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CD Feature/ David Behrman: "My Dear Sigfried"

img  Tobias

It is easy tosee why David Behrman is a sought-after contemporary composers: In his work, the antagonism between man and machine crumbles just as much as the polarity between the “serious” and the “popular” – thus making his music both pleasantly accessible and highly demanding. “My Dear Siegfried”, a two CD set, which features the very recent title piece, with its spoken word experiments, as well as going back to as early as 1969 to uncover his roots, is a perfect showcase for everything he has tried to achieve over the past decades. It is also a finely tuned collection of pieces which show Behrman as an unpretentious, politically sensitive as well as sensitively political and always curious artist.

This combination of personal lineaments can maybe be explained by him growing up in the 60s amidst an attitude which was colleageal rather than competitive. His first steps into the music business were taken as a producer of avantgarde records and while these offerings were not exactly making it anywhere near the pop charts, they were selling extremely respectable quantities. “A new team takes over” is the earliest piece here, a stab at Nixon’s entry into the White House and a typical example of his “open style”, which leaves a lot to the imagination of the audience: Snippets from journalists’ questions and Nixon’s subsequent replies trickle in intermittently through the horn loudspeakers of especially made dummies, while rhythmical scraping and hissing noises gently sway the listener to think about what he heard or may not have heard  - and what hidden meaning might lurk underneath the smooth surface of the words. Behrman does not force the listener into submission, but rather coaxes him into coming to his own conclusions – a sympathetic and highly effective method. He was also never one to dictate his vision word by word. While the movement of “historical practice” slowly took shape (and stressed the composers’ original intentions), David was more than happy to listen to the performing musician’s input – or, in fact, to lift him or her to the status of an artist of equal posture and as a co-sculptor of the composition itself. Which is why his pieces were once refered to as “unfinished” and why, for example, Maggi Payne’s rendition of “QSRL” can differ extensively from Jon Gibson’s which is to be found on this album. With sounds being pitched up and down in increasingly large intervals, a soft and gliding, yet nevertheless resolute and intensive movement builds up, not unlikely of the slower parts of an Indian Raga. It’s a mysterious and deeply touching piece with whispered wind melodies floating above entangling and disentangling harmonic layers and a breathtaking opener to the five pieces of the second disc, which has a coherently spaceous feeling to it (except for the rough “New Team”). The title composition on the “A”-side, meanwhile, goes through more obvious mood swings, a six-part combination of rich electronic pads, abstract swirls, onomatopoetic bubbles, muted trumpet- and shakuhachi dabbers as well as vocoded recitals from letters sent hence and forth between the two writers Siegfried Sassoon and Sam Behrman (David’s father). Dealing with their individual childhoods and increasingly disgusted views at the two world wars, the mood may be sweet and innocent in one instance and icecold and angry in the next. But despite its heavy thematic material and an overall-length of roughly an hour, this is a trip which will keep you glued to your seat until the very end.

The booklet deserves a special mention as well. On over thirty pages, Behrman talks about each piece and engages in a stimulating conversation with his colleague Nic Collins, which reveals quite a lot about his methods and aims. Sure enough, he has stayed not only active but in an open state of mind over all these years, adding new perspectives to his oeuvre and constantly taking steps into uncharted territory. After spending two hours reading about him and listening to his music, the result is not fatigue but a deep desire to visit a performance of one of his works very soon.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: XI Records

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