AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Rainer Bürck – Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten (2022; earsay)

This is some high rez music right here!  Anytime I get the opportunity to drop Natasha Barrett’s name…well, I’m gonna seize it!  Take the “hyper-reality” of Barrett’s microclimate pieces and port it over to Rainer Bürck’s real time live performer processing and you got something that is SO in your face that you may want to offer it a breath mint!  (That’s a compliment, OK?)

And it’s not just in the mixed medium works.  He also works in a straight acousmatic style; these pieces similarly deliver a high level of detail.  As an analog, think pushing the sharpness and contrast sliders in Photoshop to the right, the soundstage becomes a panoramic, high (acoustic) pixel environment.  Listening to Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten is like overdosing on sound and vision, and it’s one of the most pleasantly dizzying experiences that is still legal.

Rainer Bürck is a German composer and pianist whose recent focus has been in the electroacoustic space.  He also performs in a trio of keyboards, violin, and percussion that creates music (at first) by way of improvisation which then eventually becomes cast in stone. This trio, Trionys, works extensively with electronics and has two albums out, also on earsay.  They will most likely be the subject of another one of my installments.  While sounding nothing like The Necks, the exploratory, sympathetic nature of their sound shares the same qualities.  

I’m not a fanatic when it comes to process, but sometimes knowing how music is created aids in my appreciation.  In Bürck’s case… since his sound is so crystal sharp and well rendered, I found it interesting to learn a little about the “how” that quality is attained.  Please be warned that the following few sentences are going to be steeped in extremely high-level technical jargon (which I’ll highlight with bolding and caps) and if that is going to be a problem… well, sorry.

Ok, so for the last couple decades, Bürck has been developing a technique, and the software to go with it that captures the “inputs” of a live performer.  He runs said “inputs” through his MAGIC BLACK BOX which then SPITS the “outputs” back in a manner that is highly composable in a LEGO BLOCK manner.  This composability provides a limitless number of options for Bürck (as well as the performers themselves) to maneuver this spectral content in a PLAY-DOH like fashion, thus creating new and exciting textures out of previously undiscovered combinations of sound events.

Exhibit A:  Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten has two lengthy mixed pieces where his acousmatic sounds mingle and cavort with a live performance… a very modified live performance via the technique described above.  Bürck is an experimenter at heart and his primary tool is the studio, his laboratory.  Like any good scientist, one must have a desire to search, to explore, make mistakes along the way, and recognize what works and what doesn’t.  This may all sound very cold and clinical but let me suggest the opposite as Bürck displays some very well-developed musical talents within this context.  The sound structures created and the way they are organized flow in a logical manner (in retrospect) but contain unexpected twists and turns providing refreshing surprises.  Bürck’s lab is NOT an unemotional, sterile clean room, rather a place to explore rich interactions and experiences. This album shows the fruits of his efforts! 

On “Locust Wind, rattle and hum” he collaborates with 10 string guitar player Stefan Östersjö, the results are rather brain re-wiring.  (For Natasha Barret fan’s, Östersjö should be no stranger as he was featured on her Black Bile Extempore album back in 2009.) Östersjö explodes all over the sound field and whether he is laying down straight speed-demon runs or surprising with various extended techniques, the result left me numb, and indeed… rattled.  The frenetic energy on display would have, and certainly should have been enough to leave my jaw permanently dragging on the floor but no… Bürck, in his white lab coat strategically “treats” Östersjö’s “inputs” resulting in “outputs” of pure bliss.  The acousmatic work that lurks over, under, and around this madness should be overkill but, remember… a good scientist recognizes what works, and in this case, Bürck’s razor sharp textures elevates the whole experience to exospheric levels.

But wait, there’s more!  On the 13 minute “In Zungen” he is paired with accordion player Marko Kassl.  I don’t know how… but the unhinged energy unleashed on this piece may overtake the previous one.  Kassl plays like a man possessed while Bürck molds it into a kaleidoscopic sunburst of light and dark with a healthy dollop of menacing and alarm.  I occasionally caught glimpses of the early avant chamber-prog sound of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd in his darker hued moments

Both “In Zungen” and “Locust Wind, rattle and hum” are not so much pieces to listen to (no matter how attentively) but rather, to let them impose their will (on body, mind, and soul). 

Submission > pick up the pieces > rinse and repeat (many times).

Electroacoustic to get the blood pumping for the cardio set… who would ever think!

Exhibit B:  The three acousmatic pieces on this album sent me into Francis Dhomont land.  The way sounds were built into longer phrases, and then airbrushed into the next idea in a very seamless manner reminded me of Dhomont’s excellent Frankenstein Symphony (1997).  This is especially apparent on the last piece, “Capriccio con fuoco e riflessi”.  I effortlessly fell into this work and immediately found myself world building, which of course is a situation I hope to attain whenever I listen to acousmatic music.  Like Dhomont, Bürck is another one of those great facilitators of perceptual enlightenment.  (Consider myself enlightened!)  This piece has some very well-placed violin textures contributed by Günter Marx mixed into the overall acousmatic framework of which, sources of sound remain a mystery (as they should).

“Alleluja” opens the album with Bürck offering the listener a safe, welcoming passage through this adventure.  (Little do they know what they are in for.)  As he explains:

These materials are mainly based on two sources: sounds I had recorded from the bells of the St Amandus Church of Bad Urach and a Gregorian Alleluja. Using this chant from the origins of Occidental music and transforming it into contemporary music, I wanted to mark the time span of Occidental music – a period of incredible musical creativity and output.

An alchemy of the archaic and the modern (perhaps even the future), “Alleluja” situates the listener in his (Bürck’s) space and hints at what is to come.  On its own, the piece served to ignite an air of anticipatory enthusiasm for whatever comes next, and in that respect, a perfect choice as the album opener.

“Lamento industrial” was composed in conjunction with an open-air festival that featured various sculpture works made from industrial materials.  Subsequently, the piece was made from sounds of industrial spaces like quarries, scrap yards and metal fabricating plants.  Like its other two acousmatic brothers, “Lamento industrial” flows smoothly, although perhaps murkier… evoking shades of dark grey’s, muddy browns and smeared blacks.

Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten offers pieces dating as far back as 2000 up to the present.  It’s a collection that needs to be heard from an artist you may not (but should be) familiar with.  Big thanks to earsay for pushing it out into the wild, it may very well be my favorite electroacoustic record of the year.  No hesitation on giving this a high recommendation if that hasn’t been obvious by now.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

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