Other Music, Michael Goodstein
The first domestic release from these two youngish Austrian improvisers. Guitarist Stangl (Polwechsel, Ton Art, etc.) and Powerbook player Kurzmann (co-leader of Orchester 33 1/3) improvised tributes to four of their favorite films (from Barbara Albert, Fassbinder, Chris Marker & Godard). Rather than simulate a vertical narrative to showcase plot development or the buildup of tension in the films, "Schnee" is concerned with the actual sensory non-cerebral experience: the relationship between color, image & sound. It's a difficult enterprise, to creating work that mirrors the delicacy of the colors of filmic images and sound (including theater sound). Stangl's post-Derek Bailey fragile guitar introversion and alternating droning crescendos are placed over Kurzmann's G3's slowly changing textures -- slow rumbles and abrupt popping -- which they change just after they've led you into a false sense of rhythmic pattern (which plays the role of the film projector?). All this works to disassociate one from the experience ever looming in the darkness of the theater. Much like one of the masterpieces they honor, it deserves the thorough commitment of the listeners' attention in order to reveal its true worth. And like the film works, the ultimate reward from that commitment has exceptional value.
Fallt, Gordon McEwen
'Schnee' documents the coming together of two critically acclaimed Austrians: Stangl on guitars and percussion and Kurzmann on Apple G3. Both are active members of the digitally-inclined improv scene grounded in Vienna, which takes in Polwechsel (a group which includes Stangl); Kurzmann's label Charhizma; Orchester 33 1/3 (led by Kurzmann and Christian Fennesz); and those nomads-with-powerbooks at Mego whose improvisational activities were most recently documented on 'The Magic Sound of Fenn O'Berg' [Mego]; and, with the Sonig crew, on 'esognomig' [Sonig].
Jon Abbey's Erstwhile label is, in itself, an important catalyst for micro-digital and electro-acoustic improv activities such as these, bringing together prominant practitioners from around the globe and releasing the results. 'Schnee' exhibits a distinct blending of textural elements and is the result of delicate interplay more than stylistic confrontation. Although it is often impossible to tell which player or instrument is making which sound, in general the guitar creates the focal point producing everything from microscopic flickers and scuttles to ringing twangs and strums. These play over amorphous drifts deposited by the G3 and occasional eddies generated by stick on drumskin.
In 'Passion' the G3 lays down a swelling blanket of buzzing hurdy-gurdy drone whilst Stangl's strings, damped whilst struck, create remarkable concave patterns on top. 'Sans Soliel' sees both players create a menacing growl in which mid-range flutters are joined to metallic vibrations and low-end drone. Not all is as engaging though: in a short-lived passage at the beginning of the final piece 'In Einem Jahr Mit 13 Monden' Kurzmann's G3 strikes a deferential pose when it answers the startling figures ringing out from Stangl's strings with rather less interesting home-computer squiggles circa 1983. Overall, however, this CD rewards close and repeated listening and comes highly recommended. We look forward to hearing the results of further such improvisations on Erstwhile.
Muze, Gil Gershman
Though longtime associates in Vienna's world-class improv scene, Burkhard Stangl and Christof Kurzmann otherwise seem to come from different worlds. In ensemble and solo settings, Stangl has honed his trained guitar technique to accentuate the transparency of the instrument's tone. Kurzmann, a behind-the-scenes mainstay of Austrian experimental music, is advancing a voice of his own through the sample-processing potential of the g3 PowerBook. Despite their dissimilar backgrounds, Stangl and Kurzmann find common ground in the absolute freedom of electro-acoustic improvisation.
SCHNEE's four improvised soundscapes were inspired by the duo's favorite films and by Swiss author Robert Walser's poetic meditations on snow. Whereas Walser observes a "rather monotonous tune" in winter's white bounty, Stangl and Kurzmann perceive the prismatic splendor of tiny facets and compacted crystals. In "Nordrand," iceblink harmonics and sustained stringbends scatter like sunbeams in the pixel-fine powder of Kurzmann's driven drifts. Minute modulations and Stangl's brittle insinuations shade the sensory whiteout of "Sans Soleil," an exercise in exquisite understatement. "Passion" provokes stormier play, subjecting digital prattle and granular drone to the emotional brunt of Stangl's most tempestuous e-bow gestures and de-tuned chord jabs. SCHNEE concludes with a tempered blizzard of acoustic and digital exchange that epitomizes the duo's remarkable musical rapport.