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Olaf Rupp - Whiteout

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Artist: Olaf Rupp

Album: Whiteout

Label: FMP

Review date: Mar. 11, 2009

It could be seen as a testament to human progress that music this painfully cerebral is able to find an audience. Olaf Rupp has been altering notions of what acoustic and electric improvised guitar music can sound like for more than 20 years with the likes of Butch Morris, John Zorn, Stephan Mathieu and Tony Buck. On Whiteout, his first solo release in a decade, the German guitarist doesn’t shy away from the kind of freakish arpeggios or wavering tremolos that dare a timid listener to press the stop button.

Rupp doesn’t generally deal in sheets of blues-drenched volume, ala Keiji Haino or the ear-destroying sludge of Aufgehoben; in fact, there are moments when this disc finds itself nearly as hushed as the work on Hisato Higuchi’s Dialogue. But, by and large, Rupp revels in blistering harmonics and angular runs, delicately pushing his fingers along the strings in order to emphasize distortion and eliminate any opportunity for harmony. At times, it’s almost as if he’s checking his guitar’s pulse. His digits are often a blur, yet his execution is exact. His music is what jazz might sound like after every last bit of entertainment has been eradicated. Any sense of joy, of hard won ecstasy is completely missing. In its place is a chilly impenetrability.

Whiteout’s ever-rational excersions aren’t easy stuff to take in long sittings. Even though these are improvisations, one gets the feeling that most of the time, Rupp has freedom in a chokehold even while he’s exploring the outer limits of his own skills. Whereas by-the-seat-of-their-pants ensembles such as Smegma or the Nihilist Spasm Band can goad a few chuckles, Rupp is deadly serious. And sometimes that’s just no fun at all.

By Bruce Miller

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