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Monday, August 23, 2021

Elisabeth Coudoux – Emißatett: Earis (Impakt 2021) *****

By Nick Ostrum

EARIS - The ear behind the iris - the idea of seeing without words, of forming a musical poem from the inner emotional landscape, which needs no words.” – from the album notes on Bandcamp

It seems exciting things are going on in Cologne and Impakt is at the fore. Founded in 2014 as a means of promoting the scene through a series of concerts, the collective redirected some of its efforts to establish a music label to document the excitement of a scene of which many people, including myself, had been largely ignorant. (NB: As I was writing this review, Eyal posted an excellent rundown of some of Philip Zoubek’s recent work, which gave some overdue coverage to the scene in Cologne and, briefly, the Impakt label itself.)

I had also been completely unaware of the composer and leader of this effort (and co-founder of the collective) Elisabeth Coudoux. A brief look at her bio reveals training and influences that range from modern composition to free jazz to less-jazz-moored experimentalism, and a fast glance at her discography shows that she has been quite active over the years, recording with Scott Fields, Zeitkratzer, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Steve Swell, Michael Vatcher, Willem de Joode, Christian Lillinger, Pierre Borel… The list goes on. On Earis, Coudoux is joined by Pegelia Gold (voice) and frequent collaborators Matthias Muche (trombone), Robert Lanfermann (basses), Philip Zoubek (prepared piano and synth), and Etienne Nillesen (extended snare drum). Now that I list them, many of these names are familiar. I had known little about the Cologne scene, but apparently not quite as little as I had thought.

Earis is the second release of Coudoux’s Emißatett project, this time incorporating the seraphic vocals of Gold. What an album! It has elements of Boulez-styled freneticism, scratchy free jazz, new music moodiness (Space of Heva), and, at least in the title track’s disorienting melodic spirals, Danny Elfmann’s weirdness. Electronic glitches run through, augmenting the trombone howls, string glissades, and floating incantations of Gold, who then stretches her vocals into searing sirens and laments. Complementing those kinetics are periods of potential energy, wherein vast sonic expanses waft without direction, until the unit congeals once again and erupts in a controlled burst. Earis ebbs and flows in such a fashion, exploring the boundaries between tension and release.

In the process, Coudoux and company produce a truly wholistic and well-balanced recording. Gold stands out most as the vocalist. Apart from her, however, rarely does one musician rise above others for too long, and even then it seems for the sake of the composition rather than to showcase one’s talents. The brief track Peculiar is a partial exception in its energy, bordering on aggression, and in its underlying bass (v)amped on speed and gonzo percussion and the keys, muted trombone and violincello nervously vying to break out in front. But, as the title implies, this is the oddity in this sense. The rest of the album treads different terrain that pays homage to its classical precedents by dragging them into the twenty-first century avant-garde. This is a group effort, and, indeed, Emißatett sounds like a working ensemble rather than a collection of individual, or individualistic, voices. And, Earis is a genuine album, complete with direction, coherence, and vision. I am honestly not sure how well each cut stands on its own. But, together, they cohere into something unerringly engaging and strangely radiant.

Coudoux is a musician, composer, and organizer who seems to be going places, both around greater Köln and beyond. And, having worked through some of the catalog, it seems Impakt is quickly making itself a label to be reckoned with, documenting an exciting group of young musicians that is showing itself a fitting rival/companion to the more established beacons of new music in Europe. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.