Saturday 21st MayMay 21, 2011
Just as tired tonight, as my workload in various aspects of my life is pretty heavy right now and I put in a long late shift in the dayjob today, but I don’t have to go into work tomorrow, and because if the world ends tonight I don’t want my lasting legacy to be one big apology, here’s the CD review I intended to write last night…
Horsky Park is the title of the rather fine new album by Thomas Lehn and Tiziana Bertoncini, one of yet another new batch of discs on the seemingly infatigueable Another Timbre label. Lehn’s music I know very well, his work on analogue synth is, in my opinion unrivalled. Bertoncini however, an Italian violinist is a new name to me, though about of googling around informs me that she has been working in various ways with Lehn for almost a decade now. This is the fortieth AT release ‘proper’, but Lehn also appeared on one my favourites from the label, the Obdo duo with FrÃ©dÃ©ric Blondy. This one follows hot on the heels, but, as we might expect from Lehn, who is one of the most versatile and yet still consistent improvisers working today, this CD is quite different.
There are two tracks, an opening piece named Galverna that lasts half an hour and is a straight improv recording, and then Moss Agate, clocking in at thirteen minutes and apparently recorded during a “dance-installation-media festival” in Germany, the two musicians performed in separate “open containers” that faced each other, with Bertoncini’s sounds fed into an input on Lehn’s synth, and as other events took place in other nearby “containers” so some external sounds creep in. The CD begins quietly and cautiously, but quite soon the amplified violin can be heard confidently thrusting sounds at us, rasping bow strokes and firm, almost violent sounding wrenches across the strings. Around and between these attacks Lehn very cleverly drops a wide variety of sounds, from soft purrs and whines to sudden aggressive splashes and one or two thoroughly angry explosions. The violin reminds me of Luigi Nono’s composition so often, in places I hear Fragmente-Stille’s tormented struggles with language present, but it is probably the sense of harsh, vibrant musicality that pushes me that way the most, reminding me often of Nono’s more troubled, upsetting music.
Galaverna is a work of some power. It isn’t clear if the recording was made in front of an audience or not, but if it was then anyone in attendance probably witnessed something quite spectacular as the music here really bursts from the stereo with real urgency, and live this would have been amplified further. Lehn is excellent on this first track. His range, and also his choices in what sounds to choose and when is so impressive. Violin wrenches will fill the foreground for a few seconds, but when they cut away they invariably leave a synth sound completely at aesthetic odds with the bowed sound, a deliberate ploy to push the music into more uncharted territory perhaps, and often in this recording there are moments when Lehn’s sounds will suddenly rise from behind something and take you completely by surprise. Galaverna isn’t quiet music, the sounds we hear literally burst from the speakers but it also sounds controlled enough and responsive enough to make the amount of consideration given to each sound one of its strongest points.
Moss Agate is quite different. If Galaverna sounds aggressively forthright and energetic then the second track seems to tone much of this down, shifting to small pops and crashes, mostly from Bertoncini with Lehn laying a seemingly harmless and faintly watery composition down behind the violin. This piece is a nice counterpoint to the opening track, but it also has a slightly more spacious feel to it as sounds bounce about and reflect from one of the ‘containers’ to another. This element doesn’t always work for me and isn’t an improvement over the straight improv of the opening track, primarily because it feels like some of the raw edge of the music has been flattened a little, but its a small quibble when everything else is so addictively listenable here.
Horsky Park is an intense affair. Both musicians push at each other, challenging either with the sheer force and surprise of a sound or often the complete reverse. The interplay between the duo is both fascinating and engaging however and listening to this CD it was these elements, the tussles, the surprises, the understanding of how it all fits together on a mutual level that kept bringing me back. If Horsky Park were a book, someone would have written somewhere that it just couldn’t be put down before its ending. Really great stuff, my favourite improvised album of this year so far.