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Ekkehard Ehlers / Franz Hautzinger / Joseph Suchy - Soundchambers

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Artist: Ekkehard Ehlers / Franz Hautzinger / Joseph Suchy

Album: Soundchambers

Label: Staubgold

Review date: Mar. 14, 2004

This is an interesting moment of convergence for various streams of electronic music, a moment when the glitch-pop of Oval and Mouse on Mars is crossing over into the post-Eno ambient swirls of Jim O’Rourke and Fennesz, laced by the stripmined electro groove of Trapist or Radian and the electroacoustic improvising of the Vienna/Berlin scenes. Maybe this convergence will prove a lasting one, or maybe just one as fleeting as a magical coalescence during such improvisations. But this entrancing recording is right at the heart of it.

Laptop improviser Ekkehard Ehlers has been sneaking out some quietly subversive EPs for Staubgold over the past couple years – most built around samples from artists who inspire Ehlers – and guitarist/laptopper Joseph Suchy has also benefited from the label’s sponsorship as he has moved steadily away from his noisy solo guitar approach (documented on earlier releases from Grob). Each has a gift for constructing lattice-fragile layers of noise that are as subtle as they are compelling. So their meeting with arch-experimental trumpeter Franz Hautzinger – whose vast repertoire of post-Bill Dixon splatters, gurgles, and blats can be heard on a wide array of projects from his solo Gomberg to his duets with Derek Bailey to his role in the slow as molasses Dachte Musik – was bound to intrigue. And intrigue it does, but not quite in the way one expects.

What’s really surprising to me, particular given the previous work of the three musicians, is how very nice and pretty a recording this is. The music – five tracks over 40 minutes – was initially performed in a multimedia installation (perhaps the prettiness can be explained because they didn’t want to scare too many folks away) but certainly stands up well enough on its own. My initial impressions were that the thick beds of quasi-tonal buzzing were indebted to Fennesz’s last few albums, challenging and accessible in roughly equal measure. But while this music strikes that same general balance, its key elements are a bit different. There are many moments which suggest field recordings from some aviary, with chirps and clucks suspended amidst a web of crackle noises. But despite this relatively unnerving context/backdrop – where slices of metallic sound and RLW-like scrapings are as common as slabs of feedback or thick chords – the frankly tonal playing from Hautzinger recalls the moody introspection of a 1970s ECM recording by, say, Codona. Certainly some of his more folkish cadences recall Don Cherry, even though occasionally his playing – either multi-tracked or sampled in real time – starts to edge into Dark Magus territory. It sounds as if Ehlers and Suchy take particular delight in Hautzinger’s unexpected lyricism, for the more “inside” he gets – as when he improbably plays lines straight out of Sketches of Spain – the more caustic their contributions become, framing him with a steady stream of insect noises or the whirling sounds of what seem like reverberating gongs. Only when Hautzinger plays in the style for which he is better known – slow hisses, radically deconstructed instrumentalism – do his mates resort to gauzy accessibility.

In short, while this record as a whole possesses a kind of chilled-out ambience, it also stands on its own contrasting elements. But while this stuff is very friendly at the surface level, and may lead some to dismiss it as lacking challenges, there are all kinds of things going on beneath the surface. These details not only contrast provocatively with the foreground (this contrast being itself one of the primary listening pleasures), but they make for fascinating study on their own. Like the pulsating, mercurial microbial world that lurks beyond our normal powers of vision, the sublayers of this microscope music are alive and constantly changing.

By Jason Bivins

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