Stylus, Joe Panzner
Programmatic works are uncommon in the "sound as itself" world of improvised music, especially with the sort of reduced improvisation generated by innerklavier manipulator Andrea Neumann and percussionist Burkhard Beins. Yet on Lidingö, the Berlin-based duo frames their dialogues in scraped metal and rubbed strings within the context of a "musical travelogue" to the popular tourist retreats of the title's Swedish island-city. The nature of the journey is left ambiguous, but the loose narrative prompts suggested by the track titles and the collection of sepia-tone photographs adorning the jewel case provide the listener with a rich assembly of imagined associations. Agitated strings and rustled snares become the crashing of waves on a rocky beach, the chatter of sunbathers, or winds rattling through pines, all accompanied by the hissing of distant factories. It's a conceptual framework that tastefully relies on evocation over literalism, adding a thread of narrative continuity to this five-part set of quietly rumbling improvisation.
Neumann and Beins never turn program into crutch, and their dynamic explorations of all things rubbed and rattled are filled with more than enough nuance and complexity to stand on their own. Neumann's inner-piano - the extracted innards of a piano littered with contact microphones and tweaked with electronics - becomes a wilderness of inventively conjured sounds ranging from disembodied plucking and glowing drones to overdriven growls and metallic insect chirps. Credited with strings and percussion, Beins is no less resourceful in his pursuit of unearthly textures. He matches Neumann texture for texture throughout, bowing cymbals into wavering tone clusters and abrading drumheads to produce washes of white noise or taut micro-rhythmic loops. With a bare minimum of conventional directive devices to fall back on, Neumann and Beins weave a multi-tiered assemblage of interlocking textural cells that rise from whispers of electrical interference to full-blown roars of raked wire and percussive detonations.
As if nearing the island-city from afar, "Approaching Lidingö" opens with a string of plucked notes and haloes of gentle feedback from Neumann, who gradually extends the length of each gesture into a ringing haze of suspended tones. Beins' enters minutes later with a procession of bass drum rumbles and a slow scratching of cymbals, adding an undercurrent of buzzing activity to Neumann's slow-shifting drones. The event density gathers as the duo's volume steadily increases before culminating in a climax of dry clatter and bowed strings, followed by a hasty retreat into more ebbing drones. The title track expands on this formula over the course of twenty-four minutes littered with a variety of narrative quirks and evocative sonic imagery. Neumann and Beins rise from initial crackles to a ferocious metallic cityscape of rusty machinery and hissing steam vents with occasional detours into back alleys of muted bell-tones and distant percussive chatter. Both tracks offer skeletal frames on which to hang imagined memories of their titles' referents without stooping to the clichés of most tone painting experiments.
The final three tracks of Lidingö find Neumann and Beins sacrificing some of the conceptual focus of the first two epic pieces in favor of more cryptic small-scale interactions. "Bron" defies narrative reduction as it piles on Beins' creaking door atmospherics and steel wool scraping from Neumann before collapsing into squalls of feedback and mechanical drum whisking. Similarly, the duo's episodic exchanges on "Loffe" eschew linear development in favor the sort of "start/stop" dialogues and grayscale sound palette that characterized Rotophormen, Neumann's earlier outing with guitarist Annette Krebs. On "Remembering Lidingö," the album's melancholy coda, Neumann offers nods to the excited string droning of the opening tracks but reduces them to dusty clouds of mallet-struck string hum where hazy afterimages of past travels linger.
Throughout each of the five mental journeys, Neumann and Beins dodge the tedium suggested by their limited timbre collections by densely layering each improvisation with multiple strata of activity and careful allegiance to their musical travelogue conceit. Textures are built up and withdrawn with measured patience and focus, and each stroked drum surface or scraped string reshapes the duo's imaginary landscapes, rendering a vivid aural portrait of their subject with a minimum of extraneous sound. Details congregate like the brushstrokes of some impressionistic landscape portrait, roughly sketching out the forms of blurred worlds brimming with hidden motion. For adventurous and attentive explorers, Lidingö offers an artful exercise in abstract soundscaping that equally rewards the fine-tuned ear and the active imagination.
EI, Matt Wellins
All music conveys a sense of location. Whether specifically designated as such, like Charles Ives' Three Places in New England, or in the way that Elvis' I Was the One echoes Sun Studio in Memphis, site is inexorably evoked by sound. Factor in technology. Take the field recordings made by Alan Lomax, the actual sounds of urban Paris at the command of Pierre Schaeffer's tape recorder, or the create-an-atmosphere-in-your-own-bedroom records of Brian Eno. From the most literal recreation of environmental sound to the most deftly composed subjective abstraction, the history of aural geography is immensely rich. Lidingö, named for a town near Stockholm, applies the weight of this historical wealth to electro-acoustic improvisation, instilling a particularly amorphous approach with distinct thematic potency.
The means, as usual, are limited. Andrea Neumann plays the frame of a piano, specially crafted for portability and maximal feedback-resonance potential. The clinks, snaps, and hums she produces fit flawlessly with Burkhard Beins' catalog of bowed cymbals and strings, focused hisses, and rumbles. The combined effect of their unique instrumental approaches is an immaculate lyricism, the traces of Lidingö as graceful and vivid as Friederike Paetzold's photographic layout. And while the sounds mirror the feel of musique concrète, they're undeniably imbued with the poeticism and perspective unique to improvisation.
Lidingö manages to rectify the distance between Ives' distant, skewed marching bands and Luc Ferrari's refusal of technological objectivity in treating the recordings of fishing villages that constituted "Presque Rien". Neumann and Beins blur the lines underneath the weight of train roar and wind hiss. The closest precedent might be Morton Feldman's "King of Denmark," a percussion-based piece written with the sounds of a far-off beach in mind.
Signal to Noise, Jason Bivins
Lidingö, a summit between innenklavier specialist Andrea Neumann and percussionist Burkhard Beins, is altogether knottier and gnarlier. Part of the important Berlin scene, the two play together in Phosphor as well as with Sven-Åke Johansson. Beins is a masterful player, often eschewing struck percussion in favor of rubbing, stroking, and scraping, only occasionally landing a gargantuan thudding bass drum for example. Neumann uses only the strings, resonating board, and metal frame of a piano - its insides, as the name suggests - with a mixing desk to create a symphony of sounds from harpsichord-like to percussive to buckling metal. Structured to serve as something of a travelogue (the title is the name of a small Swedish town), the heady brain-bending sounds evoke images of places you've never been, roads never traveled, faces never seen. Ideas and notions flicker by as the two musicians concoct their metal machine music. Don't be fooled by the rustic photographs gracing this release, the improvisations here are wonderfully otherworldy even as they're firmly rooted in what might be called the vernacular of industry. Very fine.
All Music Guide, François Couture
Lidingö is a small island-town outside of Stockholm, Sweden. A series of old photographs of the area apparently inspired inside-pianist Andrea Neumann and percussionist Burkhard Beins to create this fine, freely improvised performance. Given the titles of the tracks, the listener is nudged into hearing the sounds generated herein in a much more programmatic manner than is normally the case with similar music. The gorgeous first piece, "Approaching Lidingö" is thus filled with a sense of anticipation. As its volume gradually increases, the complex sonic details take on the aspect of whizzing landscape elements. Near its climax, it's difficult not to think of a clanking, wheezing old train, screeching into a wooden depot. The title track begins quietly enough, the slumbering village just rising perhaps, but activity soon picks up, intersects, complexifies and loudens. Soon, we're into a bustling soundscape alive with clatter, bell tones, metallic booms, hissing steam - the hidden chaos of everyday life. It's quite an impressive evocation. Neumann and Beins, both members of the improvising ensemble Phosphor as well as participants in countless other pr ojects, are masters of this music, the former summoning all manner of unearthly sounds from her amplified piano stringboard, the latter simply one of the most imaginative percussionists around, indeed making the tag "percussionist" seem hopelessly deficient. If the final three, shorter cuts don't quite live up to the expansiveness and breathy quality of the first two, it's a minor quibble. Lidingö's music belies the sleepy town demeanor of its inspiration and creates a wonderful, living, aural image of its own device. Recommended.