Though Steffen Basho-Junghans has been active in Germany as a musician and visual artist since the late 1970s, it wasn’t until Song of the Earth was issued in 2000 by Boston’s Sublingual Records that his music was released in the United States. Self-trained and influenced by the legends (Fahey, Kottke, Basho), Basho-Junghans developed his own particular style, but he remained unheard outside Germany. Sublingual’s Jonathan LaMaster was lucky enough to have the opportunity to introduce the U.S. to Basho-Junghans’ work, and the majority of his work since has been issued by Portland’s Strange Attractors Audio House, and the artists’ own Blue Moment Arts in Germany. With a technique that mixes the sound of his predecessors with a more forward-looking (and sounding) arsenal of experimental methods and concepts, Steffen Basho-Junghans continues to be a leading voice in modern acoustic guitar music, despite relatively little fanfare.
7 Books is Basho-Junghans’ 10th release, two CDs of works for solo 12-string guitar. The artist describes the music as “a vision of birth and evolution, from the first entry of the universe to modern days.” There’s no obvious or concrete aspects of the music that link it to such a concept, but Lance Henson’s accompanying poems, written after the recording process was complete, offer a better look into the work. After 2003’s Rivers and Bridges exhibited a more placid, sometimes outright pastoral side of Basho-Junghans’ playing, these discs feature work that’s much more idiosyncratic and conceptual. Basho-Junghans’ playing has always had its own flair, and the material on these discs is decidedly his. Melodies are present often only as fragments, the pieces are built more around space and notes, with some emphasis on rhythm and repetition. Sparse, thin notes arise from his strumming and picking, arising from dark silence. Using a slide on the second disc’s four pieces, the guitarist tends to build teetering towers of notes that rise and fall in cue to the track’s unstated rhythm. The album’s production allows for none of the guitar’s sound to go unheard, and Basho-Junghans uses this to his advantage, as a note’s resonance and slow decay carry as much weight as the note itself. When notes are cut short, or quickly obscured by a further flurry of choked strumming, the pristine recording magnifies it, making each vibration an important event. Basho-Junghans’ technique is diverse, and it seems as though every piece makes use of a whole new set of traditional and experimental methods.
Though much of the album is imbued with a fragile beauty, some of 7 Books is surprisingly sterile and distanced. This needn’t interfere with enjoyment, but makes some of the album’s tracks seem more like exercises in experiment than anything else, and though they’re successful enough in this respect, it’s hard not to anticipate the moments in which Basho-Junghans weaves his sublime little webs, the real gems of this album. Steffen Basho-Junghans, over the course of his career, has proven equally adept at creating music that’s both technically challenging and beautiful, and when the two meet, as they do, at times here, he’s at his marvelous best.
By Adam Strohm