Sebastian Gramss States of Play Meteors

December 5, 2023

Message from Outer Space
Rent a Dog rad 2023-2

Sounding Society
Homecoming Medley or Society into Sound
Gotta Let It Out GLIO 54 CD

Forget about the American, Russian or any other countries wannabe space program. The most profound and novel musical exploration of outer space this side of the Sun Ra comes from two Northern European based ensembles. Köln’s Meteors’ expedition is analyzed over 17 (!) tracks, while Copenhagen’s Sounding Society probes the far reaches of the galaxy on one extended track.

Intriguingly enough both intergalactic ensembles are piloted by bass players. The Meteors are led by Sebastian Gramss, who works with the likes of Carl Ludwig Hübsch and Scott Fields, while the Sounding Society is directed by Tomo Jacobson, who has played with sound explorers like Lotte Anker and Mat Maneri. Also while there are no (known) extra-terrestrials in either group, personnel isn’t limited to one launching pad. While Gramss and keyboardist Christian Lorenzen are German, Philip Zoubek, the other keyboardist, is Austrian. Drummer Dominik Mahnig is Swiss, trombonist Shannon Barnett is Australian and saxophonist Hayden Chisholm from New Zealand. In the other configuration Jacobson and keyboardist Kjær Larsen are Danish, percussionist Szymon Pimpon Gąsiorek is Polish and gong player Ylenia Fiorini Italian.

Having an Antipodean horn section is a bonus for the Meteors when the message to and from outer space is chanted in harmonized English. But more important to this space trip is how the journey is fueled instrumentally. Here the balance is almost equal between the electronic and acoustic instruments. Ghostly tremolo flutters and bubbly space-ship launching texture expansions from the dual synthesizers are wedded to unusual spacey noises which encompass music box-like tinkles and intermittent voltage buzzes. All expand the non-terrestrial parts of the program. But contrapuntal horn vamps coupled with drum clip clops and splatters preserve the humanness of the journey. This is further emphasized when sound astronauts confirm their individuality in the form of near-gutbucket plunger slides from the trombonist and jagged split tones that fly between Bird and Bostic from the alto saxophonist. Some tracks such as the brief “Encrypted Message 3” and the subsequent “Inconveniences” explore the crepuscule atmosphere of space’s black holes with unbreakable expositions rife with tone coloring. These sophisticated arrangements tinge the tracks with buzzing voltage affiliations, percussion smacks, strained trombone smears and pianistic clips. More optimistic space travel routes however emphasize singular responses to the trips including chief commander Gramss’ string squeezes and shudders on “No Reason For Concern” and “Promised Land”. Combining extraterrestrial allusions with supple col legno strokes, string hand pats and solid harmonies he creates the equivalent of a string concerto, with bass thrusts harmonized with trombone slides and irregular saxophone vibrations. Further stratosphere individual forays are particularly prominent on “Perfectly Balanced” as Chisholm overblows split tones, Barnett produces thick plunger flutters and the dual keyboardists plink out near-weightless treble tones that variously resemble vibraphone patterning or music box-like tinkles.

Shruti box and mellotron drones on Homecoming Medley or Society into Sound set up more solid textures from the first. Seemingly endless, the synthesized sequences only intermittently pause for sonic intervals that reveal wave form crackles, woody drum rolls, zither-like reverb, Gurio-like scratches, treble puffs and what sounds like metal balls resonating on a flat surface. Sounds aren’t all programmed though. The extraterrestrial landscape mostly consisting of concentrated sonic washes made up of gong resonations, idiophone clashes and insistent keyboard jabs divided between organ-like mid-range tremors and higher pitched calliope-like squeals. These evolve alongside Jacobson’s double bass patterns which remain pronounced and ubiquitous during the program. By “Part 3” the challenge of maintaining a solid mechanized pulse has been met, along with timbral detours so that the exposition doesn’t become oppressive. Following Gąsiorek’s baritone horn blasts, piano-like comping and out of tempo whistles, additional backwards running flanges segment the constant pulse enough to suggest an incursion of space debris into the flight path. Luckily repetitive double bass throb straightens the musical flight path enough so that Mellotron warbles, wooden clave reflection and voltage buzzes stabilize the agitation to alliances. With sonic tinctures melded by the final sequence the narrative descends from its outer space journey to a safe landing.

Not everyone can be an astronaut. But the excitement of exploring uncharted musical territory is available with these two distinct sessions.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Message: 1. We Spin Dizzily 2. Wonderful World 3. The Human Race
4. Within Our Galaxy 5. Stellar Orbit 6. Encrypted Message 2 7. Augmented Clusterfuck 8. Our Bright Future 9. Perfectly Balanced 10. Happy People 11. Encrypted Message 3 12. Inconveniences 13. Nano-Boosted 14. Encrypted Message 4 15. No Reason For Concern 16. Promised Land 17. See What We’ve Done

Personnel: Message: Shannon Barnett (trombone); Hayden Chisholm (alto saxophone); Philip Zoubek (piano, synthesizer); Christian Lorenzen (electric piano, synthesizer); Sebastian Gramss (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums)

Track Listing: Homecoming: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4

Personnel: Homecoming: Rasmus Kjær Larsen (Mellotron, Nord Lead); Tomo Jacobson (midi ribbon, bass, Gypsy Rose); Ylenia Fiorini (gongs, other healing instruments) and Szymon Pimpon Gąsiorek (drums, baritone horn, OP-Z, Shruti box)