Friday, August 6, 2021

Recent Albums of Pianist-Composer Reinhold Friedl

By Eyal Hareuveni

Viennese pianist-composer Reinhold Friedl is known as the artistic director of the Berlin-based avant-garde ensemble zeitkratzer, famous for his radical interpretations of works by Arnold Schönberg, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Alvin Lucier as well as for its adaptations of Kraftwerk music and its collaborations with Lou Reed (adaption of Reed’s Metal Music Machine, Karlrecords, 2014), Keiji Haino, Merzbow and Mariam Wallentin. Friedl studied mathematics and piano with Alexander von Schlippenbach. He is known as an expert for the music of Iannis Xenakis, and he is a persistent explorer of the piano and is an expert of the instrument's extended, inside-the-piano techniques.

Reinhold Friedl - KRAFTT (zeitkratzer productions, 2020) ****

KRAFFT was commissioned by the French State and premiered in Paris and Marseille. It documented the first meeting of zeitkratzer (with clarinet player Frank Gratkowski, trombonist Hilary Jeffery and cellist Elisabeth Coudoux, among others) and the French Ensemble 2e2m (its initials stand for “études et expressions des modes musicaux”, studies and expressions of musical modes), a chamber group from Paris known for their fantastic sound and its pioneering recordings of Giacinto Scelsi’s music. Reinhold, who does not play on this composition, composed KRAFTT (its wrong spelling hints to the ironic-onomatopoetic rendition of the German term “Kraft”, meaning “power” or “force”) with the help of the computer program TTM (Textural Transformation Machine), developed by himself to sculpt multiple random processes.

This composition was conducted by Pierre Roullier and recorded at Eglise Saint-Merry in Paris during Festival Extension. KRAFFT is a 32-minute minimalist-maximal composition: all instruments play in rhythmic unison and demands a kind of textual listening. Only the sounds and their combinations change relentlessly throughout the piece. This composition evokes brilliantly the notion of a huge power about to burst, but its elusive yet dramatic progression and its unsettling tension leave the listener with no clue exactly when or how its tension is going to be released, if at all.

Reinhold Friedl & Eryck Abecassis - animal électrique (Editions Mego, 2020) ****

It took ten years for French analog synth player Eryck Abecassis and Friedl to realize this recording. Only after François Bonnet (Director of GRM, Groupe de Recherches Musicales of the National Audiovisual Institute, aka Kassel Jaeger) invited the two composer-performers to the Akousma Festival 2019 at Radio France in Paris, Abecassis and Friedl rehearsed together and defined the melting pot of their distinct sonic aesthetics, captured best in the title of the album animal électrique. Friedl’s piano becomes an abstract sound and noise machine, with electronic overtones while Abecassis’ analog synth sings brutal and raw voices. The album was recorded at Studio Luc Ferrari, La Muse en Circuit, CNCM, in Paris in June 2019.

Friedl and Abecassis focused on precise and nuanced transitions between accurately defined musical states. The album begins with an elusive and poetic dream-state of “animal électrique 2”, where the delicate but noisy synth overlaps the sonorities of the prepared piano and often sounds as extending the quiet, resonating sounds of the piano strings; it visits intense and brutal storms of “animal électrique 1” and “animal électrique 5”; shifts gears into the hypnotic texture “animal électrique 3” and the mysterious and often silent texture of “animal électrique 6”; and ends with the introspective and simply beautiful “animal électrique 4”, described by Friedl and Abecassis as “detuned operatic aria.”

Reinhold Friedl - Old Neo (Superpang, 2020) ***½

The label Superpang is notoriously known for the minimalist details it provides on its releases and Old Neo is no exception. All that the bandcamp page of the label says is that Friedl composed this 34-minute piece in 2020 and all sounds were made with the historic electronic piano Neo-Bechstein.

This electric grand piano was built by Walther Nernst in the 1930s and is considered to be one of the first amplified instruments. It features 18 humbucker pickups, each covering 5 strings. As the piano did not need a soundboard anymore, the traditional hammer mechanics had to be made differently and much lighter, and stress its sustaining sounds. The Neo-Bechstein was restored by David Balzer, who introduced it to the Berlin music scene in 2002. About a year later Friedl got interested in the instrument and suggested a polyphonic modification. Blazer modified the original mono-wiring to an 18-channel setup, so each pickup could be amplified and processed separately. This modification allowed a dynamic spatialization system with an array of loudspeakers that emphasized the transparency gained from the re-wiring.

Friedl already composed for this unique instrument, Neo-Bechstein Golden Quinces Earthed, 2011 (2003) (Bocian, 2015). Old Neo is an enigmatic drone that fully employs the sustaining and reverberant power of the rare Neo-Bechstein. This instrument allows Friedl to further develop his inside-the-piano techniques and to ornament this dark drone with subtle and ethereal, electric noises and dissonant overtones.

Reinhold Friedl & Elliott Sharp - Anostalgia (zOaR, 2020) ***½

This duo grew out of American polymath Elliott Sharp collaboration with zeitkratzer that began in the late nineties when Sharp composed “Coriolis Effect” for the ensemble and culminated in the recording of zeitkratzer and Sharp, Oneirika (Live At Berghain Berlin) (Karlrecords, 2017). Friedl and Sharp recorded Anostalgia at the Elektroakustisches Studio der Akademie der Künste Berlin in 1999 (originally released by Church Grob, 2014, now re-released by Sharp’s label zOaR), and two years later in New York the follow-up album Feuchtify (Emanem, 2006).

Sharp, like Friedl, is a master of eclecticism, a multi-instrumentalist (who plays here guitar, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and electronics), who has played and wrote music for blues, art rock, drums n’ bass, film soundtrack and contemporary music. In Anostalgia, Friedl concentrated on preparations and playing inside the piano, and his defamiliarized, layered sounds acted as a catalyst upon the somber playing of Sharp.

The cover art (designed by Sharp’s partner Janene Higgins) may suggest a distant, foggy atmosphere. But the ten short pieces offer different modes of mostly fiery yet intriguing sonic collisions, always focused on exploring unorthodox and thorny uncharted territories, and still sound fresh and urgent. Sharp is the dominant figure in this duo and often his electric guitar or bass are echoed through the piano strings as both instruments blend into dense electric storms (“A Chance Moment”, “Inkognito” and the centerpiece “Nostalgia”). On other pieces, the prepared piano of Friedl is transformed into an alien and noisy percussive machine (“Sand”, “Afterlight”, “Dust Age” and “Lipstuck”). “Ostesh” is the exception here, a playful, cinematic piece with strong lyrical veins.

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