Music Reviews

zeitkratzer: zeitkratzer performs songs from the albums „Kraftwerk 2“ and „Kraftwerk“

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 19 2019
Artist: zeitkratzer
Title: zeitkratzer performs songs from the albums „Kraftwerk 2“ and „Kraftwerk“
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
When this release first landed on my desk, my initial reaction was, “didn’t I already review that a couple of years ago?”. Sure enough, a collection of Zeitkratzer’s cover versions of tracks from the albums “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” was released in 2017, and this release is volume 2, with almost identical artwork save for the colours. This is Zeitkratzker going back and filling in the gaps, covering literally all of the tracks from those two albums which they didn’t include on volume 1 on 2017. Logically, there can be no volume 3. In fact in my playlists I’m tempted to reassemble the tracks into the order Kraftwerk released them, but that’s for another day.

What I said about the first album is still so applicable here that I will shamelessly copy and paste one paragraph from it: “Focussing only on the earlier Kraftwerk albums which had a thinner and arguably more abrasive tone, the ensemble of woodwind, strings, a couple of brass instruments, piano and drums faithfully recreates the barren soundscape that was originally electronic, in an almost exclusively acoustic way. It’s admirable for its attention to detail and an excellent tribute.”

“Harmonika”, the short finale track from “Kraftwerk 2”, is the opening prelude number here, a mostly shapeless drone. Initially the segue into “Stratovarius” is very smooth because both parts are relatively flat, sedate and abstract- but the second track breaks out of that eventually, with some impulsive jumps in energy and sudden twists into chaos that, eventually, almost ten minutes into the album, finally turn into a discernible rhythm and form which a listener will recognise as an acoustic ensemble interpretation of that classic Kraftwerk groove. In its more settled moments, it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra in its tone. Across its twelve minute span “Stratovarius” has many sections and covers a broad range of styles, making it come across like a theatrical soundtrack almost.

This strong dynamic continues through “Vom Himmel Hoch”, a bold exercise in experimental string work that bends tones and traces a broad variety of escalations and impacts at various speeds, including a fair dosage of frantic, especially in the middle.

Final piece “Wellenlange” is mostly more sedate, with a twangy guitar sound that unexpectedly transforms it into a brooding bit of ambient-country-Americana. Through the slow introduction of repetition this gradually becomes more recognisable and formed, but it remains one of the most unusual interpretations of a Kraftwerk track you’re likely to hear.

It’s satisfying and rewarding that Zeitkratzer have gone back and filled in the gaps, taking on the challenge of the ‘missing tracks’ from the early Kraftwerk material. It was certainly worth completing, and far from being any kind of cash-in or novelty item to trade on the Kraftwerk name, the result is a second volume of fascinating acoustic works that stand up in their own right, very strongly indeed.

Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey with Jürg Frey and Alfred Zimmerlin: Zeit

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 18 2019
Artist: Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey with Jürg Frey and Alfred Zimmerlin
Title: Zeit
Format: CD + Download
Label: Leo Records
Daniel Studer and Peter Frey have been working together as a double bass duo for two decades. On their pieces as a duo on this release, here is a comfortable, confident and assured musical relationship that allows them to speak as though with one voice, charting avantgarde jazz moods and tones ranging from leisurely to tense with the greatest of ease. Opener “Praeludium” is engagingly downbeat and sultry, while “Interludium” is scratchy, digital and sinister. In “Excursio” this sinister tone adopts a rhythm and gathers a tense momentum.

Alternated with these home recordings is something rather different- numbered excerpts from a concert in Zurich in 2004 where Studer and Frey are joined by Jurg Frey on clarinet and Alfred Zimmerlin on violoncello. These four performers were put in different rooms where they could not hear each other, and microphones and speakers pumped this sound into a fifth room where the respectful and quiet audience was, and from where the recording was made. A detailed plan was made in advance and distributed among the performers, but the set-up allowed for no call-and-response, no collective tempo monitoring and so on. And yet it’s hard to believe in pieces like the stop-start-impulsive “Pars Prima” or the meaty “Pars Secunda” (14 minutes in its own right) that they couldn’t hear each other, as the synchronicity is very strong. Or perhaps these performers were already so comfortable and experienced in each others’ company back in 2004 that they already didn’t need to even listen to each other at all.

These two theoretically disparate sets of pieces are tightly segued into each other to form one near-continuous 51-minute work that oozes character- a fascinating explanation of working with acoustic double basses in truly experimental fashion to form an outlier on the most extreme outskirts of jazz.

Adrian Corker: Music For Lock Grooves

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 03 2019
Artist: Adrian Corker
Title: Music For Lock Grooves
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SN Variations
‘Lock grooves’, in this release’s title, refers to one full rotation of one groove on a record. 1.8 seconds of sound time at 33 revolutions per minute, or 1.33 when at 45rpm. The chassis of this release is looping generated by pressing sounds onto acetate and having them repeat, at these fixed intervals, letting the softness of the acetate add elements of uncertainty and variation, and also letting natural record player crackling noise add texture.

Merged into this process, both before and after the acetate pressing as far as I can tell, are the deftness and most elegantly sparse contributions from a percussionist, a violinist, a pianist and a vocalist. Some of these are subtle offerings, sometimes limited to just one track and so soft as to border on indistinguishable, never veering anywhere close to sounding like a ‘normal band’, like that list of instruments may suggest.

The result is an interesting hybrid of composition with experimentation, building rhythm patterns, ‘grooves’ in a different sense, that have an association with electronica, glitch and the very softest sides of techno, offset against a minimalist ensemble sound of avant garde classical.

There’s an “Inflow” in three parts and an “Outflow” in three parts, with the release coming in under 20 minutes overall- which does seem fairly appropriate for an output which feels like a series of static vignettes (literally stuck in one groove) rather than a work imbued with internal evolution. So it ends up warranting the label “short but sweet”- an intriguing listen with a nicely distinctive recipe.


 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jul 02 2019
Artist: OTSO
Title: AAVE
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Elli Records
“Aave” (Finnish for ‘ghost’), from Helsinki-based electroacoustic composer Otso LÄhdeoja, has quite a sci-fi concept at its heart- music fictitiously pulled from two different times, 11th July 1952 and 31th October 2022, that has been blended together and counterpointed. Each track is identified only by one of those dates as a timestamp. From the 1952 pieces comes more artificial sound, principally an upright piano, while from the 2022 pieces comes the synthetic elements, pure-sounding and digital melodic notes.

There’s an icy tone to both parts that provides some commonality, but the intertwining of the two elements is mostly driven by the way in which both sources get the same heavy post-production treatment- the original sounds and melodic ideas being heavily glitched, thickly layered and playfully mangled in a way that in some regard recalls early electronic music experimentation, but which is powered by the energy and freedom that modern techniques can so easily be used for musical infusion. The production is skittish, constantly seeming to seek out new settings and effects and never letting itself settle into anything that can begin to sound familiar.

Rhythmic patterns appear in final track “11.07.1952, 06:22” that are slightly reminiscent of a brooding Brandt Brauer Frick or the edges of acoustic techno, but it’s a rare step towards form in what’s otherwise somewhat shapeless. “31.10.2022, 20:46” is the other track I’d note for lesser reasons, because it’s the one where the high-pitched synth melody sounds daftest.

It does appear like this whole release is largely inspired simply by having an old upright piano to play with, and at times this sounds like idle noodling rather than composition. Truthfully the sci-fi or time-jumping element doesn’t feel fully baked. However if you like your glitch electronica to sound frosty, unpredictable and awkward, this will still have an appeal.

Daniel Studer: Extended (For Strings & Piano)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 27 2019
Artist: Daniel Studer
Title: Extended (For Strings & Piano)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hat Hut
In his sleeve notes for Daniel Studer’s “Extended”, Brian Morton draws quite an eyebrow-raising comparison between ‘professional’ versus ‘improvisational’ musical methods and the industrial methodologies of old East Germany and Nigeria, praising the virtues and effectiveness of the latter and stating that Studer’s work is effective in the same manner. It’s an ambitious comparison, but in “Extended” you can see what Morton is getting at- that both organisation and beauty lie underneath the apparent chaos.

Playing the double bass himself and working with four other performers with whom he is already very familiar, Studer offers up a series of works that are extremely spacious, sometimes minimalist, impulsive and unpredictable.

“Comprimere” sets the tone, a series of builds and relaxations that traces a fascinating waveform path, almost defying itself when the double bass becomes rhythmic in the final quarter.

“Bagatelle”, in three parts, draws most comparison to the industrial methods described above, beginning with slow sawing motions and seemingly describing a more mechanical outlook to performance as it flows. “Operandi” retains the slow method-driven approach, initially bringing a bit more character and melody to it but gradually dipping further into growling and grumbling tones, then abrupt reverb-laden piano crashes.

Initially “Verba” is a screechy and difficult work, driven by agonised high-pitched string notes that seem to mock the steady, almost ballad-like piano playing that tries to cut through it, but it settles into steadier and almost romantic territory as the strings back off. They then return for a vengeance in frantic final piece “Motus”, an energetic cacophony that must be almost as tiring to listen to as it was to perform, but in a good way, cathartic and engaging as the listener becomes aware of splendid details in among the noise and in the occasional respites.

It’s a bold, accomplished and confident 54-minute CD that’s moderately purist in its approach, the sound of assured high quality improvisation and musical virtuosity that defies traditionalism and manages to forge the template for a new form of traditional in the process.
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