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Kai Fagaschinski / Bernhard Gal - Going Round in Serpentines

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Artist: Kai Fagaschinski / Bernhard Gal

Album: Going Round in Serpentines

Label: Charhizma

Review date: Apr. 23, 2006

German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski doesn’t release all that many recordings, but his music is always of the highest quality. Whether playing intense solo (on the Berlin Reeds compilation), duo (last year’s marvelous Los Glissandinos disc or this superb recording), or trio (No Furniture), he transforms his instrument into something almost electronic – reducing its idiomatic properties to the point where little but a single, sinuous tone exists – while also merging its rich woody qualities into his playing environment. It’s this combination of propensities that makes him such a fitting partner for laptop composer Bernhard Gal, a musician so natural and subtle that it sounds as if he were weaned on Luc Ferrari compositions. Their recording is marvelous, carefully polished like a small gem but at the same time overflowing with life.

The first piece, “Going,” occupies just over half the record. It’s a slow grower, with Fagaschinski occupying the role usually played by electronics, generating a low perambulating continuo. Gal is in many ways more active, slowly weaving together a background of harbor bells, animal noises and muffled conversation. Like a slow descent into a pit of fire, the piece increases its mass and density, subtly changing to the point where it overwhelms you. And then suddenly it dissipates, revealing some of the specific sound sources occupying the substrata: babies crying, some kind of carillon, and an amusing exchange between dudes. Somehow these slices from everyday life feel anything but arbitrary, as Gal gives them immense weight, even conferring upon them an air of mystery or confusion. The piece resolves in much the same way it began: here, during the concluding minutes, it is uncertain who is responsible for the rich, round tone (though, it’s a good bet that Fagaschinski is blowing chalumeau) and who for the lacerating altissimo. It’s very rich music, at times pulsating with a life and vividness that is startling.

The second track “Round” opens with a delicious contrast, which serves as its basic structural element: clacking billiard balls reverberate against what sounds like a metallic groan from some deep sub-basement. These discontinuous sounds eventually link up, as each pool shot seems to catalyze a rush of air, a whoosh of steam escaping from a vent, a new incursion from clarinet. But don’t tune out before the end, because the record’s most chilling moment comes during its final track, “In Serpentines.” After many minutes of wet close-miked embouchure noises, Gal suddenly (and somewhat perversely) summons a swarm of buzzing flies.

Going Round in Serpentines is such a satisfying recording, one which seems to yield new details with every listen (almost like an aural equivalent of Brakhage’s “The Wold Shadow”). Listen first on headphones, and later during the day with all your windows open. One of the year’s best thus far.

By Jason Bivins

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