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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Deconstructed Guitars of Burkhard Stangl

Viennese guitarist-composer Burkhard Stangl has played in a variety of musical contexts, from modern, chamber jazz projects (check his work with trumpeter Franz Koglmann), to collective, free-improvised outfits that explored noisy spectrums as the Polwechsel quartet, efzeg quintet, Schnee duo (with Christof Kurmann) and Chesterfield duo (with partner Angélica Castelló) to writing contemporary music for various ensembles and solo guitar works. His new releases finds him collaborating with two distinct sound artists, exploring old and new technologies. 

Burkhard Stangl & dieb13 -Jardin Des Bruits (Mikroton, 2019) ****½

Burkhard  Stangl and fellow-Viennese turntables wizard-sound artist dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič), known from his work with Mats Gustafsson in (Fake) The Facts and Swedish Azz), released their first duo album Eh almost twenty years ago (erstwhile, 2002), parallel to their work with the efzeg quintet. Jardin Des Bruits (Garden Of Noises in French) is an excellent title for Stangl and dieb13's continuous exploration of the sonic interactions and possibilities between guitars and record players, acoustic and electric, old and new. The album was recorded at Instants Chavires and the streets and metro trains of Paris and Montreuil in May 2019, and later mixed by the artists. The artwork is by French, fellow sound artist Julien Ottav, founder and artistic programmer of the experimental music organisation APO33.

Stangl once said that he allows himself to play his special, so-called eh tuning only in his duo with dieb13, because of its high emotional tension verging on nostalgia. And indeed Jardin Des Bruits investigates the tension between innocent, fragile and transparent sounds, often played by Stangl and distorted, dirty and noisy ones, most of the time played by dieb13 on acoustic and electronic gramophones and electronics. Together they create a kind of a suite-story comprised of twenty, minimalist segments, some are only a few seconds long, but all suggest alluring, seductive images, even when both dive head on into abstract yet strangely lyrical, white noises as on “Noisy Track”. Stangl and dieb13 pay a symbolic debt to pioneer electroacoustic works on “Sortie de Secours d'IRCAM” (ICRAM is the French Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique where Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez began their sonic experiments). Both enjoy the playfulness irony of “Kabuki”, the cinematic tension of “Godzilla”and the witty “Symphonie für einen Staubsauger” (Symphony for a vacuum cleaner). The emotional version of “eh² live” is a beautiful conclusion of this fascinating journey.

In a way, Jardin Des Bruits is a poetic, sonic reflection of our daily soundtracks, where our most inner and private thoughts are constantly targeted and polluted by random noises and greedy, capitalist corporations and state agencies. Somehow, Stangl and dieb13 offer a clever and balanced perspective that allows us to employ and exploit these disturbing noises to our benefit and cultivate our very own gardens of sounds and noises.

Joanna John / Burkhard Stangl - Lynx (Interstellar Records, 2019) ****

The collaboration between Stangl and Polish-born, Norway-based audio-visual artist Joanna John (she designed the artwork for his recent Zwölf album, Bocian, 2018, as well as for Lynx) explores electroacoustic, textual soundscapes. John plays the acoustic guitar in a very slow and quiet manner, and adds processed layers of Stangl’s deconstructed electric guitar that dissolves and echoes her own playing, subverting and contrasting her soft and warm tones with its intensity and dark spirit. This way of constructing the eight soundscapes is compared to “an excursion into the wilderness, or an encounter with the eponymous lynx”.

These intimate, dream-state soundscapes succeed to radiate simultaneously a strong emotional atmosphere and often even a tempting, sensual dimension but also a disturbing, threatening tone. You can feel it in the chilly “November Air” or “From The Distance” with their gentle waves of resonating acoustic guitar lines being washed away by a threatening, darker undercurrent. Later, “Taming a Deer” takes these complimenting courses and develops a surprising psychedelic texture. Only on “Her Presence And Tides” John and Stangl sound as courting and sparking each other in a delicate, somehow erotic dance. The dark undercurrent is intensified on the noisy drone of “Gravity” but the last “X” finds a peaceful common ground between the psychedelic tones of John and the suggestive guitar lines of Stangl.