Saturday, March 19, 2016

2L Recordings' Carola Bauckholt: Ich muss mit Dir reden, Performed by the Cikada Ensemble

I'm saving the best for last. I've been wanting to talk about this album for a while now.

As I've already mentioned once or twice, I've received quite a few 2L Recordings to review over the last few months and now the pile is gone. This lone title, with Cikada written prominently across the front cover, arrived shortly after I returned from CES at the beginning of the year so it was last to be reviewed. That means I really couldn't discuss it in the same context of a trade show as I did with the others. That's unfortunate, because I'd really love to see the crowds respond to it. My gut says I'd clear the room, but at least a couple of people might stay and declare this one of the most intriguing recordings they've ever heard.

To the unadventurous, Cikada might sound like a recording of random sound effects and an occasional BIG moment that makes you leap out of your chair. (For now, I'm just going to call this album Cikada--Carola Bauckholt is the composer, Ich muss mit Dir reden is the title of the album and the piece is performed by the Cikada Ensemble, the same intriguing group responsible for Eivind Buene's Possible Cities/Essential Landscapes.) Perhaps that's why this recording might not work at an audio show or a dealer event. You can't just listen casually. You have to crawl inside these sounds and inhabit the same space.

Once you do this, you start to notice that there are structures and rhythms to these strange sounds. You start to recognize these patterns as somewhat musical. Then you start to notice how many of these sounds are produced by somewhat conventional musical instruments, and how the startling blast of a siren can slowly reveal itself to be a clarinet or a violin. Next, you'll hear a sound rumbling under the floor boards that might be a double bass and it might be a didgeradoo. And is that someone trying to stop a desk fan with their front teeth?

Then, after you make enough of these connections, the music starts to rise out of the chaos as an actual melody, a beautiful one, played with emotion. The surprising part is that these epiphanies, which never appear for more than a minute or so, start to connect to the sound effects until you realize something.

It's all music. It's been so all along.

What I'm describing, of course, is a musical challenge, one that many won't accept. You do have to dig deep into Cikada, and that means reading some of the most descriptive and helpful liner notes I've ever seen. The album contains four lengthy pieces totaling more than 54 minutes, but the music changes its structure so often that the entire experience resembles a suite. In the liner notes, however, you get very specific insights into the meaning of each section, and what images these sounds should evoke. These insights come from two different perspectives--that of Kenneth Karlsson, the pianist and artistic leader of Cikada, and composer Carola Bauckholt. If you feel that Cikada is too overwhelming to digest all at once, these insights will help to bring everything into focus.

I have plenty of experimental music in my record collection. At this point of my life, I'm starting to understand that I really dig most of it. What separates Cikada from the majority of those other albums is the way it is recorded. I've said over and over that these titles from 2L Recordings are state-of-the-art when it comes to sound quality. But this album may win the blue ribbon for its enveloping 3-D presentation--and I'm not even listening to this amazing disc through one of the available surround-sound formats supported by 2L through their innovative recording technologies. There's unprecedented soundstage depth, at least in my experience.

But what's most amazing is how well each performer and each instrument is highlighted on the stage, and how the resonances coming from one instrument interacts with its immediate environment, especially when it comes to the other instruments. You can hear all of that here. You can hear everything. That's why I enjoy this album so much, and why I have to play it in its entirety each time. This is difficult material and it's obviously not for everyone, but reviewing this album has resulted in some of the most memorable listening sessions in quite some time.

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