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CD Feature/ Ensemble Phorminx: "Dal Niente"; The Epicureans: "Introducing"

img  Tobias

While most composers treat timbre as a given, the process of tone production itself is essential to the oeuvre of Helmut Lachenmann. What some have described as a form of pathological purity, is more likely the result of a quest for absolute transparency: Even though his sonic aesthetics were rarely ever obviously pleasing to the layman's ear, Lachenmann simply wanted to offer his audiences immediate insight and direct communication. He emphatically demanded compositional clarity and chose to operate along principles and philosophies which could be determined by nothing else but listening attentively.

In stark contrast to popular tendencies of mistifying one's work, Lachenmann has chosen to be frank about his professional secrets as well. Even though describing his style as „instrumental musique concrete“ no longer does justice to the ever-changing settings of his music, his ideals have remained consistent over a career of many decades, formal experiments and through the most diverse collaborations. Books have been written about him and Lachenmann himself has laid down his ideas for anyone to see in a biblically-proportioned collection of his own essays. You may agree or disagree with his findings, enjoy his music or hate it. But there is hardly any space left for speculation about his motives and principles, if there ever was any to begin with.

That is probably why an album like „dal niente“ doesn't sound strained or forced. The ensemble phorminx has selected five pieces for solo instruments or small-scale bands and arranged them into an enticing program without having to worry about drearily off-putting programming. In the solo pieces, Lachenmann explores the acoustics of Violin, Cello and Clarinet with the refreshing naivety of someone who is holding them in his hands for the first time, while simultaneously molding the outcome of his research into expediently shaped arrangements. Strings are violently tortured into brutish drones, brass is blown without air and their natural registers are effortlessly extended into upper and lower sonic extremes.

In the two ensemble cuts, meanwhile, the musicians are interlocking creatively to establish hermetic worlds of ideas and timbre. The decay of one instrument fades into the attack of another. Plain Piano chords are delicately scattered about the canvas, while finely nuanced tonal arches coalesce into tender constructs of brittle beauty. Breath is an important issue here, both in a strikingly obvious way („temA“, which includes at first aspirated, then gradually concretising vocals) and as part of momentum culled from a set of essentially static events (the title piece). There will, as always, be those who will confuse these efforts with the somewhat trivial idea of pulling surprising new noises from familiar tools, but there is not a grain of novelty tactics behind these pieces. Rather, music itself and in its most integral form, is the message on „dal niente“.

It is most astounding how much Lachenmann's academically formed approach has in common with the free-flowing imaginative improvisations of quasi-supergroup The Epicureans. A threepiece with plenty of experience gathered in various collectives, their sound borders Sound Art, Jazz and microtonal music alike, with occasional outbursts of malignant Noise thrown in for good measure. Their silently floating first full-length, however, doesn't just blindly cater to the cliches of these genres, but astoundingly uses them to build a music which seems to mysteriously well up from the deepest caves of sound.

Effectively, every piece appears to establish its own set of rules on „Introducing“. Dave Gross literally speaks, groans and sings through his Sax as Ricardo Donoso ploughs through the intricacies of his Drum set like a clerk at a giant hardware store and Ryan McGuire bends, bows and bullies the strings of his Bass with extreme exploratory zest. Traditional motivic development is never once missed: Microphones seem to have been inserted directly into the instruments, eliminating the distance between performers and their public. You can hear fibres stretching to the point of breaking, stertorous gurglings at the bottom of Gross' gorge and every metallic resonance of different metallic parts being forced into tenderly tactile percussive collisions.

Comparisons have already been made to the world of Noise, but in reality it is hard to imagine music more intimate than this. You can hear the utmost attention awarded to discovering one's instrument, the intense concentration focused on building spine-tingling curves while never blurring the physical relations with the musical material. Just like Helmut Lachenmann, Epicureans achieve so much more than just writing new pieces to listen to – their work enriches the act of hearing itself.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Wergo Records
Homepage: Semata Productions
Homepage: The Epicureans

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