Antye Greie-Ripatti is a poet and sound artist, born in the former East Germany but currently based in Finland, who records and performs as AGF. She first emerged as one half of the avant-electro-pop duo Laub, releasing four albums between 1997 and 2002. As that project dissolved, she began releasing solo work, starting with Head Slash Bauch, which appeared 20 years ago this month on the Orthlorng Musork label.
In a 2006 interview with The Wire, she said, “With [Head Slash Bauch] I was into alienation, destroying my voice, destroying meaning…With Laub I had become frustrated with how people perceive vocals, but I still wanted to use my main instrument, which is my voice. So I abstracted it.”
The album contains 23 tracks, the longest of which is 3:45 and the shortest of which is just 42 seconds. They typically have looping structures, with soft patterns of static and gently ticking rhythms rolling over and over, gradually becoming louder as though starting far away and getting closer and closer until they’re inside your head. She uses small, chopped-up vocal phrases, sometimes diced down to the level of individual syllables or phonemes, stuttering and repeating. Meaning is not important; the overall effect is one of disorientation, of the voice as a sound source but not one that is prioritized over other sounds. In this way it relates to how vocals are used within extreme rock forms like death metal or noise-rock, where the words are indecipherable and often blend with the guitars. But in its quiet, glitchy way, this is extremely beautiful music. Some years ago, a Korean dancer used “Liniendicke,” the opening track from HSB, as her music for a competition:
I asked AGF a few questions about Head Slash Bauch by email. She said (in part), “I think HSB is a wild bleeding experimentation using the newest technologies back then (Max, granular synthesis) and apply[ing] kind of pop snippets, internet, code and manual speak/phrases to it; personal things also.”
She recalls, “It was my first solo record, no one wanted to release it, it fit nowhere. I asked up to 20 labels, waited almost two years; I was so frustrated and angry about it. I still remember this clearly.
“Sue and Kit from Orthlorng Musork saw me at Sonar 2000 or 2001, in a cellar doing a guerrilla (unannounced, not allowed show) in the cellar. I had an exhibition piece there…I sat on the ground [with] just a speaker, an MPC2000 [synth/sampler workstation] and a mic and I was wilding; a huge crowd formed around me quick. I’ve had experience as a street musician.
“So the tracks for HSB were made with [the] MPC2000, MaxMSP, a mic (mostly straight into Max) and edited it in what is now Amadeus Pro alone in a tiny one-room flat in Berlin Mitte between 1999-2000ish.
“I was a good audio engineer at the time; I had programmed and produced three Laub records and a record with our live drum ‘n’ bass band Tritop on INFRACom!. I was using tape machines for these records; I had toured with Commodore 64 and Atari setups with Laub, I had worked very very hard on my craft, but this record was the first Mac laptop record. I still have this first laptop; I loved it so much — an
Apple Macintosh PowerBook G3, all black.”
In the last 20 years, AGF has done a tremendous amount of work, putting out dozens of albums and other recordings, sometimes under her own name and other times in collaboration with Vladislav Delay, Tujiko Noriko, Gudrun Gut and others. So I wondered if she was the same person she was when she made Head Slash Bauch.
“I have changed, cycled and lived, sure, in some ways I am the same; maybe stuff came full circle too,” she replied. “At the time technology was promising… hopeful, pure creation; now it is oppressive, violent weaponry …anyway, I still use Max … I keep developing my patches.”
In addition to making her own music and collaborating artistically with others (men and women), she has worked tirelessly to unearth and share the work of other women in electronic music. “I hope I helped change the field, after I realized how shit it was,” she writes. “I spent and still spend a lot of time to work against marginalized issues in our field of electronic music.”
In this essay from 2015, she writes:
When I started producing music, in 8 out of 10 articles I was mentioned as the vocalist but the production was credited to the male collaborators, although clearly stated differently in all press releases and credits. It was so annoying that it made me make solo music and stopped me from singing. The paranoia went to the extent that now I even master all records myself, so no other is laying a hand on the product and will receive my credit.
These days, she can be found on Twitter, discoursing on politics (particularly the politics of the internet) and feminism, sharing the work of other artists, and occasionally posting kitten pictures or photos of the austerely beautiful Finnish landscape.
AGF‘s work is important, and Head Slash Bauch is a landmark album, not just because it was the kickoff of an artistic journey that continues to be relevant to this day, but because it’s a stunning musical achievement. Artistically speaking, it hasn’t aged a day.