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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Daniel Studer – Extended II For Strings and Piano (ezz-thetics, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Extended II for Strings and Piano consists of three Daniel Studer compositions. All were recorded live at Kunstraum Walcheturm in Zurich, November 14, 2021, and all appear twice: first in stereo and second in binaural. The precise arrangement of musicians and sounds seems central to the project. Philip Zoubek’s piano sits in the front, Alfred Zimmerlin’s violoncello and Frantz Loriot’s viola fan out to the left, Harald Kimmig’s violin and Daniel Studer’s bass to the right. Indeed, as is much of Studer’s music, this is about sound in a specific space, both that in which it was performed and, here, that (the room, the ear) into which the recorded sounds are projected. Therefore, the review below focuses on the binaural versions as heard through headphones.

Given the attention to physical arrangement and versions designed for separate modes of delivery, it might not be surprising that this sounds more like a studio recording than a live one. The instruments sound closely mic’ed. The faintest touch of a bow or rumble of a string comes through clearly, as do Philip Zoubek’s plucky runs up and down the keys. This leads to an arresting dynamic between background and foreground, incidental and almost environmental sounds and the fronted and concerted ones.

The longer piece – Part II – is wide-ranging, an extended exploration of various ideas. This is where the quintet gets the space to go beyond the tighter concentrations of Part I and III. In the process, they create a series of sounds – light scratches, deep reverberating gouges, volleys of tight swipes, tangles of glissando – that can speak to the ear on their own but together make such an engaging whole. The shorter stretches – Part I and III – are more narrative. The first tells a nervous (or maybe eager) story and the third conjures moods somewhat more disconcerting. Zoubek’s pointed piano interventions play a role in this, evoking some balance between pre-exile Schoenberg and more contemporary minimalism. The strings, which are plentiful, also point in these directions, relying on quick strikes and thuds, rather than rapid pizzicato or long stretches of arco. Statements tend to be terse, and development jumpy.

Revisiting what I wrote about the quintet’s 2019’s Extended For Strings and Piano , I am tempted to repeat points about the dialectic between restraint, control and discipline on the one hand and freedom and experimentation on the other. Those certainly apply here. That said, I hear a sigh of relief in Extended IIthat I did not notice in the original , a post-pandemic return driven by pent up energy and a new zeal to make sound together. That insight, however, is subjective and conjectural. One might better approach this as a continuity, or, well, extension of the previous project rather than a laden return to it. Why was the first release limited to one session and 70 minutes? It certainly did not have to be. Extended II shows there is still ground to be charted.

You can find the download of the album on Bandcamp and the CD at your favorite experimental record store.