Posts Tagged ‘church organ’

Kit Records – 31st August 2016

James Wells

The title is a reference to various artists who enjoyed a creative surge in their later years, who, instead of tapering away to an end horizon, defied the conventional downward trajectory to create works which marked a new and noteworthy phase in their already illustrious careers.

As the blurb explains, ‘Ageing isn’t always a dignified, serene fade. The brink before death can be violently creative; it can bring about loss of inhibition, unexpected innovations and sourceless leaps. In art, late style often means an unfettered outpouring. Confined to a wheelchair following cancer surgery, Matisse turned to simple paper cutouts in his later years. The work produced in this period, his ‘seconde vie’, became his most admired – physical restriction had been inverted in an expression of freedom and colour. Goya’s last works were also a departure from former style. Increasingly deaf and fearing insanity, he created a series of dark paintings reflecting this bleak, morbid outlook on life. Sensory deterioration seemed to offer Goya unprecedented vision’.

In recent months, I’ve heard and reviewed a number of albums which use – and abuse – church organs to unconventional ends, although a common thematics are their slow decay and their relationship with their surroundings, the architecture and sense of place. Sense of space is also integral to the instrument’s sound: as grand an instrument as a church organ is, much of its power resides in the natural reverb of the building in which it is installed.

But Late Style is a work preoccupied less with location or architecture, but time, and where the organ’s power is concerned, the focus of attention here is on the diminishment of that power, something which also inspired Stefan Fraunberger’s recent album Quellgeister 2: Wurmloch.

However, while Fraunberger’s work and Michel Moser’s Antiphon Stein were centred around pipe organs, Drömloch’s instrument of choice is a Hohner church organ, a synthesiser situated at the label’s headquarters. And so it is that an instrument which once produced sounds resembling a pipe organ near the end of its life wheezes in a different kind of way, leading to the contemplation that ‘Perhaps circuitry and software can have late style, too.’

As is often the case when process becomes integral to the end product, a little expanation goes a long way: ‘Like creatures and plants, they change over time; they decay, confront mortality, and their functions adapt. This record is a collection of live takes recorded directly from a Hohner church organ at the point of collapse. This circuitry of this hulking synth, long-installed at Kit HQ, has inexplicably decayed over time, rendering its preset drum loops and melodies as raptures of white noise, squelches and and bizarrely spiralling clangs. The result is primitive, aleatoric music – weirdly moving digital swan-songs, each named after the mangled preset triggered during recording’.

Late Style may be dominated by elongated drones and quivering, wavering hums, sounds recognisable as originating from the groan and swell of a dilapidated organ, but bubbling bleeps and less organ-ic sounds are overlaid and cut across these to forge strange juxtapositions.

The first track ‘8 Beat Variation’ finds the organ fading in and cutting out while stop-start percussion and variable echoes and delays disrupt any kind of flow. With volumes and tones wavering and fluttering unpredictably, and extraneous feedback, whistles, crackles and pops interfering with the irregular drum machine beats, the effects is disorientating.

‘Waltz’ sounds very like the time one spends fiddling with a keyboard trying to find the right sound, when every preset just sounds naff. If much of Late Style sounds like s much pissing about, then perhaps that’s largely the point: like many experimental albums – Miguel Frasconi’s Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage) captures the artist striving to push a cracked glass bowl to its limits and beyond – Late Style is about taking an opportunity when it presents itself and capturing the outcome. In this sense, it’s a truly experimental work.

The fact that this album, and those mentioned previously, are concerned with the destruction, or death, of an instrument, is significant: the fundamental premise of the avant-garde is that in order to move forward, to create anew, it is first necessary to destroy.

There are also some quite compelling moments to be found here: the surge and swell of ‘OI’ builds an ominous drama, while ‘Key’ is a rather fun exercise is microtonal blippage that sits alongside Mark Fell’s exploratory releases on Editions Mego. However, unlike Fell’s works, Late Style is both more varied and more listenable.

Drömloch - Late Style

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Edition RZ

Christopher Nosnibor

Returning to a brace of recurrent themes, including that of process as touched on in my write-up of Laurent Perrier’s latest collection of ‘one-way collaborations’, process and place are again key factors in the making of Michael Moser’s sprawling double album, Antiphon Stein. The majority of the sound featured on the album derives from Klaus Lang playing organs in various churches – although the sounds here are very different from those featured on Stefan Fraunberger’s recent album.

As the album cover explains in notes replicated in the press release, Antiphon Stein is a site-specific sound installation in the nave and choir of Minoritenkirche in Krems/Stein that engages with the architecture and sound of this church space. The materials used are hanging and lying flat objects of glass and metal that are played with sound pressure transducers. These objects thus become membranes that resonate in their entire surface and mass, exuding sound to the surrounding space. Of course, the album release is not site-specific, but serves the purpose of transporting the listener to that space, and a degee of visualisaion does enhance the listening experience.

The organ sounds on Antiphon Stein are as much a product of their places, the architectural structures and the decorations within them being integral to their textures. In addition to the organ recordings are drums and percussion courtesy of Berndt Thurner, while Moser himself adds glass plates and electronics. But of course, Moser’s primary contribution is the process. Each source sound exists as a ‘compositional miniature’ of three to seven minutes in duration, but processed digitally to form four pieces each with a running time of approximately twenty minutes. The process is therefore absolutely transformative, and as such integral to the realisation of the end product which bears little semblance to the initial input.

In context, the importance of process is not only significant but central, and the process is many ways is about amplification. The input is relatively modest, in that this large-scale work is constructed from an assemblage of much smaller scale recordings. Specifically, the material itself consists of compositional miniatures of three to seven minutes in duration, which have subsequently been fed through a computer to yield four untitled long-form pieces, each occupying a side of vinyl and running for some twenty minutes each.

The scale of the final work is grand, and it’s not simply about the length of the tracks. The atmosphere is immense, and while there are dark shadows, the overall sensation Antiphon Stein inspires one of awe. The sounds, described as ‘small compositional miniatures of a duration of three to seven minutes’, having been combined digitally to form a vast sonic mass, coalesce to create something which sounds entirely natural. And yet, the work is structured, the realisation of an ambitious project of sonic architecture.

Cavernous echoes amplify the depths of slow, low rumbles. Subtle chimes roll and glissando, throb and whistle. Hums hang heavy in slow-turning air. There is nothing hurried about the way the sounds layer and unfurl, and this deliberate, considered approach to the sculpting of the sound is extremely effective in terms of how the engages the listener.

Perhaps a limitation of the format is the fact that a work that readily lends itself to existing as a single, continuous piece is interrupted by the need to turn the record over. Yet, by the same token, this very act necessitates a physical engagement, and render the tactile qualities of the music tangible.

And so it is that the listener becomes engaged in the process, adding a layer to the process beyond the product itself, namely that of participation, of engagement. And ultimately, this is the level on which the album succeeds. It’s impossible to avoid the sequence of process with Antiphon Stein. And yet the process does not render the material sterile: far from it. If anything, the process is vital to bringing the material to life and is precisely what engages the listener.

 

moser-antiphon-cover

Interstellar Records – INT039

Christopher Nosnibor

Perhaps it’s because I’m not a speaker of German that I find the language so fascinating. In particular, the way compound words create long strings of letters which evoke phlegm. The album’s title and the titles of the two tracks, ‘Ereignishorizont’ and ‘Zustandhorizont’ translate as ‘Event-Horizon’ and ‘State-Horizon’ respectively, according to the press release (penned by a fellow based in Berlin and whose translation I trust), and they stand as megalithic sonic sculptures, forged using sounds conjured from 300-year-old organs. Hose are church organs, of course – an instrument which has been a longstanding fascination for Stefan Fraunberger. He has devoted considerable time to travelling extensively through Transylvania and exploring abandoned churches in such of disused organs and capturing their sounds.

Transylvania contains a number of small villages, which have seen the majority of their population lost to migration following the fall of communism, leaving the fortress churches, built during the Ottoman Wars, abandoned, vacant and crumbling.

It’s perhaps because of these conditions that the organs which feature on this album’s two long-form tracks sound worn, rusted dilapidated forlorn. Conventionally, the organ yields a sound that is vast, bold, empowering, a sound which reaches to the skies and beyond, which fills the heart, the soul and the lungs, and which is rousing, and which is ultimately uplifting, spiritual.

But rather than the grand surges of sound commonly associated with church organs, Fraunberger’s compositions are delicate, gentle, long, reedy sighs which trill and quaver. Sad wheezes groan limply, a forlorn puff of a punctured bellows. The sounds cautiously teeter together, bend, hum and drone, ephemeral moments of accord and discord move seemingly at random. Gentle glides slide into cacophonous ruptures, key changes and chords disregarded.

The variety of tonalities and textures, atmospheres and moods is remarkable, and Fraunburger’s approach to transitions between these is ceaselessly inventive, with sudden changes bringing drama and more subtle shifts proving more calm and sedate. Impressively, the two pieces were recorded in single takes and are released here with no edits whatsoever, although the double vinyl release sees each track split into two pieces.

Given that the organ is, conventionally, a mighty and powerful instrument, to hear such dilapidated cases, puffing and droning creaking and fatigued, is strange and sad. The off-kilter and anticlimactic crescendos, the off-key climaxes and underpowered upsurges reveal a very different side of an instrument that carries undeniable connotations of a transcendental connection. And so what this album conveys, on many levels is a sense of diminishment, revealing as it does the fragility and ultimate humanity of the instruments. The organs recorded here are no more immortal, immutable or otherwise godly than anything else made by human hands, and as such, they’re prone to the same forces of nature and of ageing as anything else.

Fraunberger considers his work to be a form of ‘sonic archaeology,’ and it’s a fitting description. These recordings are based on instruments long forgotten, excavated after decades of decay. The moss and ivy grow as the timbers split and the tiles fall from the roofs. Nature always wins, and time is the only unstoppable force.

 

 

Stefan Fraunberger - Wurmloch