct and Injection. With distributors on three continents and a small universe of Web sites devoted to reviewing, trading, and collecting Fax titles, the label and its proprietor have long since passed the stage of phenomenon and crossed over to institution. Musically, Namlook draws most recognizably on the synthscapes of artists such as Klaus Schulze and Hans Jochim Roedelius, combing the droning electronics of those artists with, depending on the project or collaborator, ethnic instrumentation (tabla, tambouri, oud), environmental samples (rain, voices, arriving and departing trains, wildlife), sweeping electronic treatments (the bubbly undercurrents of Dreamfish or the drifting synthetic landscapes of 2350 Broadway), and minimal acoustic and electronic rhythms (jungle, electro, techno, and trance). His collaborations tend to outdo his solo recordings, although a few of his solo works are among Fax's finest. Though hard to find, the two volumes of The Definitive Ambient Collection offer a good introduction to Namlook's early work. Subsequent compilations of more recent material have appeared at somewhat regular intervals; due to the wide variety of styles pursued by various projects, compilations may be the best place to start. Sean Cooper

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