Releases of the Month

February 2024

19 February, 2024 | Kristoffer Cornils

Picture of a record player taken from above, on it the album "Lemonade" by Beyoncé
©Kristoffer Cornils

The usually short month of February is one day longer this year, as long as it has been four years ago. A lot has happened since the last leap year, including a pandemic and several wars, one of which continues to take place in Europe since it started almost exactly two years ago. February is full of anniversaries that remind us of the status quo because they bring the past into the present and make us think about the future. How much longer, for example, will we continue to find average temperatures like this month »unusually« warm for a February?

What can or should music do as the art of time that it is labelled as? Looking at the February Releases of the Month below, many of which explicitly work with time and our perception of it, the answer seems obvious. It can and should put the moment under a microscope, zoom deep into it and make its past as well as its future transparent. Even if the state of emergency feels like everyday life at some point, music can remind us that it is not.

Alessandro Bosetti with Neue Vocalsolisten – Portraits de Voix (Kohlhaas, CD/digital)

»Portraits de Voix« was premiered as a piece of music theatre in 2021, the Berlin premiere took place as part of the Kontraklang series and thus in the best of company. A recording of Alessandro Bosetti's work with the Neue Vocalsolisten was adapted for radio and presented for the first time on Deutschlandradio in December; now it finally is also available in CD format and digitally via the Italian label Kohlhaas. All this was preceded by a complex process: Bosetti recorded four different voices and composed 20 pieces based on those recordings, including scenic staging. The result is a fascinating work that focuses on a crucial question: Who owns our voice, which is both something coming from inside us and yet always outside of us?

Dream House Ensemble – Themes and Variations & Sonorystyka No.1 (Noise à Noise, digital)

The Dream House Ensemble was founded six years ago in Tehran to present lesser-known works by 20th century composers to a wider audience. »Themes and Variations,« an adaptation of John Cage's piece at the intersection of poetry and music, was recorded back in 2021 and is now being released on the Berlin-based label Noise à Noise in conjunction with »Sonorystyka No​.​1.« This compilation in turn shines a spotlight on contemporary Iranian composers: Nader Mashayekhi, Ali Radman and Idin Samimi Mofakham. Under the baton of Soheil Shirangi, the ensemble brings a smooth tension to the four pieces—Mofakham is represented twice. They are all characterised by a certain compositional caution, which the Dream House Ensemble translates into subtle dynamics.

Günter Schickert & Udo Erdenreich – Schickreich (Marmo, LP/digital)

20 years lie between the recordings of the A and B sides of »Schickreich,« which greets its audience with foreboding bass tones and the words »Eeeeeey, biste blöde oder watt!« (»Ooooy, are you thick or what!« in a thick Berlinese accent). Of course we find ourselves in West Berlin in the late eighties, more precisely in Kreuzberg in a crater affectionately christened Das Arschloch (the, um, anus). Down below, there’s kraut guitarist Günter Schickert, his long-time companion Udo Erdenreich on bass and Mirko Olostiak armed with a megaphone. In the almost 27 minutes of »Die Zukunft ist der Kindern und den Narren,« a strange public performance unfolds that enters into a confrontational dialogue with the city-within-a-city and its inhabitants. The two recordings from the Sputnik cinema in 2008, this time without Olostiak, rely less on lysergic jam energy and, in keeping with the occasion, the start of the film series »Tibet Undiscovered,« more on breaking down boundaries: with snail horn and guitar (Schickert) and hurdy-gurdy, bells, Jew's harp and percussion (Erdenreich), the duo fills the room with elongated, sometimes rhythmically accentuated and yet always meditative drones.

Ira Hadžić & Cedrik Fermont – KENOPSIA (Syrphe, digital)

This release on Syrphe feels a bit like waiting for the next Ringbahn in below 5° C weather: everything feels like it takes much, much longer than it actually does. »KENOPSIA« has a running time of only 14 minutes and yet Ira Hadžić and Cedrik Fermont manage to stretch out the time. The two compositions for two gongs use very narrow instruments to create a lot of depth. The fact that they are labelled as the first and second »Movement« does not seem to be a coincidence. Movement and the dynamics and intensities it supports are clearly the centre of interest for this duo. They slowly explore the gongs as literal bodies of sound, tracing their surface and thus creating a kinetics of sound that has almost hypnotic effects. It is far too easy to completely forget the time with these two.

Kali Malone – All Life Long (Ideologic Organ, 2LP/CD/digital)

As part of the CTM Festival, Kali Malone performed with Stephen O'Malley on two evenings in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church to present both older and new pieces on the organ there in what felt like an eternal evening glow. The crowd was large, the atmosphere solemn. Copies of »All Life Long,« the new album by the US composer, were already on the merch table. On it, Malone greets her audience with a rather unusual piece, one for a choir. In fact, the twelve pieces reveal the wide range of her musical interests, which are not only focussed on (electro-)acoustic work with the organ. Warm drones of Radigue-like rigidity meet pieces trained in polyphonic compositional techniques and even wind instruments are used in different ways. This is an impressively varied compilation.

Kenn Hartwig – Gameboys & Pedals (Anunaki Tapes, MC/digital)

Kenn Hartwig is a member of various bands with a very krauty flavour, such as Das Ende der Liebe and C.A.R., but as a solo artist, the Berliner opts for a more confrontational approach. The title already reveals what exactly was used on »Gameboys & Pedals,« but Hartwig doesn't lose himself in retrofuturistic chiptune nostalgia. Rather, the eight tracks, which tend to be short—only one even scratches the four-minute mark—are informed by Japanese noise, reminiscent at different times of Masonna's screechy’n’scratchy escapades, Aube's rumbling abstractions or Merzbow's work with synthesisers. This is fun stuff indeed, but above all Hartwig liberates the sound qualities of his unusual instrument from its clichés with stubborn consistency. After all, that's how noise is supposed to work: as a thorough cleansing of the ears.

Latent Sonorities (L-KW, digital)

Whether in the works of Dewa Alit or as echo effects in the work of Ensemble Nist-Nah and composer Pak Yan Lau, gamelan remains the starting and/or reference point for a wide variety of composers and artists. On two September evenings last year, a group of very different musicians explored Javanese gamelan instruments from the repertoire of the House of Indonesian Cultures (Rumah Budaya Indonesia) in Berlin, after they had developed new expressive possibilities with their sounds as part of a residency. »Latent Sonorities« documents the very different approaches of Pinky Htut Aung, Cheryl Ong & Khyam Allami, Tusa Montes & Morgan Sully, Bilawa Ade Respati & J 'Mo'ong' Santoso Pribadi and Wanton Witch with the instruments’ existing potentials and their free (re-)combination. It is fortunate that the label collective L_KW, co-run by Sully, has documented the stimulating results of this exploration in the form of a compilation.

Mariana Sadovska, Max Andrzejewski, Trio Kurbasy & Ensemble – Songs of Wounding (Pantopia, digital)

Mariana Sadovska and Max Adrzejewski first presented »Songs of Wounding« in December 2021 as part of the series Outernational at radialsystem, barely two months before the start of the Russian invasion war which then added a whole new dimension to the singer and the drummer and composer's field research-based exploration of Ukrainian songs and traditional singing techniques. The album based on these pieces, recorded together with the Kurbasy trio and a multi-member ensemble can be streamed in its entirety on the Pantopia label's website and serves as a reminder of what is still at stake two years after the start of the war. »Songs of Wounding« has become an urgent album in many respects—at once a beautiful homage to the power of collective memory and a warning that it could fade at any time.

Miharu Ogura – Ogura Plays Ogura (thanatosis, CD/digital)

Most recently, Miharu Ogura released her interpretations of Stockhausen pieces, and now returns to the Swedish label thanatosis with a compilation of renditions of her own compositions. »Ogura Plays Ogura« is characterised by tense contrasts. While the silence between the notes seems to be the main musical material on the first track »Pas,« the following »Labyrinthe« translates its title into a wonderfully confused odyssey through just such a labyrinth: At any given time, several things seem to be happening simultaneously, no respite possible. Ogura is—as a composer as well as an interpreter—sometimes quiet and keen on leaving a lot of room, sometimes loud and intent on intensity, rarely opting for just one or the other. This makes »Ogure Plays Ogura« a doubly self-confident statement by an artist whose work for and on the piano is very much worthy of attention.

p.o.p. (psychology of perception) – Alien Stewardess (Zappak, 2CD/digital)

Elena Kakaliagou (French horn), Hannes Strobl (electric bass), Nora Krahl (cello) and Reinhold Friedl (piano) are p.o.p., short for Psychology of Perception, and the album with the pleasantly enigmatic title »Alien Stewardess« for the Japanese label Zappak is only their third in just over a decade. The long wait since »Ikebana« from 2017 and the improv trio's rather sporadic appearances together is made up for by its running time, however: the shortest of the five tracks is ten minutes long, the longest just under 30 and the others clock in at over 20 minutes each. This can be explained by the fact that the four musicians take their project’s name seriously and allow their different perceptual mechanisms to intertwine. Their play is one of constant processing of and reaction to that of the other members, formulated less as answers than as questions: What is this doing to me, to you, to us?

Phill Niblock – Looking for Daniel (Unsounds/Echonance Festival, CD/digital)

Much has been written since his death at the beginning of January about what Phill Niblock left this world and what he left behind alongside a great deal of visual and musical art: a comprehensive, almost physically tangible lack. The two pieces on »Looking for Daniel« seem to express this dialectic of presence and absence even more than other compositions from the late work of the American composer. The composition »Biliana,« written last year for, of course, the violin and voice of Berlin artist Biliana Voutchkova, emphasises the tonal and atmospheric richness of his unique approach, in which he brings many different sound elements into harmony with one another and yet never in unison. The piece »Exploratory, Rhine Version, Looking for Daniel,« recorded by Ensemble Modelo62 together with Ensemble Scordatura, plays a similar game of repetition and difference, but is atmospherically very different. Something (or perhaps: someone?) actually seems to be missing.

Sylvain Chauveau – Le livre noir du capitalisme & ultra-minimal (Sonic Pieces, LP/digital)

Minimalism can be a lot. In the case of composer and musician Sylvain Chauveau, it means that he seems to be constantly searching with his hands on the piano or acoustic guitar, or more rarely a harmonium and a melodica: which note can be added, which would be too much? »ultra-minimal,« Chauveau's first (or, depending on how you look at it, second) release on Monique Recknagel's Sonic Pieces label, documents a rare live performance by the Frenchman in London's Café Oto, his first with only acoustic instruments. What is special about the recording is not only the quiet expressiveness of Chauveau's playing, but also how little of the audience present and even the musician himself can be heard. It’s ultra-minimalist in every respect. In terms of composition and sound, »Le livre noir du capitalisme« from 2000, which is being reissued by Sonic Pieces at the same time, is more expansive. Compositions for piano and strings, guitar and occasional vocals intertwine with electronic sounds or are rigidly manipulated by Chauveau, sometimes even transferred into pop song structures. However, John Cage and the only solo album by Talk Talk singer Mark Hollis—two artists virtually obsessed with the potential of silence—provided the inspiration for this.

toechter – Epic Wonder (Morr Music, LP/CD/digital)

Katrine Grarup Elbo, Lisa Marie Vogel and Marie-Claire Schlameus joined forces in 2022 for the album »Zephyr« for  Kulturkaufhaus Dussmann’s Edition DUR, and are now releasing their second album under the name toechter on Morr Music, also based in Berlin. This may come as a surprise at first glance, as the three are string players and their label is primarily associated with electronic pop music. But after the first few notes of »Epic Wonder,« it should become obvious how one thing fits into another: The trio uses viola, violin and cello as well as additional percussion and the voices of its members primarily as sonic acoustic source material from which they construct their songs through generous use of electronics. Accordingly, the results are difficult to categorise and stylistically diverse: chamber music and the dancefloor, pop and spherical ambient are not in conflict on »Epic Wonder,« but sound in harmony with each other.

su dance110 – Stille Oper (Feral Note, digital)

Most recently, Dan Su a.k.a. su dance110 collaborated with Das Ende der Liebe (whose member Kenn Hartwig appears above in this column) and was able to sing over freaky krautrock in this context, but »Stille Oper« for the Berlin label Feral Note is more formal, more reserved and atmospherically darker. This is undoubtedly due to the occasion for which the four instrumental pieces were composed: the installation work »Riss« by and with Tania Elstermeyer and Felix Kühn (visual arts), Yaming Wang (stage design) and Dan Su (choreography) was part of the Orpheus Festival at the Berlin State Opera in 2020. With synthetic winds, basses, kick drums, bells, chords and pads, su dance110 created a soundtrack in which sonic intensity and silence alternate suddenly and seemingly at random. The result is a claustrophobic atmosphere. Anyone who remembers a little of 2020 will probably recognise it in this music.

Yan Jun & Eric Wong – Dichotomic Language (Vintage Vinyl Hong Kong, LP/digital)

Experimental musician, poet and anarchic sound artist Yan Jun has many connections to the German capital and is a frequent visitor to the city; with »Dichotomic Language,« he is further consolidating the Beijing-Berlin connection. For the album, he teamed up with Eric Wong, a busy figure in the local improv scene who likes to use Bluetooth speakers as well as his guitar. This is also the case for these five pieces, in which Yan provides the human vocal input and Wong responds with electronic sine waves, white noise and/or pulses. The performances of the two, explains Wong in the album notes, are very much focussed on the visual and physical aspects of the two, but in the recording the spatial-temporal interaction of these very different sound generators is of course different. The two artists, as well as label owner Nick Langford, advise separately to do without headphones and to experience the music in the room—preferably in motion, with your head spinning or even dancing. They are right, of course, because Yan's sometimes very high, sometimes throaty vocals (at times reminiscent of Ghédalia Tazarté's) and the subtle fluctuation of Wong's loudspeaker frequencies create all kinds of frictions and vibrations that set movement free, even in moments of supposed static. A wondrous, marvellous, thoroughly unique album.

  • Releases of the Month
  • Releases des Monats
  • Alessandro Bosetti
  • Noise à Noise
  • Syrphe
  • Cedrik Fermont
  • Günter Schickert
  • L-KW
  • Mariana Sadovska
  • Max Andrzejewski
  • Phill Niblock
  • Sonic Pieces
  • Feral Note
  • su dance110
  • Eric Wong

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