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Peter Rehberg, Influential Electronic Musician And Label Head, Has Died At 53

Peter Rehberg, who ran the experimental music label Editions Mego, at his last Boston performance as Pita in 2019.
Jimmy Johnson
Courtesy of the artist
Peter Rehberg, who ran the experimental music label Editions Mego, at his last Boston performance as Pita in 2019.

Peter Rehberg, who recorded groundbreaking albums as Pita and under his own name, and who ran the influential electronic record label Editions Mego, died suddenly on July 22 in Berlin, at age 53. The cause was a heart attack, Isabelle Piechaczyk, his former partner, confirmed to NPR. His death was initially announced on Instagramby the Franco-Swiss composer François Bonnet, who has recorded for Editions Mego under the name Kassel Jaeger.

In 2014, Rehberg told an interviewer, "Many people at my age – I'm now 46 this year – complain, 'Oh, it's not as good as it used to be.'" He was reflecting with Red Bull Academy on his history of running first Mego, the trendsetting Viennese imprint he joined not long after its 1994 founding, and then its successor, Editions Mego, which he launched in 2006.

"As soon as you have that in your brain," Rehberg continued, "then you can just go and retire. Stop. I think that's something which should be avoided. There's no such thing as the good old days."

Born in London on June 29, 1968, Rehberg spent his early life in England, attending school in St. Albans. (Writing for The Quietus, schoolmate John Eden reminisced about his fellow student's generous influence and humor.) He later relocated to Austria, where his father was from, and established himself in Vienna. He began his musical career as Pita, a self-described "ambient DJ," during the mid-'90s, and soon crossed paths with Ramon Bauer and Andreas Pieper, musicians who recorded under the name General Magic.

Bauer and Pieper, with Peter Meininger, founded Mego, a label that would have an enormous impact in electronic improvisation, noise and avant-garde techno. The first Mego release, Fridge Trax, paired General Magic with Pita, and Rehberg soon after joined the label's management. In addition to recordings from its principals, Mego issued landmark albums by Fennesz, Farmers Manual, Russell Haswell, Hecker, Jim O'Rourke and Kevin Drumm, among others.

Following his 1996 full-length debut, Seven Tons for Free, Rehberg recorded a series of influential albums for Mego, including Get Out (1999) and its successor, Get Down (2002). As a composer and performer, he drew upon elements of techno, noise, glitch and electronic improvisation, and played a substantial role in making the laptop computer a familiar implement onstage.

An inveterate collaborator, Rehberg would form lasting bonds with Christian Fennesz and Jim O'Rourke (as Fenn O'Berg), Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O'Malley (as KTL) and, most recently, Nik Void of Factory Floor (as NPVR). His collaborations on a larger scale included Afternoon Tea, a widely hailed free-improvisation set featuring Rehberg, Fennesz and Paul Gough (Pimmon), on computer, with guitarists Keith Rowe and Oren Ambarchi; and MIMEO, a flexible supergroup that also included Fennesz and Rowe.

After Mego ceased operations in 2005, Rehberg established Editions Mego, a label whose burgeoning catalog soon would eclipse that of its celebrated predecessor. In addition to reissuing older Mego albums and recording new music with some of the label's more prominent acts, Rehberg embraced a broad expanse of approaches and sounds, including Oneohtrix Point Never, Emeralds, Mark Fell, Jan St. Werner and Bill Orcutt. Working within a male-dominated milieu, Rehberg championed women artists, including Caterina Barbieri, C. Lavender, Julia Reidy, Jasmine Guffond, Klara Lewis and Heather Leigh.

"There's not many people who buy every single record on Editions Mego because there's so many," Rehberg said in the 2014 Red Bull interview. "But the idea that someone might get to listen to something which is not in their little shoebox is something I was quite interested in."

Some of Rehberg's collaborators were granted the opportunity not only to make records, but to curate sub-labels, including Ideologic Organ (Stephen O'Malley), Sensate Focus (Mark Fell) and Spectrum Spools (John Elliott of Emeralds). Bonnet, the director of INA GRM, worked with Rehberg on two series: Recollection GRM, devoted to reissues of foundational electronic works by composers like Bernard Parmegiani, Luc Ferrari and François Bayle; and Portraits GRM, which has issued new compositions by O'Rourke, Max Eilbacher of Horse Lords and Okkyung Lee, among others.

Rehberg's collaborations transcended the music world, and he maintained an especially fruitful 20-year bond with Franco-Austrian artist, choreographer and director Gisèle Vienne. Together, their work encompassed numerous exhibitions, installations, performances, tours, a book and a film. Work for GV 2004-2008, issued under Rehberg's name, includes music he created for three Vienne projects. The first three albums by KTL, assembled by Vienne, involved ideas Rehberg and O'Malley conceived for Kindertotenlieder, a production by Vienne and writer Dennis Cooper in which KTL had performed live on tour for several years, most recently at the Holland Festival in June. The duo's sixth album, The Pyre, features a stereo version of music Rehberg and O'Malley created for Vienne's 2013 work of that title, in which they also appeared live.

As a performer, Rehberg outgrew the laptop-computer pigeonhole, turning increasingly to modular synthesis. "Instead of me moving a cursor across a screen on a Mac or a Superglider patch, I am sticking cables into different modules," he told Cyclic Defrost in 2016.

"Of course, the downside of this is that you can't save anything," he continued. "You have got to keep recording things. So you have hours and terabytes of audio gunk, which you have to somehow put into a useable form of music." That specific combination of uncompromising quest and curatorial urge echoes Rehberg's wide-ranging, generous approach to running his record labels.

Rehberg's music, François Bonnet wroteon Instagram, had become denser over the years. "It was still radical and bold, but it was also deeper, more ambivalent, more moving too. It revealed unfathomable depths. We sometimes forget how talented a musician Peter Rehberg was, because of so much energy he devoted to the music of others. But he was an amazing musician."

Rehberg is survived by his father, Alexander Rehberg, his brother, Michael Rehberg; his partner, Laura Siegmund; and his daughter, Natasha Rehberg, from a previous relationship with Isabelle Piechaczyk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Smith