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Jannik GIGER (b. 1985)
Orchester (2018) [32:33]
On one or with you? for saxophone quartet and vocalists (2020) [5:24]
Carey Mary for ensemble (2021) [4:50]
Krypta (2019) [18:34]
XASAX (saxophone quartet)
thélème (vocalists)
unorthodoxjukebox o.
rec. 2019-20, Waldenbeurg & Jazzcampus Basel, Switzerland (Carey Mary)
KAIROS 0015085KAI [61:37]

Soft ghostly confluences of string and wind choirs; demarcating plucked sounds, siren glissandi and decaying drones. Sporadic hyperactivity from a concertino group whose notes melt into the comforting (and discomfiting) neo-romantic harmonies of a ripieno body behind the curtain and a stray soprano in the wings seemingly warming up for her role/performance. Half-familiar shards of melody, seemingly abstracted from their unknown sources. Eerie choirs devolving into single, disconnected voices. A clarinet solo seemingly constructed from tiny loops of melody; it multiplies into a clarinet choir, with rippling figurations on a salon piano. Pungent jazzy reveilles on single trumpets and trombones. Extended, blurred jingles that resemble fragments hewn together from television quiz show themes. A soft, infinite ascending glissando, a creaking texture, a sudden beat on a bass-drum, a dying thread of solo string.

This sketchy and rather-too-literal précis is my fumbling attempt to describe the first half of Orchester by the Swiss composer Jannik Giger. I found myself helplessly sucked into its orbit, despite trying with all my might to resist. It is mellow, ornate, possibly benign. The second half of the work doesn’t stray too far from this formula, if formula it is. Orchester is alluring and all-consuming. It is literally ‘beautiful’. But I can’t help feeling a bit, well, ‘grubby’ admitting it. Because if I understand the booklet note correctly (and that’s almost certainly out of the question, since the English translation of Michael Kunkel’s German original, gnomically revealed to be “translated from German by Paladino Media” is beyond excruciating; clunky, incomprehensible and at times - unintentionally I think – laughably pretentious), Orchester is every bit as much a sociological proposition as it is a piece of music. The note itself is entitled ‘Phantom Music’ and begins with the following gambit: “As you know, the world of music productions is a delusion. No matter in which genre; immense effort is made to evoke the illusion of real music making”. Soon after we are told that “….Jannik Giger lifts the veils and creates access to the usually rather hidden, private worlds of music making on this album”. It turns out that Orchester has been meticulously constructed from samples of pre-existing recorded orchestral music lurking in the hard-drive of Giger’s lap-top; these individual fibres have been edited, modulated, and recombined using dedicated apps and pro-tools. There IS no orchestra. It amounts to a sociological construct in the sense that, as Paladino’s note-translating-committee contends in a rare passage of lucidity, Giger is seemingly contributing “…to the deinstitutionalisation of new music; the author can realise his orchestral music largely autonomously, emancipate himself from scores, ensembles, physical performances and the corresponding training, production and distribution institutions…” It’s a fascinating, potentially apocalyptic idea. In any case to my ears Orchester proved to be a weightless and addictive span of melancholy fakery (or lap-top wizardry if you prefer). I loved the sound of it at least– perhaps you can have too much of a good (or bad) thing….

Krypta is another piece consisting entirely of samples of pre-existing material which have been spliced together to form a discrete entity. It’s also another example from Giger’s output which might reasonably be termed ‘aural sociology’. In this case the focus seems to concern the role of the conductor and the mythology surrounding him (in this case most definitely not ‘her’). Giger seeks to understand and critique the general perception of the conductor’s immovable position at the head of the ensemble or orchestra or choir or hierarchy. He does this by (re)creating a synthetically mocked up rehearsal, which appears to have initially been conceived as a sound installation, ringing out as it once did from the crypt of the St Peter and Paul Church in Bern. A stereo version has been developed for the purpose of this disc. Let me quote the booklet-note in its English translation; for all the butchered English, I think it at least conveys the spirit of the thing, if not the letter:
“[in this] stereo version….Krypta is a radio-phone celebration of the dead; the rage, teachings, interjections and body sounds (sic) of the mostly already deceased world-famous conductors are embedded like relics in the morbid-ritual accompaniment of the fictional orchestra. Can the ex-patriarchs one day be resurrected? At least they are brought to speak in a new way in their own requiem, come to unusually strong validity as vocal performers.”

So what we actually hear is a compelling mash-up of isolated (and quite extreme) orchestral and instrumental gestures, fragments of vocal rehearsal, eerie pedals and drones (a convincing realisation of the mausoleum atmosphere), interpolated with the cajolings, emphases, irritations and frustrations, bullying and bluster, terrifying dictatorial fury and occasionally sympathetic encouragement from a large number of (always male!!) conductors, some of whom are recognisable to me, most of whom are not. I’m sure some listeners will enjoy the opportunity for a game of ‘Name That Conductor’s Voice’ The whole is most skilfully knitted together and constitutes a more musical experience for the listener than one has any right to expect. However once again one cannot help but wonder if this was actually Giger’s intention.

Both Krypta and Orchester are listed in the sleeve without any reference whatsoever to named performers. Although this is not the case with the two briefer items sandwiched between them, it turns out that these pieces are also constructed from combining pre-existing snippets. On one or with you? takes its title from a phrase apparently used informally by chamber musicians as a means of establishing communication patterns (in the absence of a conductor) during a rehearsal or recording session. The album “Mutations - Les Chimeres de Clement Janequin” (Coviello Records COV 92011) is a collaboration between the saxophone quartet XASAX and the vocal ensemble thélème which juxtaposes music of the distant past by Jannequin and others with commentaries and reflections on these pieces by contemporary composers; these works are interspersed with tiny ‘Mutations’ The Giger piece re-assembles fragments of out-takes from those recording sessions (On one or with you appears on that disc too). Interesting that the most distinctive timbre comes from a strummed instrument which isn’t credited (in fact it’s the lutenist Ziv Braha). On one or with you? is certainly whimsical, possibly more significant in conceptual terms than it actually sounds. But I can’t be sure.

In a similar vein, in Carey Mary Giger has sewn together tiny snippets culled from a performance workshop involving the players of a Basel improvising collective called ‘unorthodoxjukebox.o’, which comprises musicians from several diverse backgrounds including early music, jazz, electronic and pop. It is important to note that improvising groups are unlikely to conduct rehearsals per se; pre-performance workshops enable the players to settle on mutually agreeable communication strategies which will be deployed during a performance. The five-minute artefact Giger has fashioned from this material resembles an eerie, psychedelic dream sequence replete with smoky jazz and soul-tinged vocal hints contained within an elaborate halo of glassy electronica. It’s an eccentric amalgam which seems paradoxically disciplined and unfettered. The provenance of the title Carey Mary is unclear.

It can be suggested, therefore, that all four works on this intriguing portrait disc are in effect complex collages of clips, samples, outtakes, gestures and moments recycled from pre-existing sources and stitched together brilliantly by a master of sound design. Regardless of whether one engages with the various socio-political subtexts which seem crucial to Jannik Giger’s principal aesthetic goals, I am certainly pleased to have made the acquaintance of these intriguing sonic experiments. Orchester certainly repays repeated hearings; I am not in the least surprised to discover that the composer is in the process of transcribing the work for live orchestral performance. The concluding work, Krypta is a remarkable curiosity which shouldn’t sound as exciting as it does. Kudos to Kairos for putting this truly ‘out-there’ disc, well, out there.

Richard Hanlon

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