POLWECHSEL & KLAUS LANG: UNSEEN- REVIEWS

I had lost sight of the whereabouts of Werner X. Uehlinger's glorious Hat Hut imprint, which in fact fully resumed its activity only in January 2019, introducing the sub-label 'ezz-thetics' with unpublished archival live sets by avant-jazz legends and other sessions of contemporary free improvisation. Therefore it also could not miss the return of a by now historical formation, which with Unseen crosses the 25-year milestone.
The name Polwechsel is synonymous with unexplored and perhaps unexplorable territories, a cautious advance in the dark by means of a sound expression that disregards traditional canons and techniques. In their eighth album, the main core now represented by Burkhard Beins, Martin Brandlmayr (percussions), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass) and Michael Moser (cello) is joined by the Austrian Klaus Lang, a prolific experimenter and organist already published by other high-profile labels such as Edition RZ, Col Legno, Kairos and Another Timbre. The pipe organ is undoubtedly the key element of the three compositions presented here - signed by Lang, Moser and Dafeldecker respectively -, in close relationship with the acoustic resonances of the Stiftskirche in St. Lambrecht, Austria.
In the liner notes, the sound artist Joanna Bailie rightly underlines the acousmatic nature of these investigations, that is, the untraceability of the sources within an extremely diversified framework of tonal and sub-harmonic accumulations. A disorientation which is particularly evident in "Redeem", where Lang's and Dafeldecker's abysmal introspection produces the murky base from which all the other sonic apparitions originate, a menacing primordial soup that embodies the mystery and horror of all that transcends human knowledge. Only halfway through the piece does the just intonation of the organ stand out, although the screech of bowed cymbals continues to fuel its sinister omen.
More free-form and relatively "impressionistic", on the other hand, is the initial sequence: the ineffable dramaturgy of "Easter Wings" seems to unravel from the most recondite ravines of memory, with onomatopoeic jolts and chromatic punctuations that propagate in a disorderly way among the vast gothic arches of the abbey church.
Taking its inspiration from a poem by the troubadour Guilhem de Poiteu, "No sai cora-m fui endormitz" ('I don't know when I'm asleep') introduces an irregular and elusive theme repeated at an agitated rhythm for several minutes, until the ensemble's chorality dissolves in a solemn and misty drone through which the streams of the entire harmonic spectrum seem to flow; at minute ten the strings and the organ once again pick up the intricate upward phrasing with longer pauses between the reiterations, while Beins and Brandlmayr outline the limits of the stereophony with light strokes on the cymbals; Lang's final solitary notes rise towards the high register, like the light beams of a momentary Messiaen-like ecstasy.
Thanks to an exceptional location and the atmospheric contribution of Klaus Lang, the Polwechsel collective gives shape to that which to this date is perhaps its most radical and totalist experiment, the exponentiation of a compositional practice that truly exists only in the immediacy of the present time.
- Michele Palozzo, Esoteros -

The current incarnation of the experimental Austrian-German quartet Polwechsel featuring founders cellist Michael Moser and double bass player Werner Dafeldecker, and the two percussionists who joined the quartet later on, Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr. The group teams up with Austrian contemporary music composer, concert organist, and improviser Klaus Lang (who recorded before with Dafeldecker, Lichtgeschwindigkeit, GROB, 2003) for Unseen, recorded at the Grosskirche of St. Lambrecht's Abbey, Austria, in November 2018.
Unseen plays with the old - the acoustic, resonant space of the centuries-old church with its built- in organ and its vast range of both frequency and tonal colors and the vintage, analog synthesizer sounds, played by Lang, together with the so-called classical instruments, and the new - sonic ambiguity, strange hybrids, illusory associations, and instruments that are rendered unfamiliar by the smoke and mirrors of 'acoustic' mixing, masking, and reverberation. Unseen is tuned into the boundless power of the acousmatic, the idea that when we can't see the source of what we hear, the listening individual - or the musician - is given an opportunity, freedom even, to interpret that sound in any manner that they can possibly imagine. Polwechsel and Lang irreverent approach to genres, sounds, silence, and extended techniques, all blur the distinction between composition and real-time improvising, and realizing of the score and between free-improv and contemporary music.
The first composition, Lang's "Easter Wings", makes full use of the acoustic space qualities in order to create an elusive, illusory conception and to suggest an atmosphere of abrupt noises, sonic clusters, and natural harmonics. The church organ of Lang fills the resonating space and affects the instruments of Polwechsel, modifying their acoustic sounds to the point of being unrecognizable. All sounds seem to be lost in the resonating, low tones mechanical forest that the organ, or shaped by its low register, including the fascinating rustle of the metallic cymbals. But out of this ethereal, reductionist forest of sounds surfaces a delicate and enigmatic melodic vein then the bowed cello and the double bass and the percussion instruments sound more clearly.
Moser's "No sai cora-m fui endormitz" ("I don't know when I'm asleep" from a poem by the troubadour Guilhem de Poiteu) puts again the church organ and the acoustic space in the position of conspiring with the other instruments to produce a sound that is more than the sum of its parts. This kind of hybrid instrumentation plays in highly disciplined, rhythmic unison that slowly mutates, and rearranges its constituent parts into various combinations and layers of overlapping sonorities, and patiently builds a tension of sustained, resonating sounds.
Dafeldecker's "Redeem" concludes this unique collaboration. This piece offers another elusive atmosphere as the low, saturated tones of the organ and the double bass are disturbed by ripples of mysterious noises but are determined to reach a desperate kind of musical stasis. Later on, the organ re-enters with brighter, lighter chords, together with bowed metal instruments, and this composition is concluded with layers of sustained, inventive organ and noisy percussive sounds, all seem to be liberated from the concrete realities of instrumentation by this distinct acousmatic context.
You may need few, intense listening to Unseen, but then there is no way back. You probably would acquire new sensitivities and perspectives about sound over all, acoustic vs. electronic, layers of sound, sound, and space, and most importantly, the ambiguous qualities of sound.
- Eyal Hareuveni, The Free Jazz Collective -

Now, here's a name that I haven't seen in a while, Polwechsel. The group with Michael Moser (cello), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass), Burkhard Beins (cymbals, selected percussion) and Martin Brandlmayr (cymbals, selected percussion). Here they team up with Klaus Lang on the church organ on a recording made in a church in November 2018. It is not a live recording as it took place over a few days. Before I started playing this I (subconsciously probably) checked my expectations and I thought this would be very carefully played improvisations. Upon checking the cover I noticed that with each of the three pieces a name is listed as a composer, so maybe not so improvised? More likely, this is that grey area where composition offers some guidelines and the players are free to play as they see fit. This results in three quite different pieces.
'Easter Wings' (composed by Lang) is perhaps the one piece that has the most conventional approach, and I use the word 'conventional' not very easy. The instruments are recognized as such, even when they play not so conventional music. I could think there are some electronics at work, especially in the treatment of the church organ, but it's not. In this piece, the five players already move through various distinct parts, ranging from chaotic to drone-like. In Moser's 'No Sai Cora-M Fui Endormitz' the drone aspect of all five instruments is explored, with everybody bowing and scraping their instruments in a very careful manner. When it reaches it's natural, it breaks down into smaller fragments.. 'Redeem' (Dafeldecker) uses a cymbal to bow piercing sounds, and the other three play majestic slow and dark drones at the beginning and also starts to fall apart but there are still quite orchestral passages within this piece. This is probably my favourite piece out of these three, but of course, I don't need to choose; they are all great!
- Frans De Waard, Vital Weekly -

Der aus Österreich stammende studierte Musiker und Komponist Klaus Lang hat sich für das Album Unseen mit dem Schweizer Ensemble Polwechsel, welches im weiten Bereich des Contemporary und der modernen Klassik bewegt, zusammengetan. Das Album beinhaltet drei lange Kompositionen. Die erste stammt von dem Österreicher und läuft über 25 Minuten. Von seinem Instrument, der Orgel, kommen seltsame, eher flötenähnliche Sounds aus den Pfeifen. Langsam gesellen sich die anderen Instrumente hinzu. Mal mit Contemporary-Sounds, dann auch mal mit melodiösen, aber sehr kammermusikalischen Parts vom Cello. Die Orgel webt dann nach und nach einen sanften Sound unter dieses Stück, das sich dann nach 10 Minuten entwickelt hat. So entsteht auch unter Einsatz sanfter Perkussion etwas zwischen moderner Klassik, Contemporary und sogar ein wenig Post-Rock- Atmosphäre kommt auf. Ich fühle mich hier ein wenig an die ruhigen Parts von Talk Talks Spirit of Eden erinnert, ohne dass sich die Musik tatsächlich ähneln würde. Nach 17 Minuten ändert sich das Soundbild dann auch wieder in ein contemporäres, die Klänge übernehmen und die Melodie verschwindet und alle instrumentalen Klänge vermengen sich zu einem großen, aber doch kammermusikalischen Klangbild.
Das zweite und mit 16:40 kürzeste Stück stammt von Michael Moser (Polwechsel). Dieses eröffnet wiederum mit hohen Orgelpfeifenklängen, die in diesem Falle jedoch vom Cello unterstrichen werden. Mitunter setzt die Orgel mit einem kräftigem hohen Akkord ein, insgesamt bleibt jedoch der eher diffuse Sound der Instrumente im Vordergrund. Nach ca. 6 Minuten übernimmt dann die Orgel mit einem kräftigem Akkord. Ein dunkler, sakraler Sound breitet sich aus. Dieser lässt den Raum genau bis Minute 10 erfüllt, dann verebbt er schlagartig und nach einer kleinen Pause setzen die Anfangssounds, diesmal von leichter Perkussion und dem Rauschen von Cello und (oder?) Orgel unterstützt, wieder ein.
Das abschlie├čende 25 Minuten lange Stück stammt von Werner Dafeldecker (Polwechsel) und erüffnet mit dunklen, tiefen Orgelklängen, die wie ein Drone daher kommen und sich langsam in hellere Schichten mäandern. Dieser Sound bleibt über Minuten, wandert durch den Raum, unterstützt von wenig Perkussion und einem, wie auch immer produzierter Sound, der wie ein entfernter Rotorsound klingt. Die Klänge erinnern ein wenig an Soundtracks von 50er und 60er Jahre Horror- und Science-Fiction-Produktionen unterlegt mit psychedelischer Perkussion und mit nicht weniger psychedelischen Orgelsounds.
Was diese Kollabration hier abliefert ist grosses Kino im Modern-Classic- / Contemporary-Bereich. Ein sehr punktgenau eingespieltes und produziertes Album mit einem fantastischen Sound. Besonders das erste und dritte Stück begeistern mich, da sie sehr viel enthalten, obwohl die Instrumentierung eher reduziert ist. Hier ist es gelungenen eine sehr spannendes, an keiner stelle überladene Produktion im Bereich der experimentellen Musik / Klassik einzuspielen.
- Wolfgang Kabsch / Musik An Sich -

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