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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The strange universe of Jeremiah Cymerman

By Stef 

For years now, clarinetist and sound engineer Jeremiah Cymerman has been working on his own sound, his own musical vision which is one of strange sounds of utter darkness and distress. Listening to his music is an experience. A weird experience in which you are rocked between attraction and repulsion, because he is not afraid to go far, very far and deep into new sonic possibilities. He is also a master at selecting his companions on his strange journeys.

Jeremiah Cymerman & Frantz Loriot - Seven Bridges (Peira, 2013)

"Seven Bridges" is a duo performance between Cymerman on clarinet and Frantz Loriot ("Bobun", "Baloni") on violin. There is only one tune, thirty-one minutes long. Within this time-frame, you can hear really bizarre interplay, so much even that it's - even for an experienced listener - at times requiring lots of concentrated energy to keep listening. In contrast to many of his other albums, the interaction is purely acoustic, with both instruments being tortured by their respective players into producing short bursts of sound, often unrecognisable as coming from these two instruments. I am not sure what to make from it, but it's not an album that I would go to often. 

Listen and download on Bandcamp

Jeremiah Cymerman - Sky Burial (5049 Records, 2013) ****

Sky Burial” is of a totally different nature. The band is first of all more substantial, with fellow avant-gardists Nate Wooley and Peter Evans on trumpet, and Matt Bauder on saxophone. The four musicians played this album over the course of three days. Afterwards Cymerman cut it into something reduced to fifty-five minutes, with lots of studio edits.

This is the Cymerman as we like him. The dark sonic universe holds the middle between lunacy and spiritual damnation. It is horrific. You hear sounds coming from nowhere, arising like voices in the head of a schizophrenic, like ghosts in a child's nightmare. Cymerman plays with the sounds, juxtaposes them, layers, them, softens them, but all of this with dramatic effect, with suspense being built up, with phrases endlessly repeated, with all sounds suddenly being sucked up by silence, with dark and deep electronic undertones.

This is a horror movie without need for plot or images or actors. This is music that cuts deep into the unconscious and uproots all sense of stability and sanity you thought you had. When you think of what a "listening experience" means, well this is one, but you need open ears, and not be faint of heart.

Jeremiah Cymerman - Real Scars (Mnóad, 2014) ****

"Real Scars" is a solo album, with Cymerman on clarinet, amplifier and electronics, and released on a new Belgian label. Thirty minutes, three tracks, called "Old Wounds", "Deep Cuts", and "Family Of Origin".

The sound is more acoustic than on the other albums, with lots of edits, and overdubs as we have learned to expect, but the dynamics of the music change throughout the album, from more violent use of electronics on the first track, gradually shifting from utter darkness and distress towards a kind of resignation and even a more contemplative part to finish with. Sounds are stretched, shifting in timbre and color around a tonal center, with phrases barely oscillating yet echoing in the distance, contrasted by deep bass tones underneath.

This is an absolutely beautiful album for listeners with open ears, and possibly a great introduction to Cymerman's universe for those who don't know him.

Jeremiah Cymerman - Pale Horse (5049 Records, 2014) *****

The real killer album is without a doubt the newest one - "Pale Horse", with Cymerman on clarinets, Christopher Hoffmann on cello and Brian Chase on drums.

The trio weaves long horizontal tones through each other. The one note is vibrating, changing color and timbre, strangely being flexed somehow, getting more resonance and echo from the other instrument. Other horizontal lines follow, shift, mix, disappear, and reappear, slightly altered, modified, ....

The effect is stunning. The effect is dramatic. Never has music sounded more desolate than this. The most worrying thing is that it sounds human. It sounds like - again - inner voices emphasising something deep and universal, but without escape, without a chance of resolution or redemption or salvation or .... It is at the same time deep underground and high in the sky, it is about deep internal emotions and about a great sense of space.

Cymerman drives his vision to extremes here, more minimal maybe, but not really, because the sounds can be dense and rich at moments, with sudden dramatic explosions of sound, increasing levels of intensity and tension, gradually building up expectations of a change, of a release, which doesn't come, which doesn't come .... until ... until ... This was the first track, called "Dancer".

The second track, "Ghost", starts with the barely audible, with all three instruments electronically modified into layers of low-volume repetitive patterns, again with the dark and low rumbling bass tones adding the most amazing effect, ...then intensity increases with cello and clarinet sawing the same note maddeningly, and not only the intensity, but also the volume - which in the meantime you had already turned much higher to hear what's going in the silent part - creating a stark contrast. Then strangely, the instruments get a kind of normality, with the cello sounding like a cello, the clarinet playing some phrases as if a chamber ensemble had emerged, and you think something is improving, something is changing for the better, something is emerging out of the darkness, out of this dark cesspool of angst and fear ... and then everything goes quiet .... and your expectations are shattered again.

The strongest aspect of this album is that Cymerman, Hoffmann and Chase manage to create a universe, that - although desolate and built up around a monotonal core - is at the same time full of surprises, of little things happening under the surface, of shifts of focus between instruments, of sudden changes that remain unexpected, yet without altering the overall line of sound, keeping things tightly under control and coherent, while at the same time really driving something deep into the listener's being. And it's really the latter that counts. Deep into the listener's being.


Valentine said...

J-Mo is the bee's knees.

Paul Grant said...

Pale Horse is incredible, his best work yet in my opinion.

Lee said...

I'm very excited for Pale Horse. He's a great contributor to the world of creative music. Even beyond what he records, the 5049 podcast is always interesting and funny.