Volker Hennes
Emperor Ambassador
CD (E175)

An exciter slowly glides down a tilted and unstretched
drumhead which is affixed with a contact microphone
whose signal is sent back to the exciter.
  Each kind of drumhead determines the distinct motion
and response of the exciter, resulting in particular gliding
speeds, feedback frequencies, dynamics and tonal prog-
ression. The gliding procedure on each drumhead is
repeated and superimposed up to 20 times.

See also
Volker Hennes (E236)
Volker Hennes (E132)

Mastered by Jacques Beloeil

Edition of 200 copies
Out of print

“A remarkable recording”
The Wire

Emperor Ambassador recording set-up


It’s quite rare to be truly surprised by new music, but
that was entirely the case with Volker Hennes’ Emperor
Ambassador. The principal is relatively simple, an exciter
traversing the surface of a variety of drum-heads,
repeated numerous times and the subsequent recordings
then superimposed on each other. This doesn’t in any way
prepare you for the, frankly, incredible results, sounding
akin to a huge array of brass instruments improvising at
length through an extended sequence of vibrations and
pulsations. A sense of coherence is strong, these entirely
imaginary ‘instruments’ guided by Hennes into vast slabs
of constantly-changing colouration and texture, sometimes
bearing all the hallmarks of a direct assault, elsewhere
dissolving into spacious dronal episodes of near-stasis,
and even a strange kind of gruff dialogue between alien
strings and woodwind. Throughout, timbral qualities are
nicely ambiguous, at the cusp of sounding acoustic or
electronic, reinforced by the untempered nature of its
pitch relationships, and there’s a fitting sense of tension
permeating everything, suggesting that at any moment
the entire music could tilt on its axis into something
entirely different. Genuinely some of the most exciting
and beautiful music I’ve ever heard.

Simon Cummings at 5:4

Accordion, trombone, clarinet, cello, double bass —
all part of a phantom ensemble that doesn’t perform
on Emperor Ambassador, although timbres and
textures might tell you otherwise. The cover carries
minimal information but an allusive title gives its secret
away: Cologne based sound artist Volker Hennes has
taken two different types of drumhead and attached
a device that glides across and agitates their surface.
And an attached contact mic sets up and sustains
a feedback loop. Dynamic shapes are dredged up by
the looped exciter’s frictive slide; clearly defined forms
emerge from the raw physical event. This might be the
spectral soundworld of Iancu Dumitrescu. Here too you
are confronted with sound at its material source and
propelled into attentive reception. Embodied sound-
generating action meshes with active listening. Hennes
has had a neat idea and produced a remarkable

Julian Cowley in The Wire

Emperor Ambassador is a remarkable and beguiling
enquiry from the avant-garde. Generating feedback
from an exciter repeatedly gliding down a tilted, un-
stretched drumhead affixed with a contact microphone,
Hennes creates a bewildering myriad of tones sounding
uncommonly close to a orchestra, rather than anything
you might expect from such a minimalist set-up. Using
a number of different drum heads results different
gliding speeds, feedback frequencies, dynamics and
tonal progression. This enables him to create the illusory
depth of field which mimics, to us, at least, something
approaching a whole avant-garde ensemble of woodwind,
strings and electronics conducted by Iancu Dumitrescu,
or, perhaps more uncannily, his near-namesake —
German composer Volker Heyn. Highly recommended.