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Vinz Vonlanthen - Oeil

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Artist: Vinz Vonlanthen

Album: Oeil

Label: Leo

Review date: Feb. 15, 2005

Solo guitar is a tough nut to crack, whether as listener or performer. In some senses, extended techniques and radical preparations of one’s instrument has increased the challenge of this area of performance, as there may seem to be fewer and fewer avenues left to explore – each millimeter of string, each pickup or input jack, every fret having already been stripmined for sonic possibilities. But in other ways, these approaches may have reduced the drama a bit, as one often finds solo improv recordings that consist of one-trick-per-track, frequently sacrificing tension, narrative, and reflection in the name of technique (albeit a sometimes dazzling or unexpected technique).

Vinz Vonlanthen is a new player to me, but on the basis of these multiple improvisations, his technique and imagination place him on a par with fellow European guitarists Hans Tammen, Erhard Hirt, Christy Doran, Joe Sachse or Olaf Rupp, all of whom have recorded provocative solo discs in the last decade. He’s clearly a player of great dexterity, able to layer multiple lines or multiple effects/devices in real time (the only exceptions being the Doran-like, loop-heavy “Dwellers on the Highplateau” and the insistent, noisy “Neptun”), whether juxtaposing prepared strings with hammer-on tapping (“Nackyi,” “Wolf Rulen Nachts,” and the title track, which all sound a bit too alike) or, in the highly provocative “Oszille Rosee,” pairing the sound of cascading icicles with voice-like squeals.

Most pieces are explorations of this kind of parallel motion, and while their terseness is much appreciated, they don’t feel too substantive upon successive listens. Of all Vonlanthen’s studies in juxtaposition, the dizzy “Ex” – farting low end and raging, Haino-like high end – is the most successful. But once one figures out Vonlanthen’s basic interests and strategies, what one remembers are moments rather than the whole. For example, I enjoyed they way in which the pinched, choked sounds on “Jungle” (the sort you can only get from a high-strung, solid-body guitar) are broken up by electric crackle and rubbed strings. “Marmel Arch” is one of the more fractious slices of noise among these 16 improvisations, the metal scrapings of the strings themselves the basis for Vonlanthen’s alien scrabblings. The psychedelic tone-mangling on “Choreo” is perhaps the most confounding thing on this record (at least in the “how did he do that?” sense, though clearly he relies on delay pedals much like Christy Doran). These moments are certainly enjoyable and noteworthy. But by the time we get to the subdued, gentle “Mabiche,” I appreciate its plucked lyricism but it still strikes me as too little too late. Though frequently impressive in terms of technique, and providing many good moments, this is a good recording for guitarists to study but not quite as compelling as a listening experience.

By Jason Bivins

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