Enno POPPE (b. 1969)
Interzone (2003-4) [76:42]
Omar Ebrahim (voice)
Neue Vocasolisten
ensemble mosaik/Jonathan Stockhammer
rec. Haus der Berliner Festspiele, September 2004
KAIROS 0012552KAI [76:42]

In case the packaging - attractive but "modern" in design - and the lower-case typography of the "ensemble mosaik" don't clue you in on what to expect, let's take a look at the start of Rainer Pöllmann's program note:

“The interstices are what fascinate artists. What is the static nature of ordered, thoroughly defined conditions compared to transitions, compared to those zones in which the unambiguous dissolves and the diffuse spreads itself out?”

In other words, it's a lot of mumbo-jumbo - the sort of thing that too many tenured professors pretend actually means something - and, frankly, so is the composition on the CD. It’s a tired accumulation of clichéd sounds (electronics, voices deployed in odd ranges and for odd effects) and gestures (little hiccoughy repetitions, tone-clusters, seemingly random rhythms) that might once have been thought avant-garde. But, by now, many of us have simply left this sort of nonsense behind.

This might indeed be "the product of a relationship between a poet [Marcel Beyer], a composer, and a video artist," and so effective as a piece of theatre - though I, personally, would have trouble sitting through it - but the audio component alone, which is what we get here, gives us little reason to listen to it. The artificial sonic environment, lack of tonal and rhythmic mooring, and deliberately disjunct motifs assure that, even when an acoustic instrument is in the spotlight, its timbre is robbed of any sensuous or appealing quality. Paradoxically, the twelve-minute instrumental interlude entitled Broken Pieces, with its long, conjunct woodwind lines, actually sounds less "broken" than the passages that precede and follow. The Neue Vocalsolisten could as easily have been replaced by more synthesizers, especially when such effects as pitch-bending - in Part II (track 12), I initially thought the bass had a terrible wobble - are called for.

Perhaps Beyer's text is supposed to function as an extra-musical unifying factor, but it's not easy to follow its sense. The declamation, marked by pregnant and apparently pointless pauses, with which narrator Omar Ebrahim opens the proceedings is hammy and portentous. After all the subsequent auditory clutter and overwrought melodrama, however, the comparative calm of this introduction retrospectively seems a high point.

I've also heard better-engineered new-music productions. Here, the woodwind instruments - flute, oboe, English horn, three clarinets, and two saxophones - register with tangible presence, but the sonic frame seems distinctly compressed in those passages dominated by the synthesized elements, which, after all, lack the presence and expansive depth of acoustic sounds. Oddly, the voices seem similarly compressed and disembodied - one is hard put even to pinpoint the singers' locations within the space.

Stephen Francis Vasta

I would have trouble sitting through it.