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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Christian Lillinger’s Open Form For Society - Open Form For Society (Plaist, 2019) *****

By Martin Schray
2018 was a very good year for the German drummer Christian Lillinger, both as to music and commercial success. He released an excellent album of his project Grund, as well as Boulez Materialism, a live recording with his quartet consisting of Christopher Dell (vibraphone), Johannes Brecht (electronics) and Jonas Westergaard (bass), and finally Punkt.Vrt.Plastik, his superb piano trio with Katja Draksler (piano) and Petter Eldh (bass). In addition, he founded his own label, Plaist, which enables him to release music without making any compromises.

Open Form For Society, Lillinger’s new album, is like a condensate of his previous projects and it’s also his most ambitious one to date. The band is an ensemble of nine internationally acclaimed musicians - three key instruments (Kaja Draksler, Elias Stemeseder, Antonis Anissegos), three percussionists (Lillinger himself on drums; Christopher Dell and Roland Neffe on vibraphone), two basses (Robert Landfermann, Petter Eldh) and a cello (Lucy Railton) - and enables the music of high plasticity and depth of focus desired by Lillinger. It’s a new kind of chamber music in a sound space that feeds on new classical music, bebop, hiphop, prog-rock, musique concrète, drum'n'bass and improvised music. Basically, this is a recurring approach in Lillinger's music, however it is increasingly used in a percussive approach here (Lucy Railton's cello is the only instrument that is a more melodious one).

If you are a bit familiar with Lillinger’s music you can see its development. In several pieces the principle of sound proliferation as well as its limits are further explored, something that has already been started on Boulez Materialism. Open Form For Society is a collection of shorter pieces that were clearly conceived as a project: The music was created within a fixed period of time, in a defined room (a studio in Hamburg that is usually used for pop and hiphop recordings and which has a lot of vintage equipment, which gives the music a very cool sound) with selected musicians and a sound engineer. A sonic environment was to be created in order to develop, interpret and follow structures which are opened and connected again and again. All this was intended to happen simultaneously.
Lillinger's compositions, on which he’s worked for two years, serve as a musical common ground. Nevertheless, the free, intensive, discursive process in the studio is always in the foreground, the music flows freely despite the given material. The 5-day working process, which all participants spent in the same place, enabled the realization and further development of compositions, sound ideas and concepts. “Nothing was left to arbitrariness, we spent all the money that was at hand. We intended to define a new standard in the mediation of complexity in music between sound membranes (loudspeakers) and listeners“, said Lillinger after the recordings had been completed.

The following pieces can serve as examples: “Piece for Upright and Grand Piano“, the opener, stands in the tradition of new classical music, in which the purely classical approach is alienated by the preparations in one of the pianos. This creates a kind of natural distortion, which is intensified by strong dynamic differences. The rhythmic density, reminiscent of large sound blocks which are shifted and rearranged constantly, becomes obvious in “Aorta“. In this track Elias Stemeseder's synthesizer stands out, it tears up sound patterns like silk shreds, which is another alienation effect. Then, “Thür“ and “Titan“ follow a pointillistic and repetitive approach, in “Thür“ with the pianos and the vibraphone at the beginning, which are processed throughout the piece and strongly diversified further on, so that they almost get lost in the vastness of sound, which is very exciting to follow. These are also recurring motifs in Lillinger's music. Yet, there’s something surprisingly new: In “Basel“ a small melody flashes up, which then becomes rather spooky and almost decently disappears into the orcus. Also, “Sisyphos (CMS)“ is based on a cool jazz riff. The track can almost be considered a small hit, but as soon as the music is on the verge of getting too accessible, it’s alienated by distortions bit by bit. Polyrhythmic structures and melodies meet tricky fat grooves on Open Form For Society; long, extremely virtuoso lines serve as soundscapes through acceleration and deceleration. So, on the one hand, this is a typical Lillinger album.

On the other hand, it’s even more for him. It represents a microcosmic model of society that is said to function as a possible model for society in general. Thus, Karl Popper’s Open Society is deliberately in the name of the project, which focuses on the “critical abilities of man“. Here, this principle is translated into a discursive working process. But even without the philosophical meta-level Open Form For Society is a fascinating, outstanding album.

Christian Lillinger’s Open Form for Society is released on Lillinger's own PLAIST (Edel) label and is available as 180g double vinyl (limited edition), CD and as a digital download.

You can order it directly from the label:

You can listen to“Thür“ here:


You can listen to “KFKA“ here:


Nick Metzger said...

Amazing album Martin, thanks for reviewing it!