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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Martin Küchen - Utopia (Thanatosis Produktion, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

The solo work of Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen is almost the opposite of his work with his ensemble "Angles". 

"Utopia" sounds more like a 'dystopia', with no discernable moments of joy and a dark mood throughout. Küchen plays in different layers, combining the sustained sounds of his tenor and alto with electronics, tambora, snare, speaker and radio (providing ambient sounds, including singing). The album fits in a series of other comparable work like "Hellstorm" (2012), "Lieber Heiland, Lass Uns Sterben" (2017), and "Det Försvunnas Namn" (2020).

On "Utopia", there is a constant scraping background noise that is hard to describe in words, with resonating sympathetic strings, through which the sax tries to pierce with deeply sad sounds, intimately and oppressed, with a voice that is often hoarse, or whispering, fragile, vulnerable. His slow improvisations are lyrical and memorable. They stick to you, as is the intensely somber atmosphere of the album. 

Küchen is a person very concerned with the injustice in the world, with inequalities, the barbarism of war and other human atrocities. While some of his other music is intended to lift us up and break through this darkness by communal joy and dance, here his sound is one of compassion and deep sorrow. 

The title track gives us a minute and nine seconds of silence. Utopia has no voice anymore, or it stopped existing.

There is letter that Franz Kafka once wrote about literature. He writes "Wir brauchen aber die Bücher, die auf uns wirken wie ein Unglück, das uns sehr schmerzt, wie der Tod eines, den wir lieber hatten als uns, wie wenn wir in Wälder verstoßen würden, von allen Menschen weg, wie ein Selbstmord, ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. Das glaube ich.” (But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.)

There is no question that Küchen knows how to wield that axe and break through the frozen sea in us. His music may be uncompromising at times, but that's exactly what makes it great. 

Like the other albums, I can only recommend this one very highly. 

Listen to the beautiful "Martha"