Carola BAUCKHOLT (b. 1959)
Ich muß mit Dir reden
Treibstoff (1995) [9:24]
Laufwerk [11:38]
Keil [14:33]
Sog [18:43]
rec. January 2014 & 2015, Jar Church, Norway
2L 2L-116-SABD [SACD & BD-A: 54:20]

German composer Carola Bauckholt was a student of Mauricio Kagel, and will be a reasonably familiar name to those of you who haunt contemporary music festivals in Germany and elsewhere. She was a significant figure on the Cologne scene in the 1980s, co-founding the Thürmchen ensemble and engaging in music publishing.

This is the kind of music which can take a while to appreciate, exploring themes and sonorities that go beyond what you will be used to if you’ve yet to move far beyond Mozart and Beethoven. The first two pieces come from Bauckholt’s earlier Thürmchen ensemble days, the works subsequently having been taken up by Cikada. Treibstoff meaning fuel or propellant, has an ongoing rhythmic ostinato feel and a slightly uneven, hobbling momentum that always makes me think of something horse-like moving along somewhat reluctantly. This shares sounds of abrasion and sawing with Laufwerk, translated as ‘drive mechanism’ in the booklet. Sonic samples are part of the piece, but as these are taken from instruments already present you don’t really sense these as an electronic part. Huffing and puffing, the dropping of piles of wood, prepared piano and the rest turn this into something introvert and eventful, while at the same time sounding spontaneous and improvisatory.

Transparency is a significant part of Bauckholt’s pallet. There is always plenty going on, but each part has its own significance. Humour too, of the Mauricio Kagel kind, is also to be perceived, if you are in the mood to perceive it that way. The music isn’t ‘funny’ as such, but there is a theatricality about things which calls up all kinds of associations – the animal-like noises towards the end of Laufwerk being a case in point.

The last two works in the programme were both commissioned by Cikada. Keil of ‘wedge’ engages with communication; Bauckholt writing in the booklet that “words constrain me… I don’t trust words. They are tainted with a feeling of scepticism.” She is however captivated by the sounds of languages that she doesn’t understand: “Sounds set me free, especially when they are placed in new and unfamiliar contexts.” Subsumed sounds, almost a feeling of a performance under water come through from Keil, the instruments at times murmuring amongst themselves, while at other levels they do their own thing, coinciding with other musical happenings as if by chance. Frustrations emerge later on, and an element of violence which is enveloped in beauty as the piece draws to a close.

Sog, ‘pull, slipstream, undertow’ is a piece in which “the ensemble blends together in a low mass of sound that invites us to dive in.” This is a dark world of intoned notes and words, but “just like our eyes adjust to the dark, our ears begin to delve into the depth of sound” as the piece progresses and develops. These are predominantly low sounds, but there is still that ever-present transparency of timbre and sense of detail – a kind of clarity of direction and expression that prevents things becoming amorphous. By halfway through the piece the sounds have emerged upwards, and the music begins to grow out of new, sustained tones in the mid-range. Slow changes, glissandi and strange interruptions remind one of something organic, spreading and growing in ways that are not always entirely pleasant, the penultimate buzzing having an aura of death and decay. Do the musicians say what I think they say at 16:30? The final moments have a concentration of event on which the entire programme can stand, let alone Sog itself.

This release consists of a CD/SACD disc and a separate Blu-ray disc. Documentation is good, though dates of composition somewhere in the text would have been useful. I’ve been listening to this in SACD over the usual headphones but the surround effect is superbly produced, and there are illustrations in the booklet that show instrument and microphone placement for each session. For those of you to whom ‘squeaky-gate’ music will never have any appeal this is unlikely to change your point of view. Listeners intrigued by the avant-garde cutting edge will want to experience these recordings and will find much to intrigue and stimulate.

Dominy Clements

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