Christoph Berg: Paraphrases
Fluid Audio

In contrast to the electroacoustic work Christoph Berg issues under the Field Rotation name, Paraphrases presents itself as a pure acoustic work of intimate chamber music settings. No small amount of artful sleight-of-hand is involved in the recording, however, as the Berlin-based Berg, being solely responsible for its violin, piano, and double bass playing, simulates at different moments a small chamber trio and string quartet so convincingly one would never imagine that the playing is anything but live and the work of multiple individuals. In keeping with a track title such as “Elegy,” the tone of the material is melancholy, even mournful, and there are moments, such as during the meditative string drone “Interlude,” when Arvo Pärt's composition “Fratres” comes to mind. Needless to say, the album also exudes an intensely introspective and solitary feel that's reinforced by the title of the dreamlike setting “Quiet Times at the Library.” That Paraphrases was recorded over a two-year period “in a small room in northern Germany near the Baltic Sea” also might have something to do with the music's plaintive tone.

Berg's layering of strings is especially masterful, with pieces such as “Buildings at Night” and “A Small Path Crossing” creating the impression of a string quartet whose violin, viola, and cello members are remarkably attuned to each others' every nuance. Though generally acoustic in design, the album isn't entirely free of electronic interventions and field recordings touches: in “Poems Written for an Old (Prepared) Piano,” a soft electronic glimmer insistently plays alongside the clack of an old typewriter and piano playing; during “Interlude,” the caw of a crow is audible amidst the shimmering strings; and, perhaps not surprisingly, P Jørgensen's album-ending remix of “Falling Asleep” recasts Berg's piece as an electrical drone. Suitably, the brief, vinyl-only title track embeds violin and piano within a thick, encrusted bed of crackle, while the remix of “Interlude” by aus (Yasuhiko Fukuzono) underlays Berg's material with a similar stream of vinyl texture.

Though one comes away impressed by the technical skill with which Berg simulates small group interplay throughout the recording, what most recommends Paraphrases is the high quality of the compositions. Berg is a composer as much as, if not more than, an instrumentalist, and both talents are showcased powerfully on the release. Par for the Fluid Audio course, Berg's album is treated to a deluxe visual presentation, with the vinyl package accompanied by a double-sided poster, hand-numbered print, embossed letter-pressed CD, and photography booklet.

December 2012