Though Steffen Basho-Junghans has been active in Germany as a musician and visual artist since the late 1970s, it wasnít until Song of the Earth was issued in 2000 by Bostonís Sublingual Records that his music was released in the United States. Self-trained and influenced by the legends (Fahey, Kottke, Basho), Basho-Junghans developed his own particular style, but he remained unheard outside Germany. Sublingualís Jonathan LaMaster was lucky enough to have the opportunity to introduce the U.S. to Basho-Junghansí work, and the majority of his work since has been issued by Portlandís Strange Attractors Audio House, and the artistsí own Blue Moment Arts in Germany. With a technique that mixes the sound of his predecessors with a more forward-looking (and sounding) arsenal of experimental methods and concepts, Steffen Basho-Junghans continues to be a leading voice in modern acoustic guitar music, despite relatively little fanfare.
7 Books is Basho-Junghansí 10th release, two CDs of works for solo 12-string guitar. The artist describes the music as ďa vision of birth and evolution, from the first entry of the universe to modern days.Ē Thereís no obvious or concrete aspects of the music that link it to such a concept, but Lance Hensonís accompanying poems, written after the recording process was complete, offer a better look into the work. After 2003ís Rivers and Bridges exhibited a more placid, sometimes outright pastoral side of Basho-Junghansí playing, these discs feature work thatís much more idiosyncratic and conceptual. Basho-Junghansí playing has always had its own flair, and the material on these discs is decidedly his. Melodies are present often only as fragments, the pieces are built more around space and notes, with some emphasis on rhythm and repetition. Sparse, thin notes arise from his strumming and picking, arising from dark silence. Using a slide on the second discís four pieces, the guitarist tends to build teetering towers of notes that rise and fall in cue to the trackís unstated rhythm. The albumís production allows for none of the guitarís sound to go unheard, and Basho-Junghans uses this to his advantage, as a noteís resonance and slow decay carry as much weight as the note itself. When notes are cut short, or quickly obscured by a further flurry of choked strumming, the pristine recording magnifies it, making each vibration an important event. Basho-Junghansí technique is diverse, and it seems as though every piece makes use of a whole new set of traditional and experimental methods.
Though much of the album is imbued with a fragile beauty, some of 7 Books is surprisingly sterile and distanced. This neednít interfere with enjoyment, but makes some of the albumís tracks seem more like exercises in experiment than anything else, and though theyíre successful enough in this respect, itís hard not to anticipate the moments in which Basho-Junghans weaves his sublime little webs, the real gems of this album. Steffen Basho-Junghans, over the course of his career, has proven equally adept at creating music thatís both technically challenging and beautiful, and when the two meet, as they do, at times here, heís at his marvelous best.
By Adam Strohm