Drawing from ideas and sounds the composer developed to accompany butoh dance performances, Bernhard Weiss’ re memeber is an eclectic mix of experimental pieces that alternately exhibit either a crystalline fragility or an aggressive rawness. It’s not an easy listen, but there’s a lot to listen to. Weiss’ constructs mirror the widely abstract, often minimalist, outsider-baffling art of butoh; one musical moment does not necessarily lead to the next, or not the next you might expect. On the one hand, you’re floating through the light environs of “linger on,” where Lilian Fritz talk-sings her way, in a tender and almost choked-up voice, through poetic lyrics, surrounded by soft chords and rain-spatter drops of microsound. Her voice plays double duty here, one version processed to sound tinny and telephonic, the other left alone but brought in intimately close. On the other hand, Weiss will challenge your patience with the electric grind, random soundbites and repetitious chopped and stitched vocal sample in “Hashime.” Or perhaps you’re guided through the misty washes of “Skin,” as Aiki Kazuko Kurosaki recites Japanese poetry and Christina Galsmeier lays down crying violin that fades like a ghost’s whisper at the end, both standing on superbly hushed pads that barely break the surface of your awareness. And when you least expect it, hiding toward the end of “sun shine,” you briefly get a reasonably straightforward touch of EDM, the thumping club beat initially feeling out of place until you realize it’s a bit of familiar relief in these unusual landscapes.
There are a few moments I could have done without as a listener. The harsh avian squeals at the start of “birdie” are off-putting and the piece as a whole feels a little wayward. There’s the odd, squelchy might-be-a-vocal-sample at the end of the title track, which is about as pleasant as someone twisting styrofoam in your ear. The minute-long high-pitched whine at the end of “thin line” made me worry that I might have tinnitus. I’m sure there’s an artistic rationale for all this, but that doesn’t make it less grating.
It took a number of listens to get good and comfortable with re member. Finding a point of entry is not easy, and the disc will sit best with listeners who appreciate a more avant garde compositional approach. But there’s a lot of impact at work here, and much of it comes from the depth of detail and the careful construction of sound. Headphones are required for full effect, because there are a lot of very small elements that figure into the overall mix. Even at the points where it threatens to grate, re member still manages to be interesting–again, in an often difficult way. Well worth giving a try with an open mind focused on the effect of music.
Available from Cords Records.