CD Reviews

Friday 5th March

March 5, 2010

korberlwAlthough I have knocked a bit of a hole in the pile of CDs yet to be listened to recently, I am still very conscious that I have just lately been writing about CDs a week or two later than others might have done, and so just for a change, here’s a write-up of something very new, possibly not even released yet, on the excellent, somewhat prolific Entr’acte label. The disc in question is a duo work by Tomas Korber and Ralf Wehowsky named Walküren am Dornenbaum. It arrived a couple of days ago and I’ve been playing it a lot since. It is a piece of music that has clearly been considered and developed carefully, given that it uses source material recorded by the duo together back in 2006, but they have separately manipulated the soundfiles at a distance over the three years that followed. That said, the press release for the album claims that the CD “obliterates the borders between improvisation and composition, spontonaeity and careful planning.” How much the music achieves such an attempt at obliteration I am not sure, but certainly this is a thoroughly original, somewhat curious and decidely engaging set of six pieces of music.

Korber and Wehowsky first got together at the latter’s hometown and spent several intense days recording material together. How they worked, whether they improvised, or went out field recording or whatever, is not clear, but the duo produced a body of raw materials that they then scuplted together over a long time into the CD I have been playing today. Sculpted certainly seems like the right word here as well. Korber and Wehowsky deliberately chose to use the same software as each other while working on the project, swapping files back and forth so as to increase the collaborative nature of the music. What we hear then is a collection of sounds that rarely resembles anything particularly instrumental, and is equally unlikely to contain untreated field recordings. There are snippets in there that are recognisable, but they are always slightly removed from what we suspect they might be. At a fundemental, simplistic level this is musique concrete. It probably sounds closer to anything we have heard from Wehowsky before than it does Korber, but then it is also clearly a collaboration, and the tension and tussles fought over the music can be heard throughout.

The music varies dramatically in both its structure and the sounds used to create it. If one track is quiet and drifts away to silence every so often then another will contain detailed layers of roaring sound. If things seem to settle into one shape and form then you can bet it will all fall apart soon after. The opening minutes of the first track go from sheer slivers of piercing feedback to loud, aggressive cement mixer patterns to a sudden drop into three or four minutes of virtually complete silence. Elements are mangled and processed over and over, so there are parts that might once have been spoken voices, possible field recordings of chattering crowds, maybe church bells or an organ, or maybe none of the above. The music has a very intense sense of drama to it. When sounds rise together into a crescendo they do so with considerable power. When shrill blasts of edgy industrial sound climb out of a dark, looming murmur near the start of the fourth track Lead Deal they are genuinely quite scary, the kind of music that stands hairs on end and distracts you no matter what you are doing.

Throughout all of the six pieces there isn’t a sound that doesn’t warrant a closer listen. Every second of music is made up from carefully constructed other parts, shredded here, glued back together there, twisted about, changed completely, added to something else… There are no simple drones, no use of everyday guitar feedback, no slamming doors or children in the playground, nothing so easy, nothing so obvious. Nothing lazy. I struggle to understand how two people can make something so meticulous in its construction and yet at the same time so erratically edgy without a clearly defined plan, or a lot of arguments along the way. Listening to Walküren am Dornenbaum is a constant adventure, like stumbling through a thick forest when just about anything is possible behind the next tree. The intensity of the sounds draw you in, throw you about a bit and then drop you out the other side.

Ralf Wehowsky is a composer I have really come to appreciate over recent years. His album with Bhob Rainey in 2008 was an exceptional work, but this new release might be even better again. Certainly this is the most fully formed, accomplished music I have heard yet from Tomas Korber. There is nothing to suggest it in the liner notes, so I am making a wild guess here, but the sheer turbulence of the music suggests to me that the process of creating it could have been an equally exhausting experience, two musicians clearly inspired by each other throwing every spanner possible into the works so as to challenge their colleague to go even further. The album isn’t an easy listen, it doesn’t come and go as albums are meant to. The final sixth track, lasting just a minute or so, is made up from little more than what appears to be an old gramophone recording slowed right down to an almost indistinguishable extreme. A sudden thump of static crackle then just halts everything and ends the album at a point where you are left thinking that this can’t be the right place for it all to stop.

I am finding it hard to capture this music with words. The overriding sensation is one of drama and cinematic energy, but at the same time this is not just another musique concrete album or the soundtrack to a bad Hitchcock remake. Walküren am Dornenbaum is a bold, ambitious and entirely successful work. Extraordinary stuff. So much excellent music around right now.

Being a promo, this disc came without a sleeve, and the Entr’acte website doesn’t show one yet. Knowing this label the CD might well just come in a foil bag anyway. For now I have scanned the promo disc for the boring image above. Never has a picture been less representative of the music it is associated with!

Comments (2)

  • Ron Jeremy

    March 6, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Many thanks for your time and
    kind words, Richard. Considering
    your thorough and evocative review
    (and Marmite icon), the point about
    the packaging is a rather moot one…
    Besides, I think the CD scan looks
    great!

  • Kostis Kilymis

    March 6, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    most anticipated this one is,
    a very interesting pairing of minds and approaches

    thanks for choosing to write about it so soon, now i’m even more eager to hear it

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