March 15, 2023

Impakt Records impak 028

Stefan Schönegg
Enso – Strings & Percussion
Impakt LP/DL

More than ever the fragrance of creativity is permeating Köln. Already home to musical innovators like pianist Simon Nabatov, the German city, known elsewhere as Cologne, the English translation of its name, has developed an individual sound that crosses and recrosses the notated/improvised border. Take Enso – Strings & Percussion and [ru:t] as illustrations.

Composed by German bassist Stefan Schönegg, and dedicated to slow-moving microtonalism, the ensemble includes Norwegian violinist Kari Rønnekleiv, Australian cellist Judith Hamann, Dutch drummer Etienne Nillesen and French percussionist Toma Gouband. Meanwhile the group instant compositions played by Metaculture were created by Mexican Angélica Castelló playing Paetzold recorder and tapes; South African saxophonist/bassoonist Sandra Weiss; Italian vilolinist Tiziana Bertoncini; Austrian pianist Philip Zoubek; Taiwanese percussionist Shiau-Shiuan Hung; and tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch, who is the one native German. Nationality is secondary since each of the players have a connection to the Köln music scene.

Schönegg’s two-part composition is characterized by almost unbroken horizontal expositions, designated by a concentrated drone created by robust string pressure and stretched percussion timbres. As it evolves, “Canyon”, the first section, becomes louder, thicker and faster, due to strident string abrasives, cogwheel-like drum rubs and metallic shakes. This happens so deftly however that when group undulations resume after a brief pause, amplifications appear perfectly logical. The concluding crescendo of sul ponticello buzzing and bell ringing restores linear motion to connect with “Valley”. As the piece chugs along, repeated patterns in the form of hollow resonations, woody reverb and constant hammering from Nillesen’s and Gouband’s percussion move to the foreground. But harmonized with layered mid-rang string expression, linear consistency is maintained. More jagged and rougher sounding than the first sequence, bull’s eye centered raps from the percussionists contrasted with feather-light string plinks, preserve both compositional individuality and consistency as the finale is reached.

Performed by six, rather than five musicians, and with three horn textures mixed with reduced string and percussion input, [ru:t]’s instant composition is still minimalist and languid, but saved from slackness by violin spicatto, tuba drones, stopped piano keys and reed grace notes. Zoubek in particular manages to comp, key clip and vibrate the piano’s inner strings simultaneously. During the extended “crossing”, for instance, these asides are amplified with muted plunger tones from Hübsch, shrill whistles from the recorder, Weiss’ saxophone honks and guitar-like twangs from the violinist. These collect into an interactive buzz, which by the next sequence fragments once again after reaching a crescendo of solid, metallic crackling and near vocalized whines. This back-and-forth vamp is further distended by mumbles and conversation snatches from Castelló’s tapes, though quieter interaction means that Hung’s gentling pops and Bertoncini’s string whimpers are more audible. Finally “of fences” envelopes altissimo reed squeaks, clarion brass honks piano tinkles and shrill string suction into broken chord affiliation. Forward moving keyboard jiggles and a tuba honk mark the conclusion and a suggestion of further tonal examinations.

Approaching music from both sides of the improv/notated divide, it seems the scent of sound innovation is what actually permeates the Köln (Cologne) atmosphere.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Enso 1. Canyon 2. Valley

Personnel: Enso: Kari Rønnekleiv (violin): Judith Hamann (cello); Stefan Schönegg (bass); Etienne Nillesen (extended snare drum) and Toma Gouband (lithophone)

Track Listing: [ru:t]: 1. everland 2. crossing 3. thicket 4. unidentification 5. of fences

Personnel: [ru:t]: Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba): Angélica Castelló (Paetzold recorder, tapes); Sandra Weiss (bassoon, alto saxophone): Tiziana Bertoncini (violin); Philip Zoubek (piano) and Shiau-Shiuan Hung (percussion)