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Steffen Basho-Junghans - Unknown Music II: Transwarp Meditation

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Artist: Steffen Basho-Junghans

Album: Unknown Music II: Transwarp Meditation

Label: Preservation

Review date: Aug. 30, 2005

Steffen Basho-Junghans’ explorations are often so startlingly strange and compelling that it’s surprising he isn’t better known. The German cites fellow guitarists John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and his namesake Robbie Basho as influences, but like them, Junghans has obviously absorbed various types of non-western music as well. At his most breathtakingly out-there, his music takes in traditional music from India, West Africa and Indonesia; folk; early Minimalism; and avant-garde explorations of extended techniques. But his seamless and utterly distinctive way of combining all of these makes clear that his style was developed over many years and probably not through the sort of self-conscious genre-dabbling that his list of antecedents might suggest.

His music is also sometimes relatively straightforward and folk-based (on, for example, Rivers and Bridges, from 2003), but Unknown Music II is, happily, one of his odder records, in the same vein as 2001’s Inside and 2002’s Waters in Azure. It lacks those records’ beautiful reverb, but makes up for it with a revealingly close-mic'd recording. And when one of Junghans’ more repetitive pieces gets going, such considerations hardly matter anyway. Junghans repeats twisting arpeggios and pulsating beats of string noise with open-ended flair, as if each repetition were necessary but none were inevitable. Junghans’ music mostly resembles Minimalism in the sense that it’s often very repetitive and full of subtle changes, but where Steve Reich and Philip Glass’ music is rhythmically rigid, Junghans’ rhythms are very open and flexible.

The sounds he uses are also noteworthy – he makes extremely strange tunings and string-scraping extended techniques sound like second nature. It’s this feature of his work that ties it most clearly to non-western music (although his is similar to various types of non-western music in more direct ways as well, particularly in its use of gong-like pedal tones and odd microtonal slides). Junghans’ work seems unfamiliar, but completely logical on its own terms and not at all experimental.

Unknown Music features lots of the sorts of repetitive, shape-shifting passages that have characterized his best work in the past – here, the opening “I” is particularly nice – but there's also some twisted folk ramblings and even some fast, atonal, free improv-like playing (on “V”). Unknown Music II is a fine and varied recording for Junghans; its title will hopefully prove to be overly pessimistic.

By Charlie Wilmoth

Other Reviews of Steffen Basho-Junghans

Waters in Azure

7 Books

Rivers And Bridges

In the Morning Twilight


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View all articles by Charlie Wilmoth

Find out more about Preservation

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