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Charlotte Hug - Neuland

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Artist: Charlotte Hug

Album: Neuland

Label: Emanem

Review date: Apr. 16, 2003

Dark, Powerful Solo Improv

Much of Neuland was inspired by Charlotte Hug’s trip to what used to be a prison, built around a system of damp tunnels underneath London. If anyone ever makes a movie that’s set there—ceilings dripping, doors creaking, inmates screaming and banging their fists against the bars—Neuland would be the perfect soundtrack.

Developments in electronics have already allowed musicians like Joritt Dijkstra, Sylvia Hallett and Tyondai Braxton to make improvisation-based solo music that as rich and complete as most recordings featuring full bands. Incredibly, Hug does the same thing without any overdubs or processing. Unlike many improvisers making solo albums, Hug doesn’t sound like she’s performing the same way she would in a trio or a quartet. In fact, Neuland sounds so finished, so cinematic and colorful, that it’s hard to imagine what anyone else could possibly add to it. Whereas many solo improv albums ask the listener to accept them as solo recordings, Neuland asks the listener only to accept it as a recording. Neuland isn’t simply a showcase for Hug’s technique or her phrasing, but a rich, powerful record that screams and cries and evokes.

Hug plays the viola, an instrument that’s usually best suited to single note lines and simple chords. Here, though, Hug often creates a variety of effects at once. She often uses a special bow with which she can play all four strings simultaneously, allowing her to fill more space than would usually be possible using only one viola. She also uses a number of preparations and extended technique effects, often playing several different kinds of sounds at the same time. When Hug is playing noises that resemble those typically made by string instruments, Neuland often sounds like a string orchestra.

Elsewhere, Hug scrapes, knocks and wheezes away, inspired by not only the textural possibilities of electronic music, but also the avant garde’s attempts (like Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima or Helmut Lachenmann’s Gran Torso) to stretch the boundaries of string instruments. Whereas Penderecki’s and Lachenmann’s experiments were closely controlled, however, Hug’s are more open-ended and loose, guided mostly by her graphic notations (she calls them “sonicons”) and the spur of the moment. Which returns us to the fact that Neuland was mostly improvised, and there isn’t much solo improvised music that sounds like this. Its dark textures and creative performances make Neuland one of the best improv albums released so far this year.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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