December 8, 2019
Joanna John/Burkhard Stangl
Interstellar Records INT 048
Editions Mego EMEGO 264 CD
Frank Niehusmann/Hainer Wörmann
Three dissimilar variations on a theme, each of these notable discs feature a self-contained program that positions electric guitar improvisations within an electronic soundscape. However Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi’s Simian Angel is characterized by additional percussion extensions supplied by Brazilian Cyro Baptista; Lynx, created by Polish electro-acoustic composer Joanna John and Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl works within the range of ambient, near-soundtrack sounds, while the all-German Kabel is an unabashed noise-fest from guitarist Hainer Wörmann and computer manipulator Frank Niehusmann.
Moving up the loudness scale in volume and intensity, the most tranquil intonations occur on Lynx’s seven tracks. Frequently fluid motion is suggested and extended via the programming skills of John, who has collaborated with stylists as varied as Eliane Radigue and Mats Gustafsson. Extended with timbres that seem enhanced through a megaphone and distantly echoed, the narrative is initially anchored with the low-pitched and lyrical patterns of Stangl, who has worked with similar lower-case postulants as Radu Malfatti and Angélica Castelló. Although acoustic picking can be subsumed by amplified torrents of near-natural sounds, at mid-point with “taming a deer” the rolling sonic landscape is pierced by guitar plinks and occasional piano clicks. From that point on, swelling whooshes work up into sinewy string twangs that presage warm, near horn-like harmonies that shimmer in the air until the textures in the concluding trio of tracks arrive. During “her presence and tides”, “gravity” and “x” the program moves from stilled to strident with Stangl’s bass-string amplification adding to a crescendo of jet-plane-like buzzing. Finally signal-processed waves of worn-LP-like crackles and faint voices join with occasional cymbal-like reverberations, more remote horn patterns and backward-running tape flanges to overtake the pastoral tones with aleatoric clips and clanks.
Simian Angel’s two tracks are more particular since except for some processing and playback, the majority of the beats are produced live by percussionist Baptista, whose affiliations run from John Zorn to Derek Bailey. However the instances of rhythmic expansion on “Palm Sugar Candy” never become real foot tapping beats since the nuanced pressure is secondary to layers of expanding and subsiding guitar-oscillating blends that cross and re-cross one another as they’re synthesized. Mid-way through, fluid guitar motions turn distorted and pressurized so that there are also dissected textures. Yet the following passages of continuous tremolo shakes and organ-like concordance climax with pinched guitar pulsations. Uneasy guitar frails also feature in the slightly longer title track which via wave forms gradually increases in volume. Soon, the rainbow of variegated textures echo alongside shaking bean-bag-like rhythms, guitar-triggered piano samples and a buzzing vibrato. Marking time with percussion thumps, a crescendo of juddering organ-like vibrations overlay the narrative as ending with intermittent guitar slides and drum clip-clops that reference the session’s beginning.
The most stentorian of the three discs, Kabel is most concerned with the place of clunky guitar strings and slides within the computer’s whistles and granular synthesis. Throughout, electronic tingles and machine-gun-like power vibrations from Niehusmann provide spurts of percussive and horn-like vibrations that brush up against quick metallic chording from the guitarist. The most spectacular of these interactions occur on the linked “Kabel 3”, “Kabel 4” and “Kabel 5”. The first two define the limits of quicksilver programming, with computer-created honks, whistles and blasts contributing to a climax that sounds like a combination of a big city traffic jam and an explosion at a computer repair shop. Bubbling electricity and band saw-like power surges characterize “Kabel 5”, so much so that when Wörmann’s slurred fingering and detours into picking along the neck and below the bridge, an unexpected humanity enters the piece.
Just as the interaction of no two instruments can sounds very different, so too is the situation confirmed when electronics are involved.
Track Listing: Kabel: 1. Kabel 1 2. Kabel 2 3. Kabel 3 4. Kabel 4 5. Kabel 5 6. Kabel 6
Personnel: Kabel: Hainer Wörmann (guitar) and Frank Niehusmann (computer)
Track Listing: Simian: 1. Palm Sugar Candy 2. Simian Angel
Personnel: Simian: Oren Ambarchi (guitar and whatnot) and Cyro Baptista (percussion and voice)
Track Listing: Lynx: A: 1. Lynx 2. november air 3. birds cannot enter the poem 4. taming a deer B: 1. from the distance 2. her presence and tides 3. gravity 4. x
Personnel: Lynx: Burkhard Stangl (guitar) and Joanna John (electronics)