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CD Feature/ Steinbrüchel: "Sustain"

img  Tobias

It has already been pointed out several times before that for someone predominantly hiding his human identity behind ones and zeros, the music of Steinbrüchel is of an astounding emotional immediacy. As his oeuvre has withstood tendencies to diversify and instead developed into the depth, another interesting outward contradiction is starting to show up. With regards to the purity of his graphical language and the apparent minimalism of his arrangements, it is most remarkable that his compositions should display an element mostly reserved for classical music or more extreme 20th century genres such as Metal: Virtuosity.

It goes without saying that „sustain“, has nothing whatsoever to do with neither brutish riffing nor Paganini. Even the label is happy to admit that, at best, it represents a minor diversion from his recent output, again focusing on „melodic chord sounds, stratified gentle noise and beautiful resonances“, gently leading the listener away into a land where the border between waking and dreaming is blurring with every heartfelt undulation. And yet, on this barely twenty minute short 3inch CD, Steinbrüchel has taken his skills to a level where they are turning into a musical object in their own right and the act of creation can no longer be separated from the sonic product.

Whether or not one will agree with this idea or ridicule it depends on what one is actually listening to here. Rising from a quietly nervous sphere of hiss, a field of soft  drones slowly coallesces into a unified beam, sweetly pulsating at a single frequency. By the mere addition or subtraction of tones and all but imperceptible fade-outs and subtle superimpositions, this cloud flows from major to minor keys, from tension to harmony and from correlation and clarity to complexity and contrast. Contrary to what commentators have suggested, it is not the lavish use of delay and the sheer length of the notes which explains for the track's title, but rather the fluent movement with which the aforementioned transitions are taking place, the idea that they may in fact not even constitute substantial changes but rather different aspects of an acoustic continuum which are alternatingly brought to the fore by their creator.

As with all Drone pieces, there is nothing to explain or analyse on „sustain“, as the music strives to dissolve into pure sound instead. Still, it certainly doesn't seem as though Steinbrüchel is satisfied with merely delivering agreeable harmony. As the different sheets and strands merge, separate and intertwine, he is controlling their actions in an astutely precise way. More and more, the thematic action shifts towards the overtones, which don't just form shimmering specks of bliss on the horizon, but combine into veritable ghost melodies, rhythmical patterns and continually shapeshifting harmonic loops. An entire world of musical perception is starting to unfold, both separate and supportive of the underlying parameters.

The potentials of this dual technique are plentiful, especially since Steinbrüchel's knack for enriching his drones with equally detailed crackles, cuts and crisp micronoises never allows for creative stagnation and prevents things from getting monochromatic. Admittedly, compared to his release on Slaapwel („Home“), on which the clearly discernible use of Guitar added a refreshing timbral touch to the already tender lullaby, „sustain“ is a more conservative affair in the sense that it builds on what has already been achieved and returns to a more abstract approach. But it only does so in order to explore the ongoing validity of proven methods and the untapped possibilities in sounds long deemed worn-out.

This, by the way, may constitute a second explanation for the album's title: As long as the honing of one's own virtuoso skills is serving the music, the act of composition, too, can become part of an ongoing quest which doesn't need to blindly follow the paradigm of novelty or innovation to prove its worth.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steinbrüchel
Homepage: Koyuki Sound Records

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