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Friday, June 17, 2022

Ensemble Nikel - Klaus Lang: Bright Darkness (Self Released, 2022)

Ensemble Nikel is a Bern-based alternative chamber quartet featuring American percussionist Brian Archinal, Israeli electric guitarist Yaron Deutsch, Swiss keyboards player Antoine Françoise and German sax player Patrick Stadler. Nickel was founded in 2006 as a music lab “for new musical ideas is not based on aesthetic prejudice or dichotomies of musical genres but on passion and devotion to making and performing great music”, and its repertoire is entirely based on music written for the quartet by both established and up-and-coming composers.

Austrian contemporary composer, organ player and improviser Klaus Lang collaborated before with experimental, contemporary ensembles like the Austrian-German quartet Polwechsel and Klangforum Wien. Lang is famous for his saying that music is “is time that has become audible”, and insists that music is “not a means to convey extramusical contents, such as emotions, philosophical or religious ideas, political propaganda, advertisement etc.“, as well as for his focus on elusive, illusory textures. Bright Darkness, with Lang’s motto: "Listening with clogged ears and seeing with closed eyes” cements his unique compositional approach.

Lang claims that we are all ”impeded in realizing our sensory perception by a learned mechanism of our mind. It’s not uncommon that our preconceived expectations, our prejudices, are exactly the opposite of what we sensorial experience. If we obviate all noises, it gets louder, if we close our eyes, it gets light. We might question what we really see when we close our eyes in order to ‘see nothing’, and what even is our idea of ‘seeing nothing’ and ‘darkness’? The same applies to movement, too. Sometimes we can’t tell whether an object is moving or not. Is it a chord we’re listening to, or a line? A layer or a process? Or is it just our mind moving? Where can we find the answers to these questions?"

Bright Darkness was commissioned from Lang in 2017 and was recorded in Bern in October 2020 after being performed several times before by Nikel, often performing outdoors in parallel to sundown. This 61-minute composition creates an elusive notion about time or the way the sounds move - or simply float - and often it suggests that it barely moves forward or backward at all, creating delicate and minimalist, resonating layers and patterns that keep echoing in each other until all are lost in hypnotic, vibrating statis. Clearly, this composition offers a synesthesia impression of a “temporal phenomenon of audible time”. But if I may add, this notion of frozen time has also moral and humane implications. This elusive ambiance not only demands us to sharpen our aural attention but asks to try and find answers to what we experience and forces us out of our numbing comfort zones.

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