On one of his albums, When Freezing Air Stings Like Ice, a common set of parameters is the foundation for all seven pieces, but the parameters that create the pitch curve for one track create the volume curve for another, and so forth. Thus, a common foundation becomes the generative force for a vastly different collection of pieces. His album Tulpas took the concept of transformation even further by inviting several other sound artists to participate in the process, creating a reflection and commentary on his own work unparalleled in contemporary music.
Wehowsky was born in 1959 in Mainz, Germany. In the '70s, his musical interests ranged from hard rock (the Stooges, Black Sabbath) to prog rock (Henry Cow, Faust), and free jazz (Ornette Coleman, Peter Brötzmann) to new music (Stockhausen, Pierre Henry). He became disillusioned with rock because it stopped being challenging and was too much entertainment, but shared a brief interest with punk because of its revolt against mainstream art. His earliest recorded work was with the post-industrial group Permutative Distortion (later called P.D. and finally recording as P16.D4), and in 1981, Wehowsky and his colleagues formed the collective Selektion, whose members worked in both acoustic and optical arenas. The culmination of P16.D4's recording career was a double LP, entitled Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie!, released in 1986. This album already shows Wehowsky's interest in repeated transformations of a given set of material. It included two studio sides (one by P16.D4 and the other by many of the same musicians in a different project, S.B.O.T.H.I.), a side of live presentation of the same material, and a final side of specific transformations of the previous three sides. Although this album has not been specifically reissued, it has been used as source material for two CDs in the '90s, and has even been used on a collaborative CD released in 1999.
In 1992, Wehowsky released his first solo album under the name RLW. Most of his output in the '90s was collaborative, but he did release four additional solos (see discography below). His work in the '90s culminated in a five-CD set, Tulpas, where he invited several leading sound artists from all over the world to participate in a transformative process that took two years to complete. The participants themselves chose how to proceed, whether to use a structural approach or an emotive affect, or simply to do a remix. He sometimes transformed the pieces even after delivery in order to create a more perfect whole. Far more than a simple remix project, Tulpas is a model of collaborative transformation as well as a complex overarching vision.
Short discographic essay
Ralf Wehowsky has released the solo works Acht (1992), the manifesto of his electronic and computer music, 14 (1992), that collects unreleased material of the last decade, Revu et Corrige` (Trente Oiseaux, 1995), When Freezing Air Stings Like Ice I Shall Breathe Again (Streamline, 1995), and the mini-album Nameless Victims (Metamkine, 1996). They explore the technique of having musicians exchange sound material and re-composing it. By pushing the concept to the extreme, the monumental Tulpas (Selektion, 1997) is virtually an essay on his work compiled by other musicians. Pullover (Table of the Elements, 1998), which uses voice as its source material, L'Oeil Retourne/Vier Vorspiele (Selektion, 1998), with Walter Marchetti, Yang-Tul (Anomalous, 1999), with Andrew Chalk, Cases (Selektion, 2001), with Kevin Drumm, simply refined the technique taking advantage of computers.