Arovane: Lilies
City Centre Offices

Uwe Zahn's full-lengths seem to organize themselves into two groupings: the din releases Atol Scrap and Icol Diston, which compile Arovane's nuanced electronica singles into an album format, and the City Centre Offices works Tides and now Lilies which possess clear programmatic qualities and evoke specific locales, Tides the French seashore and Lilies Japan. The new recording acts as an aural travelogue of Zahn's 2003 one-week trip to the Far East.

Referring to the flight time betwixt Berlin and Japan, “Ten Hours” begins the set in the clouds with ominous shimmer until Zahn adds a simple harpsichord figure (as he did on Tides' “Theme” and “Epilogue”) and crowd noises, suggesting arrival in Japan. The trademark Arovane style of interwoven piano chords, ambient electronics, and squelchy beats emerges on the moody “Windy Wish Trees” (which represents a Shinto Temple in Kyoto where people write wishes onto streamers and tie them to trees). Other tracks are similarly programmatic, whether it's the uptempo beats and ambient noises that convey Zahn's trip on the 400 kph Shinkansen train on “Passage To Nagoya” or “Instant Gods Out Of The Box” where he notes the juxtaposition of a shopping mall and a temple.

Musically, Lilies, somewhat of a mini-album at thirty-seven minutes, is another example of Zahn's customary refined electronica. There's never a vulgar note or false step, and the arrangements are tasteful, sometimes restrained and minimalistic (“Pink Lilies”), at other times expansive (“Lilies”). There's an affecting melancholy strain running throughout that gives it an emotional dimension not always found in electronic music, a genre often more fixated upon inventive melodic patterns and complex beats; the lovely “Cry Osaka Cry” might be the best exemplar of this melancholy quality. The Arovane style is a perfect fit for the Japanese concept, given the stately qualities of Zahn's music which are drawn out even more through their connection to the theme. The concept imbues Lilies with a greater human presence, too, specifically that of the Japanese people Zahn encountered during his visit, and the music mirrors this via Kazumi's vocals. On “Pink Lilies,” her voice alternates between Japanese and English and then rises melodically in gorgeous manner. Instrumentally, Zahn's musical style hasn't changed significantly from before, although the tracks here are generally shorter compared to those on the din releases. There is a hip-hop vibe to tracks like “Tokyo Ghost Stories” which might seem like a new development but in fact this already appeared on Tides.

The last song, “Good Bye Forever,” is a suitably grand reverie of piano and string shimmer whose title suggests Zahn's departure from Japan but might portend his departure from music altogether. Apparently, upon returning from Tokyo, he disassembled his Berlin studio and stored it away to take a break of undetermined duration. If he is retiring from music, it would be a shame as his distinctive, elegant style stands out from the electronica masses. At the same time, his style at least instrumentally is becoming familiar and predictable, in spite of the fact that the Lilies concept and its attendant programmatic details enable him to downplay that fact, and so perhaps a break isn't a bad idea. No doubt it would help nurture the next stage of Arovane's musical evolution.

June 2004