Thomas Köner: Tiento de la Luz
Denovali Records

Thomas Köner's Tiento de las Nieves introduced us to the concept of the “tiento,” which refers to a kind of free-form keyboard-based music originating out of Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. It turns out that that 2014 release was, in fact, the first chapter in a trilogy of releases, with the now-available Tiento de la Luz and upcoming Tiento de la Oscuridad the project's other parts. Some degree of overlap is present between the first two chapters as Köner's live electronic treatments are again joined by Ivana Neimarevic's piano playing, but there's a significant difference, too. While Köner also contributes percussion to the middle release, it's Srdjan Stanic's viola da gamba playing that adds a vibrant extra dimension to the material.

In liner notes to the release, Köner reasons towards some specious conclusions, “Music does not exist” the most puzzling of all. One does hit home, however, namely his comments about tone colour and resonance. A metaphor illustrates his thinking on the subject: when a mother reads a fairy tale to her child, the child does hear the words she's saying but detects even more powerfully the mother's “I love you” in her voice. Sound, manifesting itself as tone colour, has the potential to be as resonant when it achieves a meaningfulness that goes beyond physical properties of pitch and dynamics. That's presumably one goal Köner's aspiring to achieve in this three-part project.

In the scene-setting “Tiento de la Luz 1” (all six tracks are similarly titled), sparsely distributed piano chords are accompanied by equally sparse accents of vibes and electronics, the sum-total of which creates the impression of both stasis and development. Dark, industrial sonorities flood the humid spaces of the second and third settings, after which Stanic's playing deepens the creeping rumble and smolder of “Tiento de la Luz 4.” The bright punctuations of the piano and vibes alleviate the material's occasional gloom, and the fifth track even augments the album's established sound palette with dense layers of muffled horn and synthesizer textures.

The recording obviously features a far more luscious sound palette than one generally associates with Köner, but it's hardly unwelcome or unappealing. If the first chapter invited comparison to an ambient classic such as Ambient 2 (The Plateaux of Mirror), Harold Budd's famous collaboration with Eno, the second chapter distances itself from any such association for being so expansive in its sound design. Yes, the music still drifts in a glacial manner emblematic of ambient music, but Tiento de la Luz also unfolds with an instrumental depth that invites comparison to Gavin Bryars' Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (with the tramp's vocal stripped out) or a dark ambient collection by Paul Schutze from the mid-‘90s such as Surgery of Touch or The Rapture of Metals.

April 2016