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Lemur: Aigéan

img  Tobias Fischer

Simmering with quiet intensity, the second album by Norwegian improvisational quartet Lemur straddles contemporary classical with guided, collective improvisations built around otherworldly timbres and textures. Like Alarm Will Sound's acoustic realization of Aphex Twin on 2005's Acoustica, Lemur's use of extended techniques creates a sonic space as informed by circuit bending and abstract electronica as it is by modern instrumental music.

Comprised of flute, French horn, cello, and double bass, Lemur create shimmering, crackling beds of texture that sound as often like vinyl hiss or feedback as they do the work of a classical quartet. The album's opening song, “Dasht-Elut,” is a mesmerizing stew of fingers scrubbing strings, key clicks, and multiphonic flute. The group's interplay is nearly telepathic: rhythmic phrases are passed back and forth between the instrumentalists; contrapuntal figures emerge and fade back into pops and quiet tremolo notes. On “Panthalassa,” incessant percussive sounds made my scratching bow strings, slap tongue, and bursts of air shift in and out of phase with one another, building into intense polyrhythms  and sustained harmonies.

While much of the music seems built around improvisation, the musicians' ability to play off of one another, and their awareness of compositional curve makes it difficult to discern what's improvised versus through-composed. On “Saragasso,” the instrumentalists move between aleatory sounds reminiscent of crickets and birds and quiet, buzzing chords. “Dzibilchaltun,” the album's centerpiece and longest composition, is built around pulsing string chords. The bass and cello strangle strings and trade free jazz and minimalist figures while the flute and horn drift in and out of the foreground with quiet squeals and gurgling sounds. Despite ten minutes without any change of chords or underlying rhythm, the instrumental interplay is so emotionally charged and conceptually interesting that the end result is a fascinating and strangely accessible piece.

Over the course of the Aigéan's seven songs, the dynamic level rarely rises above a whisper. The intensity comes from the musician's nuanced, phrenetic interplay and the textural complexities of the music. Much aleatory “new music” is intellectually aloof and therefore alienating. Or it's so unrelenting in volume and density that the listener becomes desensitized almost immediately. Lemur, however, has crafted a golden balance of ethos and pathos, nuance and chaos.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: +3db Recordings

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