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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Pascal Niggenkemper le 7ème continent - Kipppunkt (Subran Musiques Aventureuses, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

2016’s Talking Trash, Pascal Niggenkemper’s debut album with the le 7ème continent group , was one of the first I can recall to directly reference and meditate on the damage wrought by humans on the natural world. The album opened with “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and was followed by a song titled with the coordinates of one of the patches ( we now know there are actually two ) and developed as a meditation on plastic and the potential for an organism (“Ideonella Sakaiensis”) to devour plastics.

The following year, Niggenkemper recorded a follow-up, released now as part of blòc, a massive set of new music. Kipppunkt is German for “tipping point,” and the cover photo of stacks of shipping containers tipping directly references the staggering number of containers that go missing in the ocean every year . Most of the group remains the same, Julián Elvira on flute and electronics, Joris Rühl and Joachim Badenhorst on clarinets and electronics, and Philip Zoubek on piano and synths, with Liz Kosack subbing in for Eve Risser. Niggenkemper calls the recording “collapsing container ship music for double trio or triple duo,” and it’s (once again) a fascinating, evocative, and addictive set.

Opening with the brief “Luiperd-Brulpadda”—named for two natural gas and oil fields off the coast of South Africa—like a journalist, Niggenkemper’s done his research; like a novelist, his titled and compositions are packed with references to lead listeners down a number of paths. It’s only a small part of what makes these albums so successful, the chief reason of course is the music itself. The sextet moves in small groups, as described, trios and duos alternately intersecting, moving in parallel, and, at times, seeming to reflect on each other. On the surface, there’s a chamberesque quality to tracks like “undercurrent” and “interne Gezeiten,” with a sharpened edges and dissonant tones that call to mind the quaking, rocking ships that provided inspiration. Nothing’s as obvious as all that; Badenhorst and Rühl, together with Elvira, the winds weave brilliantly through and around the bass and piano. As with the first album, Zoubek and Kosack trade percussive riffs with stark, shattering runs, as on “Kipppunkt.”

As “internal waves” winds down, in its referential final minutes, Niggenkemper maintains the connection of this music to the complexities and tragedies that inspired it. There’s enough time to properly sit and think about all that’s come, over the course of the previous hour, and all that’s yet to come, more music, yes, but also more exploration and action. As a record of a mind in constant, curious motion, Kipppunkt is one more milestone in Niggenkemper’s incredible career.