Filed under: Releases, Reviews | Tags: Bersarin Quartett, Lidar Productions, Review
With some albums, you realize within a few seconds that here you have come across something really special. It is music that touches you straight away. Music that is important, that has a story to tell – and that manages to do so without even a single line of lyrics. The debut album by the Bersarin Quartett is one of these albums.
Wonderful orchestral pieces full of longing and melancholy. It is that certain kind of melancholy that seizes you when you are moved while following the final credits of an emotionally touching movie, remembering special moments that have faded in the course of many years and linger hazily in your memory, when you are somewhat wistfully contemplating old, worn photographs from days passed by…not a feeling of failure or hopelessness, but a bitter sweet reflection.
Time and evanescence. This is the matching soundtrack.
Orchestral cinemascope sounds provide the emotionally moving fundament, wrap the tracks up in a warm coating. Graceful strings pile up, creating big moments and repeatedly ending in melodies that are simply heart-rending, cinematic and tragic. But the Bersarin Quartett does not merely rely on these ingredients. The songs are also repeatedly interspersed with suspenseful and surprising elements, be it frail electronica, hypnotic soundscapes, drums or reverbed guitars. Rarely has a melange sounded as convincing and natural as this, and rarely has it sounded so well produced.
Thomas himself calls his music “imaginary fictional filmscores“. And it is hardly possible to come up with a more apt term. 10 tracks for 10 movies that have yet to be shot. Music that radiates such an enormous and authentic passion in every single minute, that one can’t help but completely abandon oneself to it. And honestly: Can there be anything more wonderful that can be achieved through music?
Silent Ballet Review:
After two contributions to the highly successful Electronica Unplugged compilation series on the Aerotone netlabel, Bersarin Quartett is prepared to take the world by storm with its debut release. Contrary to its namesake, Quartett is merely a one man show — a “Thomas” — who at this point in time remains mysterious and would rather let the music speak for itself. An attached press release informs the inquisitive listener that Thomas likens his music to “imaginary fictional filmscores” (as opposed to the “real fictional filmscores” or “imaginary factual filmscores”), which puts him directly in the company of four trillion other electronic/ambient artists with soundtrack ambitions. I’ll gripe at small redundancies and cliches in the press release, because there’s really nothing about the music itself that I can fault; no, quite the contrary, it’s one of the best you’re likely to hear all year.
If I were to attempt to transcribe a brief history of electronic music, from its earliest experimental days to its current saturation and blood-letting into pop and indie rock genres, one of my main disappointments would be in the gradual yet persistent deterioration of compositional space. Such a development is surely predictable in any form of music that starts with experimental roots: slowly the artist’s fascination moves away from the sounds themselves and instead to the application and utilization of these sounds and, more generally, techniques into broader contexts. Once the novelty of a new sound diminishes, once we become accustomed to noise, its familiarity to our ears causes us to lose appreciation for the more subtle qualities within a compositional piece. History has shown that the artist’s natural response to this phenomenon is to try to create an increasing sense of wonder and spectacle in his music. As the magic of one trick or skill wears off, more effort and attention is paid to creating and/or finding instances that are more dramatic and sensational than the last. In short, the response to declining interest has consistently been to increase the quantity of sounds available, directly leading to many travesties such as cluttered soundscapes, badly layered tracks, utterly confusing mixes, noise abuse, and so on and so forth.
And so, compositional space is sacrificed, almost across the board. Post-rock bands reach for the increasingly epic, electronic artists seek the more chaotic, ambient musicians drone with life-threatening fervor. Layers become increasingly complicated and crowded; textures are torn and blurred beyond recognition. On some level, this process does advance the current state of contemporary music, as progression is made by baby steps, albeit mostly from trial and error and less from vast comprehension of one’s trade and mastery of his art. However, as a result, we as listeners devalue the importance of sounds and the relations between them, the presence of space, and its invaluable contribution to the listening experience. Perhaps so much so that whenever we are greeted by a piece that takes the road less traveled and, instead of trying to knock our socks off with dynamics and emotional appeal, opts to tantalize the senses on a more fundamental, subconscious level, many simply label it as boring. But such a naive categorization of music must only reveal a personal struggle to grasp the underlying forces guiding music and demonstrates a lack of knowledge about a few of the more refine aspects of this art form.
It’s safe to say that Bersarin Quartett has a profound appreciation for space. Thomas exhibits a clinical treatment of his art which most immediately reminds me of the meticulousness of The World on Higher Downs’ Land Patterns. Great detail is given to every single sound that occurs throughout the album; every stroke of the cello, every percussive strike, every initiated drone, every last digitally processed sound doesn’t escape the speakers without first understanding its relation to the surrounding sounds. Opener “Oktober” is a great example of Quartett at work. The beginning sequence highlights string instrumentation folding ever so perfectly into a sample before being gently introduced to the track’s percussion component. “Oktober” escalates with the slightest incline, increasing in volume but not intensity. Even as the hectic beats threaten to capsize the track, Quartett keeps things flowing smoothly by giving it enough room to expand without compromising his devotion to distinctive sounds and falling prey to a congested, bloated track.
There’s much irony in Quartett’s work. Irony in the sense that, although conceptually his work is not one that strives to be enjoyable, it is very much so. It’s not a work that seeks to be accessible, but again, it is. It’s not an album that needs to exert its dominance by excelling across a large set of genres, but it does anyway. Thomas is a musician who has discovered how to have his cake and eat it too, and he sure inhales it on Bersarin Quartett. This apparent contrast between intention and realization also manifests in the tracks themselves; Thomas frequently taunts the listener with the feeling that a breach of the integrity of his sound sculptures is imminent by methodically building up layers to near exhaustion of his sonic space. “Oktober” sets this precedent, as near the two-thirds mark you’re almost positive that it’s reached its turning point, but it hasn’t. Similarly, “Und Die Welt Steht Still” (an early contender for top ambient track of the year) sounds as if it’s destined to swell beyond control and shatter the spatial relations established by Quartett. Likewise, “Inversion” follows a similar path by uniting several layers in a coup de grâce that is prematurely cut short at the artist’s hands and retreats to the academic style that dominates much of the album.
In fact, this line is eventually crossed in the closer “Mehr Als Alles Andere” when Quartett slides into two minutes of electronica fueled frenzy, which simultaneously tips his hats to those that paved the way for this album to be possible, as well as fully highlighting how different this album is than said precursors and 99% of other releases of its ilk. Though some may believe that this last track does compromise the previous fifty-plus minutes of soul purifying music, I’d be hesitant to say he’s finally jumped the shark at the end of the long treatise. If anything, “Mehr Als Alles Andere” only silences the critics who may say his music lacks substance and is merely the work of existential soundsmithing by drawing a definite example of established electronic techniques. And there’s more: surely the juxtaposition with the rest of the album only highlights the artist’s original intent. Coupled with the sly outro of pad and string engagement, Thomas’ commitment is clear: always on the form, never on the gimmicks.
As mentioned, Bersarin Quartett pulls from a vast knowledge of music’s history to make its grand statement. There’s many ambient and electronic influences present, along a wide cross section of subgenres, but also jazz, classical, folk, dub, and even some of that stubborn post-rock make appearances. Styles don’t bleed or melt into each other as is often accustomed (see Kiln’s Dusker), but rather we see them contrasted and intermingled. Bersarin Quartett is less like a melting pot of ideas and much more like a tossed salad — all pieces retain their original functions, but still manage to fit together with very little effort to make something more interesting than the sum of their parts. In this manner, Quartett is able to play differing genres off of one another to get some interesting results. “Die Dinge Sind Nie so Wie Sie Sind” exemplifies this point, opening with a shy ambience and later transitioning into a jazzier segment that sounds fit for elevators all across the world. Separately the pieces are nothing more than isolated compositions, but when placed side by side, Quartett is inviting the listener to unravel the theoretical framework of the album where so much of the content is derived from. Indeed, as disjointed as the genres may seem when placed next to each other, both clearly abide by Thomas’ use of space in the album, and it is in this light that the pieces achieve an entirely new coherence.
Of particular interest is the concept of minimalism within the context of the album. While certainly there are quite a few tracks that exhibit this historically abstract methodology (mainly those with heavy ambient influences), I doubt many listeners will feel slighted in the least over the amount of instrumentation seen over the length of the album and the arrangements therein. There’s a sense that the album could have ventured into more minimal territory to its own detriment; also, superfluous use of instruments often leads to excessive tracks that are in dire need of self-editing, but this is not the case. Thomas resolves all potential conflicts before they ever arise, which shows not only a highly tuned compositional ear, but also a strong critic and editor of his own work. To witness something this focused and convincing in a debut work is quite astonishing; many go their entire careers without having such insight and accurate perception of their own work as does Thomas. But, again, this is all the more evidence for the great control and execution witnessed across a variety of facets throughout Bersarin Quartett.
Albums of this caliber, you will find, have no specific mood requirement. While many ambient artists are shackled to a singular theme or mood that permeates through an audio recording and guides the listener through the experience, a select few are able to transcend this limitation and create more universal music which is independent of time, space, and body, merely existing and satisfying all whom happen to connect with it in any way, shape, or form. Naturally, this yields a multi-dimensional album which, dedicated listeners will discover, has infinitely many possible paths to discover, each just as enjoyable as the last. This last major topic is crucial, for the openness of Quartett’s sound is essential to allowing the listener a welcome mat to experience the album on his own terms. Thomas’ meticulous style could easily have gotten the best of him and produced a work that was short on interaction and predominantly closed to a larger audience, but, alas, instead we’re given a heaping feast of material to consume.
It’s rare that I’m able to give an album my fullest recommendation without trepidation. The difference between individuals is so great that it’s improbable that a single CD can reach out and be meaningful across a large demographic. Bersarin Quartett is one such album. There’s nary a misstep, every potential danger has been avoided and smoothed out to present the optimal audio experience for your dollar. The only real criticism I can offer is that perhaps it’s too perfect. Something this good can’t possibly be real.
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