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Sounds of Venice
John CAGE (1912-1992)
Sounds of Venice (1959) version 1 [3:49]
Stefan LIENENKAMPER (b.1963)
Mind the Gap… (2004)  [9:19]
Alexander RASKATOV (b.1953)
Stykhyra (2002) [10:58]
Violeta DINESCU (b.1953)
Ismaïl si Trunavitu (2003) [8:05]
Bernd FRANKE (b.1959)
Half-way house - SOLO XFACH (für Joseph Beuys) (2003) [19:47]
Eckart BEINKE (b.1956)
68 - part one (2000) [11:24]
John CAGE
Sounds of Venice (1959) version 2 [3:49]
Duo Conradi-Gehlen: Stefan Conradi & Bernd Gehlen.
Rec. March 21-24, 2005 at Sendesaal Radio Bremen
ANTES EDITION BMCD31.9224 [68:55]


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For many, this will fall into the category of ‘difficult’ music – elements of improvisation, pre-recorded or electronic sound effects, a diversity of instruments, some of which would seem more at home in a toy shop than the concert hall – these are a few of the ingredients which make up the staple diet of Duo Conradi-Gehlen.
 
Having bitten the bullet and decided that it’s about time to listen properly and explore what’s going on here, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you have more in common with some of the music than you expected. Beginning with the Grand-Daddy of ‘chance’ music, John Cage, the Sounds of Venice are quite literally that: taped sounds of church bells, singing gondoliers, a cat’s meow and birdsong among other things. Cage’s score also calls for live sounds, which in this version come in the shape of sporadic percussion and some cruelly spanked guitar strings. In all this is quite a gentle experience with which to start, allowing the ears to adjust and learn to ‘expect the unexpected.’
 
Swiss composer Stefan Lienenkämper sets the two guitarists either side of a ghetto blaster, whose intended effect in Mind the gap… is to bring the sounds of the street into the concert hall, rather than the other way around. Striking matches, crumpling cans, running water, footsteps, cars and other noises accompany sometimes mellifluous, sometimes more freely atonal guitar playing, and the piece ends with that familiar London Underground announcement – nostalgia for old ex-pats like myself and a nice, light gesture in this otherwise serious, serious musical world.
 
Alexander Raskatov was born in Moscow, and completed his studies at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1978. Stykhyra has a spiritual text which is from an Old Russian hymn of praise for the Mother of God icon. The text is distorted by using falsetto voice and ‘horse-like singing’, with a lot of air in the sound. The guitars engage in hocketing and Zappaesque following of the vocal line, but the impression is above all one of the elemental forces of mysticism at work – a musical ritual which dwells in a deep dark hole in the ground.
 
Bucharest-born Violeta Dinescu is the only female composer represented here. Ismaïl şi Turnavitu is written for two electric guitars and is based on a short story by the Rumanian author Urmuz (1883-1923), whose “bizarre leaves” can be seen as a forerunner of a kind of Dadaism in literature. Dinescu uses heavy reverb, which gives the guitars a heavy, rumbling quality which almost breaks out into a kind of jazz idiom on occasion. There is some sustained wandering around and some moments of nice nuance, but very little sense of direction as far as I could make out.
 
Bernd Franke’s Half-way house - SOLO XFACH (für Joseph Beuys) is part of a work cycle called SOLO XFACH begun in 1988, and using the work of Joseph Beuys as a starting point. This long piece has some subtle layering of sounds, the juxtaposition of live playing and tape, which enhances a sense of space. Live performances also involve specific lighting directions and varied positioning of the musicians within the performing space. Given that such visually conceived ‘aural sculpture’ will always work better live, duo Conradi-Gehlen are given plenty to get their teeth into. I’m not sure grinding glissandi on guitars with heavy distortion will be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is certainly a sense of sound manipulating shapes in space. About halfway through there are more tonal elements added, and recognisable sounds from piano (sometimes transformed into cracks of lightning) and violin, rendered surrealist by their disembodied appearances at differing levels and locations. I was almost convinced, but if a ticking clock had appeared in the backing track I would have been the first to shout ‘Pink Floyd!’ and been thrown out of the auditorium.
 
Knowing the possibilities of the e-bow – a compact electronic device which can sustain notes on guitar or piano strings indefinitely, I was looking forward to Eckhart Beinke’s 68 – part one for two e-bowed electric guitars. It’s nice to hear sounds appearing from nothing, but the intervals and textures used in this piece are so open and empty sounding for the most part that the novelty soon wears thin. There are some moments of counterpoint, but these are either rhythmically stagnant or melodically fairly uninspired – Robert Fripp did it better in my opinion. The CD ends with another version of Cage’s Sounds of Venice which sounds almost identical to the first version.
 
As with almost any release of this kind, some tracks will ‘grab’ you more than others, but there is always something for the receptive mind to absorb and digest. Guitar fans can revel in a wide variety of sonic effects, and serious, serious, serious composition students can have their horizons broadened, although there is very little the serious composer won’t have encountered already – assuming he or she has made it to one or other of the serious, serious, serious New Music Fests we love to hold here in Europe.
 
Dominy Clements     
 

 
    



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