Ulrich Krieger/Trio Kobayashi

Winters in the Abyss
Pogus 21079

By Ken Waxman

Water and its properties has long fascinated and been reflected in the work of prominent composers from George Frideric Handel’s Water Music to Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s Surf’s Up. But German-born, Los Angeles-based Ulrich Krieger has submerged his creativity even deeper, producing Winters in the Abyss, an hour-long portrait of marine layers from just below-the-surface to the lowest depths of the ocean. Performed by the Valencia, Calif,-Trio Kobayashi – trombonist Matt Barbier, contrabass trombonist Paul Rivera and French horn player Zara Rivera – the results are as solid and murky as the continental shelf, but with appropriate thematic variations.

Between the composition’s outline and the extremely low-pitched tessitura, it’s a credit to the trio that none of the suite’s four sections are as muddy in presentation as the ocean floor can be visually. Throughout, the three closely-mic-ed brass players work at avoiding sonic stasis, splashing and spitting out particular timbres ranging from hippopotamus-like gulps to foghorn-like drones. Most of the time one instrument – usually the French horn – takes the lead with the trombone duo entwining further drones with the horn sound, then all three instruments blow consistently with the power of a pressurized wave pushing against a diver’s wet suit. As the concentrated, layered drones plunge to lower fathoms, there are several ventilated pauses as if to take on more air from divers’ back-mounted oxygen cylinders, leaving the one player with the most copious lung capacity to growl the narrative to a finale.

Climax of this exercise in liquid computation occurs on the concluding “Pitch Black”. With movement lessened in the lowest-pitched zones, most of this track is concerned with propelling elongated bull elephant-like cries from one part of the sonic sea bed to another. However an air pocket filled with high-pitched timbres finally introduces dulcet tones for a contrasting and satisfying conclusion.

Experimental music is sometimes derided as being all wet. Winters in the Abyss proves that water-focused performances can also be as luminescent as a new moon shining on a still lake.

—For MusicWorks #123 Fall 2015