Written by: A.K. Johnson
Social media: https://www.clippings.me/ajohnson98
Karl Bohm, better known as Carl Crack was born in Swaziland to a German Father and a Swazi Mother in 1971. He emigrated to Germany as a young child and played in a pop band, Secret Moment as a teen. Somewhere along the line Carl’s music tastes became more socially conscious, in 1992 he became the MC of German digital hardcore band Atari Teenage Riot, where his angry, far-left vocals made him famous.
Black Ark, his only full length release, is a far cry from his contributions to ATR. A tribute to reggae production legend Lee Perry’s innovative dubs, this album was very introverted, bleak and experimental.
Sadly, Carl had his demons and abused drugs to cope with his mental issues, five days shy of 9/11, he was found dead at his Berlin apartment from an overdose on pills.
Release date: ?/?/1998
Genre/s: Dub, Noise, Breakcore, Downtempo, Ambient
Label: Digital Hardcore Recordings (Out Of Print)
Track by track analysis:
1. If you mess with me – This opener sets the tone for Black Ark perfectly: Dark, glitchy, everywhere at once. With distorted vocals by Berlin artist, DJ T-Ina Darling over a damp bass-snare-snare drum pattern and a stretched out noise loop, track one is telling you to fuck off if you don’t like this, something Carl Crack was only able to say with his art.
2. Gangsta – The listener is yanked out of the first track and is given a dose of classic late 90s Breakbeat, after lulling you into believing this is straightforward Drum n’ Bass instrumental, the samples become very sludgy every now and then, only to segue into a Gil-Scott Horn sampled, lofi trip-hop song with a minute to spare.
3. Kr-6200 – Named after (and samples) the Kenwood KR-6200 Stereo receiver, track three is an ambient track with bells as a synth and faint radio feedback serving as Sitar-like drone in the background. My only complaint with “Kr-6200” is that it seems like it came too early, especially with all the harsher stuff that’s left to listen to.
4. HeadCase – You can tell Carl had fun on his MPC making track four, an offbeat drum pattern played live over an unidentified anime snippet and a pan flute(?) sample. At nearly 4 minutes, it might be repetitive after a while, but if you’ve already dimmed the lights to listen to this album by now, you’re probably too engrossed to skip a track.
5. Tin Tin – Named after the famous Belgian comic character who travels around the world, this Jazz-influenced track with skittish drums, Coltrane-lite piano and distorted guitar makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a busy street in a foreign city.
6. InDaBa – A filler track that’s under a minute and just a loop from a Kung Fu Film, the title alone tells us how Carl was aware of his Swazi heritage, an Indaba is a type of traditional conference among elders and leaders of a community.
7. Fu Man Chu – Sampling an orchestra, this track is one of my favorites off the album, reminds me a little bit of Rob Dougan, the Australian composer who made the famous “Clubbed to Death” for the Matrix soundtrack.
8. What’s Going On? – A more radio friendly track, this samples heavy metal and “What’s going on?” by Marvin Gaye all in one Breakbeat song.
9. Khoi-San – More filler, just over 1 minute and some change, track 9 is named after an ethnic group in Southern Africa and sounds like an electronic mbira.
10. Darling – Now we’re getting deeper into Carl’s state of mind, despite the name, Darling is a brooding track made up a distorted synth chord made to sound like guitar feedback with an occasional reverbed cymbal and cowbell popping up. This song is something you make after a bad breakup.
11. Mein Geist Ist Dein Geist – The title translated to English is roughly, “My ghost is your soul”. At the time, Carl was struggling with drug abuse and psychosis, two factors of his premature death. A somber track after you get to know more about his story, the title is repeated over frantic hi-hats.
12. Dogon – Another nod to Southern Africa, track 12 is polyrhythmic boom bap, if you have good enough headphones/speakers, you’ll be able to notice the very slight changes in phaser and reverb each loop.
13. SonneFreunde – German being a hard language to translate, the closest English title I got was “Sun’s Friends/Friends of the Sun”. The track itself seems to be another kung fu movie sample, this time with chickens clucking and machine hums in the background. This would be an odd song in any other album but this was normal in the world of Carl Crack.
14. Herbstlaub – Sampling a submarine’s radar, the whirr of an old computer and other cheery tones, this track’s title in English means “Autumn”. It’s not hard to imagine a hard working musician like Carl staying in the studio making music instead of going out in the fall time. Track 14 is as chill as it is unnerving, best listened to in a dark room (like every other track).
15. Shit – Like a lot of songs, don’t let the title turn you off, the beginning of the track reminds me of “Kizz my Black Azz” my MC Ren, and sticking to Carl’s formula becomes drowned in noise and ambient samples. If this song was cleaned up a bit, it would’ve fit in a Tarantino film.
16. Times Like These – Pure bleak noise and drone using a sample of track 9, you get another insight to Carl felt while making Black Ark.
17. Fucking Day – You know the feeling you get waking up on a Saturday but realizing there’s something wrong with your life right now that can’t go away? This track is that, with radio static and buggy 8-bit, you’ll feel like sighing after this song ends.
18. Drunken Style – A pretty straight forward title, samples Kung Fu attacks and douses them with phasers and reverbs over tight drums, along with a compressed gong, you can’t help but picture a drunk street fighter trying to kick some ass. Halfway, the track becomes similar to a Dragon Ball Z leitmotif.
19. Plasma – Slightly concerning, track 19 samples a blood/plasma donation, along with some creepy, piercing synths that makes you feel like needles are being jabbed in your arm.
20. Radio Tserchnobly – Straight out of a horror film, static and Russian language samples abound in this track, one would be forgiven for thinking this one was an early Muslimgauze work, though as much as I love the work of Bryn Jones, this isn’t as good as the 21st (and last) track.
21. Durban Poison – A very fitting title, for non-stoners reading, Durban Poison is a strand of marijuana found in Southern Africa. Carl with his psychosis still toked up heavily, even though he knew it worsened it. The intro to track 21 starts out with a somber woodwind and as it goes on devolves into drums that sound like a bunch of people charging at their target. A sample from The Last Poets that goes, “All that shit will kill you fast” becomes more and more eerie as the song goes on until the last thing you hear is 12 seconds of silence.
The Album Overall:
This release isn’t for everyone, the quality itself is pretty poor, though given how experimental the album is, the lofi mixing might have been on purpose. If you’re already a fan of other Digital Hardcore Recordings releases, Black Ark is a huge departure from the aggressive techno and cybergrind that’s offered.
On an objective level, you really have to have an open mind as well as being in the right mood for a dark, abstract and at times, tedious work like this.
There isn’t too much to say about Black Ark that wasn’t already said because there isn’t too much to say about Carl Crack, and I think an introverted artist like him would’ve wanted it that way and let people get lost in his music instead.
He will be missed.
If you liked this, you’ll love:
• Black Ark in dub by Lee Perry
• Spread Luv by B L A C K I E
• Azzazzin by Muslimgauze
• A Tribute to the Manzini by Firewire*
*Carl’s final release while he was alive, Firewire was an experimental trip hop project where he crooned over remixes of RnB and Soul.
Black Ark on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qIxD-NYks0
Carl in “Secret Moment”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5LYD8am_dg
Carl with Atari Teenage Riot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALrUnx1LL_A