Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Martin Küchen - ...and everything inside came down as dust (Confront)

[Needless to say, the above image isn't from the Confront release, but I could only find a non-.jpg image on-line and, well, you know, it's a Confront metal box release... :-) ]

Küchen's work in recent years, at least to the extent of my having heard and seen it, has been notable for its huge emotional charge, for his willingness to use near programatic content to convey his anger and frustration at events in the world. And it's been very powerful stuff. I'm tempted, therefore, to search for more of the same in this release (especially given the evocative album title) but these aspects, if present, are cast in much more oblique light. One gets the sense that there's something conceptual afoot, but it's difficult to put one's finger on exactly what that is. We learn, from the Confront site, that the recordings took place in the Expedithalle in Vienna, a huge space, "Europe's largest bread factory prior to World War II". Whether this fact has larger ramifications, I'm not aware, nor if the track titles, containing what I take to be physical measurements of the structure ("5 million sq ft of painted surfaces", for example) hold any greater significance. The last of the six cuts, however, dispenses with figures and is simply called, "Ritual defamation of Vienna". "Ritual defamation" is a term used, among other places, in the Arab/Israeli conflict to describe a strategy on the part of the latter to destroy the reputation, character, etc. of the Palestinian community via malicious speech. As Küchen is well known for his involvement in this issue, I take it that's part of the enigma here, though what Vienna has to do with things, I've no idea.

The music is obscure as well, though very strong. Again with the exception of the final track, Küchen conforms to a general structure each time out. His playing is much more restrained than is often the case, concentrating on low, liquid key pops, harsh breaths (Küchen, more than most saxophonists, has always treated his instrument rawly, like a metal tube with holes) and relatively quiet squeaks. What's unusual is his accompaniment. Again, no info is provided but they appear to be recordings, severely distorted, from other musical sources. On the first cut, it seems like a keyboard, perhaps a harpsichord (Bach?) though the quality makes it seem like the most distorted Fender Rhodes you've ever heard. Küchen burbles along beside it, showing no audible awareness of it, just two music generators sharing the same space. (I should mention that, throughout, there's no particular impression of being in a large space--everything seems very close mic'd.) On the next piece, amidst those raw, throat-scraping breaths, we hear a similarly grainy and distorted recording, but this time of Arabic music, a male voice and, I think, an ensemble. It comes and goes, conveying more of a ghost-like presence, though a vivid one. I think the following piece contains grainy radio (maybe all the external music is radio-sourced?), but it's more difficult to distinguish, Küchen producing strained whistles; the track is all the stronger for this mystery, very moving somehow. The fourth work more or less recapitulates the first, both with the harpsichord and key pops, though both quieter and more gnarled, more inward-collapsing--intense, personal and disturbing. The fifth track, "1200 elevators", includes wonderfully deep flutters and again, that radio sound, that seems to just barely impinge on a broadcast, eventually picking up, I think, some Arabic content; great stuff, oddly forceful. Finally, we hear Küchen unaccompanied, in some respects sounding more "familiar", circular-breathing a thin but multi-layered series of hollow tone and squeaks. No harpsichord, no Arabic music or radio, just the saxophonist, perhaps a bit tortured by those apparitions, desperately attempting to exorcise them.

Good, tough work, hard and scabrous.


1 comment:

Richard Pinnell said...

I haven't figured out yet if the "external" musical recordings are via radio or tape, but I firmly suspect radio, and the distortion of the sound is because Martin places the radio (unless he has acquired a small tape player or speaker since I saw him last) directly into the bell of his sax as he plays it. Would explain your sensation of close-mikedness also.