Unism

JAN15458

Last noted the Swiss guitarist Flo Stoffner with his …And Sorry album which came out in 2011, itself an impressive array of unusual chord shapes and advanced fingering and strumming techniques, used in the service of tunes that kept changing their mind midstream every so often. With 2014’s Norman (VETO RECORDS 014), we have a far more abstract gumbo of sonic bleatings, showing the fascinating extremes to which Stoffner will row his musical canoe in pursuit of his musical ideas. The notes here describe him as “a sound engineer on his instrument” and promise us this album will deliver “the raw power of an orchestra”, a not altogether empty boast. It’s not quite clear how he’s managing to denature his guitar’s sound to this extent, though it seems to involve electronic interventions and lots of extensive modulations. Given enough black boxes and effects, it may be perfectly possible for a virtuoso like himself to be playing all this weird and unsettling music in real time, although we are advised to listen out for “sophisticated sound layers”, which might mean overdubbing. Strange musical groans, sighs, drones and twitterings ensue; and while we’re often led to the verge of being drawn into the spell of one of his musical whirlpools, there is frequently a very physical element – such as fierce banging on the strings or the side of the instrument – to jolt us out of the trance. The mood throughout is ambiguous, but not especially upbeat, and dark psychological emotions are lapping around our ankles at every step. This may be because many of the tracks, and the album’s title, allude to characters and images in the famous Hitchcock movie Psycho. To his credit, Stoffner does not settle for music that is hysterical or sensational, and to my mind he has captured something of the grim, melancholy undercurrent of that notable piece of cinema. And if you half-close your eyes, the cover art looks like an abstract rendition of the shower scene. From 25 March 2014.

JAN15457

The Polish musician Zygmunt Krauze is a composer, pianist, and music teacher, and numbers at least five operas and many choral pieces in his repertoire. What we have on Fête Galante Et Pastorale (BOLT RECORDS 1021) however is four lengthy instrumental pieces, played by the Polish Radio Symphony and the Warsaw Philharmonic, with guest instrumentalists. Since the early 1950s, Krauze has been developing his concept of “unistic music”, which means that all the elements he intends to use in the entire composition will be laid out in the opening moments; the “essence of the…structure are presented at the very start of the piece.” Thereafter any variations or changes he executes will be completely natural and organic, with no unexpected surprises or contrasts for the listener. I suppose we could view this as the musicial equivalent of “transparency”, a strategy which all public bodies in the UK are currently being urged to undertake 1. If he has succeeded, the result ought to be a piece of music that has a coherence that does not depend on the linear dramatic structure that characterises a significant amount of Western classical composition; even the greats such as Beethoven can’t seem to escape the idea that the composition must somehow gallop its way to a rousing climax of some sort. Krauze was inspired to take this unique compositional path after seeing the abstract paintings of avant-garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski, who also used the same term when he published his book on the subject, Unism in Painting. If any of this leads you to expect a rather static or lifeless music, you might be surprised at how dynamic (and at times, rather conventional) Krauze’s music is, and these four pieces show how he has developed and grown his ideas within the space of a five-year period. Of particular note is the ‘Suite de danses et de chansons’, which draws on Bulgarian folk music sources, and allows the harpsichordist Elzbieta Chojnacka to perform complex, lightly skipping rhythms. There’s also ‘Fête Galante Et Pastorale’, composed in 1975, which contrasts moden instruments (electric bass, keyboards, vibraphones) with traditional bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, fifes and violins played by the Music Workshop. Another release in this label’s “Polish Oldschool” series. From 7th March 2014.

  1. To no effect whatsoever, I might add.