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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Stefan Schönegg - Enso: Strukturen (impakt Records, 2021)

By Ron Coulter

Enso: Strukturen is a lovely, contemplative, 10-track release of compositions from the German, composer, improviser, and double bassist, Stefan Schönegg. It was released on the Cologne-based label that he runs, impakt Records, on November 19, 2021.

His ensemble, Enso, featured on this album consists of: Michael Thieke, clarinet; Sandra Weiss, bassoon; Nathan Bontrager, cello; Stefan Schönegg, double bass; and Etienne Nillesen, extended snare drum. Schönegg describes this variable-personnel group as dealing “with quiet intensities in between free improvisation and composition…” and it is further described on Schönegg’s website as:

For his ensembles entitled Enso, Schönegg writes contemporary chamber music for different instrumentations. Since launching the project back in 2016 he has embraced minimal materials for the group, allowing for patient exploration of tone colors and melodic gestures, blurring the line between improvisation and composition.

These are accurate descriptions. Strukturen tanslates to structures, and the first six tracks of the album are titled 'Struktur I' through 'Struktur VI.' These six tracks have an obvious compositional element (i.e. structure, or perhaps more accurately, form) to them that manifests as durational and pitch controls of some nature; this gives the tracks a sense of coherence/focus and forward motion in their existence. On these six tracks, the group has a cohesive sound, like that of a singular pipe organ or accordion, billowing out subtle phrases with timbre variations creeping in at the edges.

The final four tracks, titled 'Reflexion I' through 'Reflexion IV,' present with less obvious structure to the listener and less focus than the six 'Struktur' tracks. These final four tracks appear to lean more heavily on improvisation than composition, and they have an unsure, tentative quality about them, generally speaking.

Overall the album clocks in around 46 minutes and contains music of subtlety and patience, with performers that are very attentive to sound and its detail and its context. Curious listeners are encouraged to seek out other releases from Schönegg’s various Enso groups, as they will find a wide range of expression and differentiation between iterations of the group. Enso: Strukturen is available as digital download and as a limited edition 12” vinyl LP.