Andrea Neumann / Michael Renkel / Olaf Rupp / Serge Baghdassarians - "Berlin Strings"
[Absinth Records,]

To call this set a compilation would be an insult. After "Berlin Reeds" [which featured four of the finest reed players in Berlin], we're faced with "Berlin Strings", which basically turns out to be a tour-de-force showcase of Berlin's most innovative string players. Absinth Records founder Marcus Liebig paid as much attention to the music as he did with the packaging. Four 3" CDs [one artist per disc] are placed inside of an oversized paper cover, which is hand-painted and hand-stitched. In fact, just about everything about this set smells of a carefully orchestrated DYI mentality. The only woman in the group, Andrea Neumann presents four tracks that are as abrasive as they are surprising. On " her mixing desk manipulations run wildly out of control and when silence appears, it's really a muddy silence that is broken by far-away distant connotations of inside of her piano. By the time we get to "End of a motor noticed by 5 pick ups", the sound transforms into a motor drilling a hole in our brains. Then again, Andrea also messes about with something that resembles percussive sounds - alternating between the high-pitched and those that sit in the lower register. By the end of the piece, the drone-like sound simply becomes part of our environment. At this point, nothing is shocking anymore. Everything is fair game. Michael Renkel's piece "Trans Aronez" is a much more subdued and controlled experiment in sound. His tuned [or de-tuned] guitar and zither create a contemplative, though a rich piece. His plucking seems deliberate. It sounds as if a lot of pre-conceived notions are being put into motion before the strings are touched. This is where the thrill of the piece kicks in. With each gentle pluck, I was waiting for the next note to appear slowly, out of the shadows. The piece concludes with a brutally magnetic zither solo that is enough in itself to break the dead of silence. Olaf Rupp's "Life Science" [FMP] was one of my favourite solo guitar records back in 2000. No wonder then that I was thrilled by his inclusion here. "Metal Peace, Suite in neun Teilen" is a nine piece suite presenting his skills on the guitar. Many of these parts are dense guitar improvisations, packed full of intricate ideas. His guitar takes on many different shapes. He likes both the fast and wild and the more deliberate and slower forms of guitar picking [though, here the fast and wild overtakes the slower form].

Throughout the piece, I was simply thinking of one word "flamenco". This is the first time I'd come across this much lyricism in Olaf's work. Tiny trickling sounds of his strings that are at once captivating as they are expressive. Truly, this is a marvellous improvisation from a man who deserves wider recognition. As with Andrea Neumann's piece, we return to the mixing desk on Serge Baghdassarians' piece "Versuch, eine welle zu lesen". Using his electric guitar as the source, Serge gives birth to high-pitched, piercing sounds that permeate his piece throughout. For the most part, it's difficult to tell that he is actually using the guitar as the processed sound is so heavily manipulated. Irregular clicks, lush drones, scraping bleeps and wonderful rackets of new sounds - all of these are ingredients in this piece. It's great to see more musicians out there believe in the power of new technology to take them to places they've not been before. What's interesting to note is that all of these pieces were recorded in August 2003. It seems that this was a deliberate move, almost as if to say, "Here's a snapshot of Berlin here and now". It's best not to listen to this release if the air conditioning is running, if the kids are fighting or if the microwave is on. These sounds are delicate and they demand your complete attention. The only drawback to "Berlin Strings" is that it comes in a limited edition of 200 copies. Need I say this - snatch your copy up now.

Tom Sekowski

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