Dienstag, 21. August 2012

The Squid's Ear (El Infierno Musical by Kurt Gottschalk)

Christof Kurzmann
El Infierno Musical  
(Mikotron Recordings) 

review by Kurt Gottschalk
Christof Kurzmann's interest in song form in recent years has brought him to a number of unexpected places. In the duo Schnee with Burkhard Stangl, he has borrowed from Prince and Neil Diamond and as a part of the group The Magic I.D. has crafted some wonderfully hazy duets with singer / guitarist Margareth Kammerer. Whether new compositions or well-known tunes, Kurzmann and company have presented them in beautifully uncentered ways, as if they were vague memories of songs.
Kurzmann takes a similar approach now in what is a very different project and to great results. El Infierno Musical is a setting of six poems by the Argentian poet Alejandra Pizarnik, who led an accomplished life before willfully ending it at the age 36 in 1972. A Fulbright Scholar and Guggenheim Fellow, Pizarnik lived in Paris (where she worked as an editor for Les Lettres Nouvelles) and left behind eight volumes of poetry (two unpublished during her life).
Pizarnik's words are used here in service of the music, or seem to be at any rate. The phraseeology is so delicate that they tend to sit just behind the music, especially in Kurzmann's plaintive delivery. His scores are played by Ken Vandermdark (reeds), Eva Reiter (viola de gamba, contrabass recorder, dan bao), Clayton Thomas (bass) and Martin Brandlmayr (drums, vibraphone), with Kurzmann supplying saxophone, guitar and electronics. The music varies from seemingly open form improv to quiet, incidental music to easy grooves, with the verses interspersed irregularly, sometimes appearing as if to pull the threads of the music into a piece. If the poetry isn't dominant through all of the record, it seems clear that the moods it imparts are. Pizarnik's hand guides the proceedings even in absentia, to the extent that a fragment of the guitar solo from Janis Joplin's "Summertime" is heard in the distance during her poem "Para Janis Joplin."
It's hard to know how close the texts come to Pizarnik's original words, having been translated by the musicians — an assemblage of Austrians and Americans — themselves. It is of course possible that the translations are quite faithful but even if they aren't it doesn't seem entirely to matter. The album isn't a poetry journal, and ultimately it comes off like a dramatic audio work inspired by the sad beauty of Pizarnik's lines. Near the end, she herself appears, in her native tongue and through the filter of a decades old recording. As she recites her "Ashes II," she sounds somehow comfortable with the goings-on.

The Squid's Ear
review by Kurt Gottschalk


Orpheus in the Underworld (El Infierno Musical by Ed Pinsent)


Orpheus in the Underworld

Christof Kurzmann attempts grand things on El Infierno Musical (MIKROTON RECORDINGS CD 20). He composed all the music, plays electronics, saxophone and guitar, and sings all the lyrics where they appear; these words were written by the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, and translated into English with the help of Cecilia Rojo. The aural experience is rich – an unpredictable melange of jazz, free jazz, improvisation, chamber music, blues, pop music and rock music, sometimes given a vaguely medieval / Renaissance flavour by the viola da gamba playing of Eva Reiter, who also plays the contrabass recorder on a couple of tracks. Plus the whole package is contextualised with images sampled from the “Hell” panel of Bosch’s famous Garden of Earthly Delights triptych.
Many musicians may have commented on, been struck by or even dreamed of making a concept album about this “musical Hell” proposed by Bosch, where sinners are punished in amongst a ghastly cacophony of archaic musical instruments, some of which are changed by the diabolical agency into engines of torture. I should point out that Kurzmann is not explicitly intending to do any of the above either, and only the title of this suite has any consonance with the Bosch painting, of which we see a Photoshopped variant provided by the visual artists Jimmy Draht and Stefan Haupt. The main aim of the work is to pay tribute to the poetess Pizarnik, a collection of whose writings also appeared under the title El Infierno Musical and indeed prompted Kurzmann, who purchased said volume almost by accident from a street seller while drinking coffee in Buenos Aires, to found the quintet of this name in 2008.
Musically this album is strong and convincing, even if not as chaotic as anything with a Bosch cover ought to be, and while the individual players – e.g. saxman Ken Vandermark, drummer Martin Brandlmayr – perform with authority, I sometimes find the package a shade too mannered and contrived for my tastes. Kurzmann is the sort of musical catholic who has no problem in mixing different vernaculars, styles and genres in his musical statements, often doing so in the same breath, if he decides that’s what is called for. The main stumbling block for me is Kuzmann’s rather effete voice, which recites rather than sings the lyrical content, and always sounds breathless or on the verge of tears as he negotiates another corny-sounding flattened fifth. So far this prevents me from reaching the core meaning of the work, which is probably encoded more into the poetry than in the music. Still, one needs to persevere with work of this complexity and depth. Don’t let my meagre prejudices prevent you from hearing this extremely unusual and distinctive piece of work. This arrived 31 January from a label based in Moscow.

The Sound Projector
July 1, 2012