Listening - Tuesday, Jan 21st 2020
- Bernhard Günter - Impossible Grey (1997 Metamkine)
- Bernhard Günter - Monochrome Rust / Differential (2002 Line)
- Chiyoko Szlavnics - During a Lifetime (2017 Another Timbre)
Impossible Grey is one of Günter’s more silent pieces – maybe the most silent. Despite his suggestion to play these earlier albums quietly, I do tend to crank them up to at least the point where they are not losing a battle when the A/C kicks on in my apartment. This EP-length offering has something like a dozen or so audible events during its 18 minutes. Something like this which is often gone and only at its most pronounced barely there maybe seems like a prank, or pretentious, or some other sort of put-on. The truth is the modesty of its offering is a little overwhelming. There are so few gestures offered up into your listening environment – this isn’t just a 4’33" type exercise in activated listening to the environment, although that’s certainly a happy side effect. If I could imagine an analog to this album it would be a transparent overlay on a window, with gem-like points that gently disturb the light passing through, creating an observable pattern that sits inside the frame of the window rather than on top of it.
If the appeal is just some incidental dirt smeared on a window, what exactly is the composer bringing to this? How could it have value if it could be pumped out in bulk by a child? Without becoming too obsessed with ego and intention, the fact is every choice in a hyper-restrained piece like this is a jewel. It’s not important if each gesture was labored over or chosen freely and easily, each one is a micro-composition placed inside the listening environment – just an offering as time passes, a tiny situation that’s gone as quickly as it arrives and rewards patient and thoughtful listening.
Monochrome Rust / Differential and its companion set Monochrome White / Polychrome with Neon Nails along with the otherwise unrelated 音丈 (Oto Dake) for me are a suite of ghost drones. These albums are to my ears very different from the rest of his work although the Line double-discs all operate at the edge of perception which was a recurring theme in his earlier music. Much of Günter’s music, especially the early stuff, is very gesture-oriented. Points and events placed in space, gestures that articulate themselves once and never return. They’re story-tellers without a narrative per se.
This trio of ghost drone albums all create a continuous environment for their duration. The Line discs sparkle and crackle and seethe with detail – even more so I listen to these albums loud so as to feel like I’m inside this world, surrounded by the cellophane echos of that mysterious Immedia disc. Monochrome White / Polychrome with Neon Nails was constructed from a nearly-silent disc called In Audio.
I don’t know much of anything about Immedia except that in 1998/1999 they released this disc which captivated Günter enough for him to do two double-disc reworkings of its near-silent material. The second double-disc Monochrome Rust / Differential uses the first as its sound source, and in theory the process could continue forever.
It didn’t though, so I’m content to crank these double albums now and then and climb into their plastic gauzy sheen for a while.
I felt a little badly writing that basically all recent Another Timbre albums sound the same a few posts ago. That’s not nearly fair. Simon Reynell has a very specific vision and appetite which has changed over the years and currently seems to be settled somewhere in the world of very understated chamber music. I have tended to listen to batches of these releases in one day, fairly casually, and so they blend together from inattention because they’re basically all simpatico, but I shouldn’t suggest that recent releases on the label are just a parade of the same thing. That absolutely happens with some genre labels and Another Timbre is not one of those.
During a Lifetime could easily be mistaken for an album of additive synthesis at times. The composer is a saxophonist and the opening track for saxophone ensemble is obviously written with a knowledge of the instrument. The later pieces feature members of Apartment House and introduce new timbres like strings and accordion and flute and even percussion, but each explores a similar smearing world of tone combination from a different angle. There are precious few events as such here but it’s not really a drone album either. Like most of the new Another Timbre stuff it’s very very pretty, but this stands out in its blurry arrangements and lack of overt patterns.