In 1883, in the city of Prague, Franz Kafka was born. In his all-too-short 40-year life, he would go on to create some of the most influential and thought-provoking works of literature in the 20th century.
In 2016, German musician Herr K released the album Metamorphosis, and in direct reference to the city and birth year of Kafka, did so under the title of Prag 83. The album is a concise homage to a wealth of Kafka material, the classic novel Metamorphosis included. Each song title covers a different story or book with the music intending to evoke the relevant tone and mood of each narrative. In this record, Herr K pays an enigmatic, heartfelt and wholly captivating tribute to the long deceased Kafka and his forever-remembered writing, a process which he was kind enough to explain to Everything Is Noise.
‘I love his works, and was interested in turning the atmosphere and feelings I felt while reading into music, and give my own musical interpretation of these stories to a certain extent.’
Many may discover this information in retrospect of listening to Metamorphosis. And that’s absolutely fine because, by the musician’s official approval, Prag 83 is a project open to personal interpretation. You do not need to have the backstories in mind when going into the record. Taken at ear value, Metamorphosis is a dark, dreamy slip into a perturbed undergrowth of human thought. Drawing from hallmarks of folk, progressive rock, and the more foreboding traits of European guitar music, it is a true underrated gem, unique, distinct, and monstrously addictive.
Thank the heavens then that this was not the only Prag 83 release to grace our ears. In 2018, Metamorphosis was followed by Fragments of Silence. As the enduring band name states, there is still a strong Kafka influence. But this time, it’s a little more complex. The Kafka-esque factor is blended in with a new sense of identity wholly unique to Fragments of Silence.
The key to unlocking the secrets of this album lie largely in the title. Taken literally, the concept of ‘fragments of silence’ refers to the moments of quiet a person obtains when the manic bustle of daily life settles down for the night. It is in these moments, as Herr believes, that things can be perceived differently, and with just that little more intensity.
At the same time, Fragments of Silence also represents the blurred dream state between wake and sleep. This is particularly apt, as the album is nothing but dreamy in several moments. It builds upon many of the hypnotic traits of Metamorphosis to create a more refined stream of complex poignancy and simmering food for thought. All of this is created using a subtle repertoires of guitar effects, vocals, and percussion. Its minimalist nature is part of the magic. In concurrence with the theme, it’s the quiet moments which allow the music to breathe, and powerfully resonate.
From a technical standpoint, the Prag 83 technical rig is small, and all the better for it. Any more elaboration on the instrumental set-up and production would compromise the effect. It’s what Herr K does with these tools which really counts. He reveals that he only uses two or three main effects for each album, keeping them as the main bulk of what listeners eventually hear.
‘I try to keep it basic yet effective by using delay, slight chorus and layering some guitars. That suits this kind of music best in my opinion. I like the minimalist approach of creating dense atmospheres by simple means without dozens of effect pedals and hours of editing. And I don’t even have any fancy equipment for that.
‘As for the vocals, I’m still using my first microphone I bought about 12 years ago on the cheap. Add some delay, done.’
This simplistic layout does in fact amplify the passion and artistic intent behind Prag 83. The poetry, the composition, and the emotional content act as the full driving force behind every song. The simpler the construct, the more intricate the narrative behind it. While the music quietens, the emotion cries ever louder.
Most recent, and following similar dream state themes, comes the extremely vibrant two-track EP, Énouement. Released only a couple of months ago, this Prag 83 outing depicts the disharmonious meeting of past and future self, and not being able to forewarn the past of future’s eventual outcome. The opening track, “Circle”, represents the circle of one’s personal life, and all the loss and gain of other people which accompany it. It also charts the stark contrast of a dreamed future outcome in opposition to the one obtained in reality.
It’s worth stating once more that these themes are only a guide, that the real resolve found in these songs lie solely in personal interpretation. So is Prag 83 an exacting literary document, or is it a subjective blank canvas? The answer, according to Herr K, is both.
‘Everyone experiences music individually and I don’t expect any specific ‘emotional impact’ or want to give any form of guideline on what to feel or expect. Prag 83 is quite a personal project. It mainly expresses what I feel, and I do appreciate it when people get themselves into it and plunge into the atmosphere. But I want listeners to find out themselves what it means to them and what kind of connection they create – with or without the backstories in mind.’
In Prag 83, Herr K has created something obscure, powerful, and cinematic. It exists as a humble yet significant top-up to your musical archive, a trustworthy source of introvert contemplation which can be sampled as potently in waking life as it can in a daydream, though the latter may be preferable. However you choose to absorb it, you’ll likely feel the effects. Prag 83 sounds spiritual, but is about as intuitive a musical outlet as you’ll ever hear. From Herr’s standpoint, it appears to be the result of a lifelong affiliation with those all-important sound waves affecting each and every one of us.
‘I’m often surrounded by music. Nearly every period of my life is connected to certain records and tones like an audio diary. When listening to something from the past, all the old memories instantly come into sight again. Music is my air to breathe, the mirror of feelings and experiences, a shelter you can always return to, a force that can pull you out of an abyss or push you in the same way.’