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Werner Durand & Amelia Cuni with D. Trasoff: Already Awake in the Night

img  Tobias Fischer

The night is a strange country. Life withdraws from the streets; colours turn to a grayish blue; the din of the city is replaced by a silent orchestra of tactile sounds, one's field of vision reduced to two lonely street lamps glowing like torches in front of grimly towering trees. As the world is descending into rest, the mind begins to wander. For those tossing and turning in their beds, a curious journey begins: There are phases of rapid eye movement and passages of all but absolute stillness. The territory of dreams beckons, opening up and then dissolves into ashes and dust again. At around two o' clock, awareness plunges headlong into deep sleep, at four, body temperature has sunk to its low point. In just two hours from now, the sun will rise again, waking sleepers from their state of hibernation. But until then, embedded into a tiny pocket of time opening up in the trough between the material and the spiritual world, the shapes and structures of quotidian life are taking a break. This is the time of the Raag Lalit from the canon of Hindustani music, and for years, Amelia Cuni and Werner Durand have returned to it time and again to explore and work out its mood as precisely as possible. Their patience has paid off: On Already Awake in the Night, they are playing a centuries-old form of music like no one's ever heard it before.

Given their approach, that is a most astounding outcome. For although the three pieces contained on it, named („Already Awake in the Night“, „Wavering Twilight“, „Morning Surge“) to reflect the transition from the above mentioned early morning unreality to a hopeful and expectant post-sunrise ambiance, are not actually classical raags, they have very much been meticulously modeled on historical blueprints. In fact, large portions of the album appear to be entirely traditional, Cuni singing or breathing through a bamboo resonator and befriended instrumentalist David Trasoff contributing sarod lines on two occasions. It is, at least at a first glance, mainly in Durands parts that a transformation takes place. Instead of accompanying the soloists with the familiar stringed tanpura, he is working with sine waves tuned in the raag's original intervals and minutely processed through effect devices to create a sense of slow, sleepy movement. What may seem an insignificant change has a momentous impact on the compositions. Far softer in timbre than the tanpura, the sines are creating a tranquil cloud of gentle oscillation, a field resonating with corresponding and conflicting sensations of mystery, warmth, solitude and comfort. Tucked away behind it, the musicians are treading as carefully as though they were playing underneath a blanket, their sound peacefully muffled by a soft sourdine of silken fabric.

And yet, this isn't pleasant background music. In fact, Durands sine waves are of such an incisiveness that they caused repeat problems at the pressing plant in the production stage of the LP. Cuni, too, has a penchant for the otherworldly, especially when she whispers or breathes through her bamboo or gently blows its rim to create fragile, slightly askew melodies. There is a continuous friction between their contributions, a tension which is never fully released or resolved and which places the pieces forever outside one's natural comfort zone: Whereas ambient will fade away the more attentively one listens, this music gets more intense as one comes closer. It grows richer and rewardingly more complex, too: Although they may have provided the initial conceptual trigger, the electronics are just one outward manifestation of the album's sonic landscape. Just as importantly, and quite probably as an immediate response to this shift, the interaction between the musicians as well as their relative dynamics have become both more insular and interrelated, more inscrutable and intimate. The drone is no longer just a tonal grounding here. All but imperceptibly expanding and contracting and frequently overlaying the vocals and sarod improvisations, it is just as much a compositional factor as any other element.

Durand and Cuni have been working towards this delicate balance between the present and the proven, between communal texture and individual contribution for at least over a decade, this release alone collecting materials recorded between 2004 and 2010. Which means that although there is undeniably an element of „let's try this and see what happens“ to the tracks, they are never „experiments“ in the true meaning of the word, but precisely planned and worked through realisations of long-term artistic processes, reflecting  personal maturing, learning curves and a deep interest in history, performance practise and tradition. Embedded into the arrangements, on the hand, is Durand's fascination for collaborations between Eastern and Western concepts of „the drone“ as well as his penchant for building his own instruments as organic extensions of his body. Also ingrained into their structure is Cuni's individual interpretation of the dhrupad singing style, as part of which a set of syllables is continually recombined, put to music and woven into perpetually changing patterns. As such, Already Awake in the Night doesn't so much offer a new beginning. Rather, it documents yet another fruitful plateau on an engaging journey with a forever open end.

Which is why the result sounds remarkably potent. If anything, only words could harm these pieces. World music, experimental, sound art, drones - it is only when the sleeper awakes that these terms take on a meaning. As long as you're eyes are closed, the world is without boundaries.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Amelia Cuni
Homepage: Werner Durand
Homepage: ini.itu Recordings

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