Hearing poet robert pinsky speak last week in his soft, quiet voice at UTC, I was reminded that hushed sounds can have two effects on people: they either cause people to concentrate more, becoming attentive listeners, or they can lull people into a restful state. For the snoring audience member who was roused to consciousness by a helpful fellow, it was definitely the latter.
The new instrumental album “Stunden,” by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Stefan Schneider, was created with one specific constraint: it should be quiet. Over the course of the album, both of the aforementioned effects are coaxed by this approach, with placid, soothing tracks moving at a steady pace and more abstract numbers with tiny sonic elements lurking in the background.
Keyboardist Roedelius built his reputation as a founding member of the Krautrock-era Kosmische groups Cluster and Harmonia in the 1970s and as collaborator with Brian Eno. Stefan Schneider is known as a member of the electronic German bands Kreidler and To Rococo Rot. “Stunden,” which means “hours” in German, has three title tracks that appropriately mark time in a studied, pensive manner, with repetition that suggests the hourly chimes of a clock tower. “Stunden I” uses additions such as low frequencies and soft buzzes to populate the empty spaces.
As the album unfurls, it gradually drifts away from the template that uses a piano melody accompanied by flourishes. “Liebe” (“love”) emanates artificial warmth with a cozy pulse, and the up-and-down synth patterns of “Zug” (“train”) evoke perpetual motion rather than some unstoppable machine. The album’s finest track is “Upper Slaughter,” with guitar accents and indescribable sonic fragments that are perhaps like a more organic kind of glitch-based electronica. “Stunden” is hardly revelatory but is subtle, tasteful and restrained; although largely free from foggy sound washes, it will likely appeal to fans of ambient music, falling under Brian Eno’s definition as being “as ignorable as it is interesting.”
Causing a Tiger
“How We Held Our Post”
Singer and violinist carla kihlstedt is one of those fascinating, often genre-defying artists with an outpouring of creativity in numerous projects, the most famous of which is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, known for its complex and dark art-rock and incredible, theatrical shows. Her trio, Causing a Tiger, featuring percussionist (and husband) Matthias Bossi and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, is another uncategorizable outfit, an unusual intersection between avant-post-rock and lounge/cabaret music, with glimpses of musique concrète and electronic experimentation.
The group’s latest album, “How We Held Our Post” on Kihlstedt’s own label, is bookended by two enigmatic sound pieces, the first of which features the sound of high winds and foreboding, incessant squeaks. The closer is even more puzzling, featuring what sounds like someone running her hands through a box of marbles and broken shells and crinkling packing tape for 10 minutes. The meat of the album has two general methods: short, tight, twisty rock bursts and longer, wandering tracks.
Kihlstedt sings with a compelling, soulful voice and a style that’s not usually heard in the rock arena (Concrete Blonde vocalist Johnette Napolitano comes to mind). Kihlstedt’s singing sounds like it’s been run through a slightly distorted guitar amplifier to dirty it up. The tracks “Not Ashamed to Ask” and “How to Stock and Maintain a Marine Aquarium” sound like the result of Tortoise hiring a lounge singer, with the rhythm section sporting an expansive, ambling approach. The former track dives headfirst into weird territory by eventually altering Kihlstedt’s vocals dramatically, using extreme electronic manipulation to turn them into gurgles.
The quick hits are potent, unpredictable blasts of sharp, off-center rock, like “Second Sight,” a seemingly improvised mix of fuzz bass and driving beats, with Kihlstedt singing incomprehensibly, bringing the proceedings to a satisfying apex. It is a strange, disorienting journey with a tightfisted sonic economy and a variety of approaches while maintaining a distinct sonic identity.