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Kassel Jaeger / Giuseppe Ielasi & Kassel Jaeger - Fernweh / Parallel/Greyscale

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Artist: Kassel Jaeger / Giuseppe Ielasi & Kassel Jaeger

Album: Fernweh / Parallel/Greyscale

Label: Senufo / Editions Mego

Review date: Mar. 19, 2013

“When you listen to a concert, for example for cello and orchestra, you are not pointing out each instant ‘this is a cello sound’, you listen to music. And it is the same with sound.” This is Christian Zanesi, artistic director of France’s INA GRM, making the argument for sound, as opposed to notes and scales and such, as a musical device. More specifically, he’s referring to our limited way of understanding musique concrète, the form of music the French studio is famous for. It’s about more than identifying what sound X used to be or how it was transformed, he’s suggesting. It’s about more than describing the physical characteristics of a sound or generating a catalogue of sonic ingredients on a particular recording. It’s about getting at musical relations. It’s an intellectual challenge as well as an intuitive one. It’s about us as listeners actively locating expressiveness.

It’s just this sort of challenge that Zanesi’s colleague at GRM, François Bonnet (working under his Kassel Jaeger moniker) and Giuseppe Ielasi lay down over these releases. Parallel / Greyscale is the debut recording of the duo’s collaborations, while Fernweh is Bonnet’s sixth solo release (and third on Ielasi’s own Senufo Editions). There are field recordings, laptop improvisations, analog devices from synthesizers to small motors, mechanically excited string instruments and more. But the music on these records is impossible to reduce to instruments or methods. The sources are too varied, and more crucially, the process is subsumed into the fabric so thoroughly that it ceases to matter.

Ielasi and Jaeger constructed Parallel / Greyscale from improvisations they conducted in Paris and Italy. So while the album might be improvised in its origins, it feels hermetic, sealed off from how we might normally understand a spontaneous performance. It mixes the evolutionary with the episodic, as Jaeger and Ielasi freely move between hives of microrhythms and inscrutable pulses to passages of extended, enveloping low frequencies. Transitions come gradually or emerge from fade-outs. Intention and accident are intertwined in the compositions. These are hybrids, in more ways than one, the constant push-and-pull between the flow of electronic and acoustic sounds producing a fascinating, hypnotic tension.

Fernweh follows the arc of Bonnet’s previous Senufo releases. There is the unceasing stream of sound, what some reviewers have called drone, but it is more about density and detail. Bonnet doesn’t use the pure tone of a string instrument or its chording ability. Instead, he zooms in on the feral buzz. Static becomes pointillist, an all-encompassing drizzle of texture. But more important than Bonnet’s acoustic/synthetic contrasts are how he highlights them. Background becomes foreground, jump cuts open up fissures in the compositions to new worlds, gradual overlays evoke a slow metamorphosis of sound.

Ultimately, this obsession with the peripheral, marginal and gradual is what the two releases share. This is secretive music. It obscures its origins and hides its logic. The title Fernweh becomes a mission statement for both releases, a way of listening, of experiencing the music. The word means “wanderlust” in German, and it gets as close as any verbal form to what this music invokes. You have to wander about inside it, determine its idiosyncratic logic and come up with your own geography for it. It’s why the transitions are so crucial. These moments alert you to the essential instability of these pieces. Instead of contrast between sounds we hear as organic and biological and sounds we hear as synthetic, we hear a continuum. One system illuminates another.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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