AMN Reviews: Clocks in Motion – Oneira: Music by Jennifer Bellor [Aerocade Music AM012]; Stefan Schmidt – ruinenlust [Bandcamp]

August brings with it two very different kinds of music for tuned percussion.

Clocks in Motion, of Madison, WI, is a percussion ensemble formed in 2011. The group is a quartet with the three core members John Corkill, Christopher G. Jones, and Sean Kleve; on this album they’re made a quartet by guest percussionists Megan Arns on two compositions, and Kyle Flens on the title track.

All three pieces on Oneira were commissioned from Las Vegas composer Jennifer Bellor, who wrote them in collaboration with the group over a period of several years. There’s a certain consistency of sound tying the pieces together—Bellor writes music that’s harmonically accessible and rhythmically propulsive, even as it moves through multiple time signatures with beats divided into variably accented odd and even groupings. The orchestration tends to favor tuned percussion in which crisp, metallic timbres predominate. The opening track, for example, the three-movement Of Maker and Movement (2019), is scored for tuned pipes, glass marimba, glockenspiel, crotales, vibraphone, and cymbals, along with other instruments. Oneira, from 2021, is scored for MalletKat, two marimbas, and vibes, while This We Have Now (2020) is for MalletKat, drum kit, wind chimes, glockenspiel, crotales, xylophone, vibes, cymbals, and marimba.

On ruinenlust Stefan Schmidt, a prolific multi-instrumentalist perhaps best known as the creator of heavy ambient music, is an ensemble of one. The core of the six improvisations on his new album is tuned percussion—kalimba—looped and run through effects. There is the unmistakably heavy ambient sound of floating rhythm and stretched, resonant tones portentously overhanging a low-frequency abyss, but the darkness is leavened by the brighter, vibraphone-like timbres of multiplied and processed kalimba: imagine the sound of wind chimes at midnight.

AMN Reviews: Stefan Schmidt: můra; arc/hive b-[classical guitar] [Bandcamp]

Stefan Schmidt, guitarist, composer and sound artist from Baden Baden, Germany, is a musician of many different sides. Although his primary instrument is classical guitar, which he studied in music schools in both Germany and Argentina, he also played electric guitar in punk bands and more recently has broadened out to play other string instruments and to work with electronics, which he often uses to create gradually developing, industrial- and noise-informed soundscapes. The latter is on display in můra, a set of nine pieces for cello and electronics. Throughout the album, Schmidt applies different types of electronic processing to his cello work. The title track and opening piece, for example, uses granular synthesis to transform bowed strings into skittering waves of abstract sound while still retaining something of the cello’s native sound. As on můra so on other tracks the acoustic instrument is recognizable even as its sound undergoes metamorphoses. On zoufalství a single bowed tone surfaces and descends relative to a deep bass foundation; on hřbitor the instrument’s sound is stretched and slowed to the point where one can imagine each individual hair of the bow pulling on the string. On rubáš the cello takes on a motoric sound, revving on a slow trill.

Several months before he released můra, Schmidt released arc/hive b [classical guitar], a collection of previously unissued performances for classical guitar spanning fifteen years. The fourteen tracks ably demonstrate the broad extent of Schmidt’s engagement with the instrument and its sonic potential. The playing ranges from conventional, as in juuichigatsu, to largely conventional with a judicious application of extended technique (gesrah), to almost entirely unconventional (eraly dren and maqtred, the latter a delicately beautiful piece constructed almost completely from harmonics). Prominent are pieces featuring electronic processing of the guitar, whether with granular synthesizer, loops or other forms of sonic augmentation. The final track, the nearly fifteen-minute-long muara, is a heavily treated performance that points forward to Schmidt’s recent work with sounds drawn from a dark ambient palette.

Daniel Barbiero