Alexander BERNE (b. 1969)
Self Referentials - Volumes 1 and 2
Alexander Berne and the Abandoned Orchestra
rec. Mirabella Studios, FL, USA
Full Track-List at end of review
INNOVA 838 [54:38 + 44:55] 

I first came across Alexander Berne through his Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes (see review). Self Referentials is his third release from the intrepid Innova label. Produced in a limited edition of 800, each copy has a signed and hand-painted insert functioning as part of the cover, so each copy is unique and will probably look nothing like the illustration above. This is one of those releases for which you will want to keep the little cellophane outer sleeve to protect your mini-artwork. A look at the Innova website shows the kind of thought and effort which has gone into these little abstracts, and these are certainly worth having. I remember a few limited edition pop albums in the past which had a similar concept, but the ‘art’ work usually gave away a production-line lack of time and input, going no further than an anonymous stripe and a daub no doubt repeated hundreds of times with very little variation. My copy, no. 291, has thick impasto texture and a multitude of lines and colours - instant art yes, but with interest and integrity, and clearly different to all the other examples to be seen on Berne’s website and elsewhere.
The same goes for the music - in terms of integrity rather than being instant art, though even with many hours of studio work, Alexander Berne manages to maintain a high degree of spontaneity in his tracks. Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes is, as its black housing already suggests, a fairly dark immersion into worlds of the imagination. With Self Referentials Berne has gathered the sounds of exotic instruments and voices to add a feeling of travel and an international palette of sonorities to his electronic textures, layers of piano, saxophone and goodness knows what else. One of the elements of Berne’s work is his interest in making his own instruments and exploring unusual ones, and this serves to create unique soundscapes throughout. In the words of Maxwell Chandler who wrote the liner-notes, this work “doubles as both the landscape and the Sherpa that accompanies you on the journey.” There is also an interesting interview between Maxwell and Alexander here.
Disc one involves plenty of collage techniques, extended development over drones, a gorgeously toothsome slowly wailing multi-tracked saxophone in Four Instantiations, which manages to sound modern and medieval at the same time - Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble take note. Many of these pieces suggest moments suspended or trapped in time, with the ringing piano notes in Of Fugal Melancholia suggesting a slowly turning giant music box. It takes a moment or two to enter Berne’s world, but once you are there your imagination will take flight. Try the first of the Sonum Onscurum: Headphonic Apparitions if you want a quick ‘fix’, as this track has it all, recalling some of the sonorities in some of Berne’s previous releases as well as the expressive worlds of ethnic sounding wind instruments. You’ll want to sample some of this in advance, and a peek at the website will help you decide if you want the whole thing or just to dip your toes in with a few downloads.
The second CD of this set is a suite called An Unnamed Diary of Places I Went Alone. This collection is dedicated to Berne’s late friend and collaborator Jaik Miller, whose voice appears in IV and elsewhere. A kind of requiem in its overall feel, this set of pieces is haunting in the extreme. Anyone who has truly engaged in creative work of any kind will know something of that inner journey on which one has to embark. This can be a scary prospect, and in my experience your ‘creative block’ is frequently a conscious or unconscious unwillingness to cross that dividing line between merely existing, and stepping into that void of unknown connections and unfettered dreams which can create something new. It’s that or the fear that your creative ‘zone’ will only throw up utter rubbish, or even nothing at all - a failure which can destroy. I only bring up this subject since Alexander Berne’s Unnamed Diary comes closest to almost anything I could name in taking us into these regions of dreams and the unexpected - someone else’s deeply personal and far-reaching inner journey. These are elusive worlds of the possible, their actuality always demanding that we interpret and comprehend on our own terms. The skin chills as a voice whispers ‘can you hear me’ into your left ear, and the mind’s eye is thrust into an icy room where breathing is painful, where mortality is up close and personal. Playing this and listening to it properly may become as hard as taking yourself off into an empty room with a blank piece of paper, but once you’ve done it and come out the other side your life will have been enriched, and you will be glad to be alive.
Dominy Clements
A remarkable journey.
Full Track-List 
Self Referentials Volume 1
Far Afield Recording [1:58]
Pulsationism (The Long Tick) [5:23]
Ruse (Fantastique) [5:34]
A Choir of Threnodic Winds [3:53]
Hidden Memories: Plangent Wail [3:58]
Transsublimination [4:22]
Four Instantiations [2:12]
Amphibiana [5:55]
Of Fugal Melancholia [5:24]
Sonum Onscurum: Headphonic Apparitions Part I [5:17]
Sonum Onscurum: Headphonic Apparitions Part II [4:47]
Sonum Onscurum: Headphonic Apparitions Part III [5:55]
Self Referentials Volume 2
An Unnamed Diary of Places I Went Alone
I [1:31]
II [2:28]
III [2:56]
IV [2:31]
V [3:30]
VI [1:59]
VII [2:13]
VIII [2:25]
IX [2:32]
X [3:31]
XI [4:00]
XII [3:12]
XIII [2:56]
XIV [3:19]
XV [1:20]
XVI [2:57]
XVII [1:35] 
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