Mark Lorenz Kysela: Eins+

Let's not mince words: Mark Lorenz Kysela's Eins + is challenging music, to say the least. Yes, the Stuttgart-born Kysela does play soprano sax (and clarinet), but he's no Kenny G or Grover Washington. Attractively packaged in a steel case and supplemented by a full-colour booklet containing background information (in both English and German), Eins + features contemporary works by Alvin Lucier, Christoph Ogiermann, Martin Schüttler, Thomas Stiegler, Michael Maierhof, and Uwe Rasch, all of them experimental settings that pair Kysela with electronic or analogue enhancements and tapes.

In this case, perhaps the best way to capture the recording's content is to say a few words about each of the pieces. First up is Ogiermann's “Druckblöcke Und Zeichenakkumulationen BCC,” which, designed as a radio play, is more about whole body performance than music per se, and as such involves Kysela generating “performative noises” in addition to the piercing squeals of the soprano sax. In the piece's loudest moments, Kysela's high-pitched playing becomes an industrial howl, while breathless panting also becomes part of the sonic mix. A querulous musical motif voiced by Kysela's soprano saxophone lends Stiegler's “Treibgut VI” an immediate musical dimension downplayed in Ogiermann's piece. Stiegler operates in accordance with principles of simplicity and reduction, which also lend the work a refreshing amount of clarity and accessibility. There's still an experimental edge to the piece—the tape component consists of traffic and bird noises, a valve radio, a water meter, and so on—but the superimposition of Kysela's saxophone upon the mutating collage gives the piece a coherence and unity it might lack otherwise.

One of the recording's more radical settings, Schüttler's “Schöner Leben 7” situates Kysela's soprano and tenor sax playing within a fractured and convulsive field of abrasive glitches, stumbling beats, and recited text (the voice is that of the late writer David Foster Wallace). Schüttler himself contributes live electronics and samples to the piece, the sum-total of which makes for the release's most uncompromising setting. In Maierhof's “Splitting 13,” the alto sax is equipped with a vibratory system—a plastic cup filled with marbles that's attached to the instrument's bell—and when notes are blown, the construction vibrates, producing unfamiliar sounds—grinding, growling, screeching—not typically associated with the saxophone. When heard after the Schüttler and Maierhof pieces, Lucier's “In Memoriam Jon Higgins” seems almost quaint in its subdued, unprepossessing character. Scored for clarinet and pure wave oscillator, the 1985 piece finds the soft vibrations of Kysela's clarinet tone aligning for twenty minutes with the gradually rising sinus tone, resulting in auditory beat patterns that prove hypnotic despite the minimal elements involved.

Two minutes of saxophone flutter and percussion (iron sticks, drum sticks), Rasch's “Aus Vierundzwanzig: Drei” acts as a brief coda that extracts sounds from the third song in Franz Schubert's 24-part lieder cycle Die Winterreise to situate them within a newly created context. By now, it should be clear that Eins + is hardly a conventional musical recording but instead one that questions the very notion of what constitutes music. It's hardly easy listening, then, but one nevertheless comes away from the recording admiring Kysela for his resolve and dedication to experimental music-making.

May 2013