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Tiziana Bertoncini & Thomas Lehn: Horsky Park

img  Tobias Fischer

At around the ten-minute mark of "Galaverna", the opening half-hour-epic of Horsky Park, something extraordinary suddenly occurs: Using a tiny island of silence as her home ground, violinist Tiziana Bertoncini first paints a few emaciated brushstrokes of cool, Webern-like sparsity on the all but empty canvas of the piece, then throws herself into an extended harmonic cycle which sounds as though it had been lifted straight from a Bach partita. Even Thomas Lehn, who'd until then countered each and every of her figures with an equally witted response, seems dumbfounded by the audacity of the move, remaining silent for the entire duration of the solo, which increasingly turns into an objet trouvé, an acoustic anachronism within a sonic space spanned up by electronic crackle, subsonic swells and pingponging rhythmical synth patterns. For a full one and a half minutes,  Bertoncini's web grows tighter and tighter, her fingers flying across the fretboard as the speed of her arpeggios is attaining dizzying levels. Then, as if awaking from a deep slumber, Lehn re-enters the arena, fighting fire with fire and extinguishing his partners increasingly frantic spins with a ferocious blast of analog noise. It isn't the first time their ardent personalities are coming to a passionate collision on Horsky Park and it won't be the last either. And yet, it may well be the most striking one, turning the logic of the encounter upside down and suggesting that this, their first album after an almost ten-year long release gap, is one of grand gestures and big postures.

It is true that sentiments can occasionally run high with the duo and Horsy Park has undeniably turned into a work which doesn't just offer a clear sense of dramaturgy, but of drama as well – if the movies left you cold of lately, this album could turn into the cinematic revelation you've been waiting for. But it leaves just as much space for subtlety and the quietude between the notes, for moments of delicacy, refinement and even tenderness. At times, Lehn will dive into the darkest depths of his synthesizer, pitching tones down towards the borders of perception and restricting his operations to sculpting and bending their waveform. In others, he is creating translucent atmospheres made up of short-wave pulse-emissions, almost weaving together the emperor's new symphonies from all but intangible materials. Bertoncini, on the other hand, isn't just capable of strikingly mediating between the 21st century and the romantic era, of translating emotions into abstractions and back again. Sometimes, a single sustained note will be enough for her to significantly change the mood and impact of a particular scene, to support Lehn in his processings or to question, confuse and counterpoint him. Although their conflicts are almost certain to leave the most lasting memories on the first few listens, what makes their interaction so addictive for their audience are the instances which initially seem sidethoughts - but which keep haunting one long after the piece has ended.

If, then, Horsky Park, as many have already reported and to which this author will readily testify as well, is a record which almost addictive qualities, then not so much so because it is immediately pleasing, but because it keeps disturbing its audience. There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut modus operandi, let alone a goal, a development, denouement or a „meaning“. Even the companion piece to "Galaverna" - "moss agate" - performed in an action-packed environment of twenty-four containers at the Art Ort festival - never amounts to fully fledged concept art. And yet, one can distinctly sense that these two experienced performers are not just working from "the moment", but building long suspense archs instead, sometimes replying to each other or reworking their motives from a couple of minute's distance. On more than just one occasion, it isn't quite clear who is doing what – one of the strongest passages involves Bertoncini mimicking Lehn, who in turn seems to be mimicking an aeroplane. Which may be down to two important qualities of their duo: On the one hand, a congenial fusion of characters, as part of which Lehn is drip-fed from a infusion of Italian blood, while Bertoncini's red-hot wounds are cooled with Swiss ice packs. On the other an approach as part of which each protagonist isn't merely interacting with the other, but with himself as well – Lehn, especially, has a preference for entering into call and response games with his analogs, spreading his themes out across the stereo image and then creating constantly shifting feedback loops.

Throughout, there's a fine line between reticence and holding back one's power, between talking straight and in metaphors. Importantly, however, there never seems to be a case of meta-art. The Bach-sequence mentioned in the first paragraph isn't so much a quote as it is an organic response to the challenges at hand, as much a part of the duo's vocabulary as a series of rhythmical pluckings or a chain of glistening crackle. So, too, is the opening sequence, which has an almost Mahler'ean grandeur to it, resembling the opening bars of the latter's first symphony in their otherwordly elation. Apparently, Bertoncini and Lehn are equipped with a pair of uniquely different ears, answering rough blocks of sound with lyrical melodies or a moment of rhythmical propulsion with static harmony.

The most surprising feat, then, is that the music never sounds disjointed, but in fact perfectly coherent and natural. Which may explain the ongoing allure of the album: If there's a system at work here, it isn't revealing itself easily.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Thomas Lehn
Homepage: Another Timbre Recordings

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