Marsen Jules: Herbstlaub
Marsen Jules: Lazy Sunday Funerals / Yara
A few years ago, Wolfgang Voigt and Ekkehard Ehlers amassed a provocative 'classical ambient' canon with the release of, respectively, four Gas full-lengths (beginning with 1996's eponymous debut, followed by Zauberberg, Königsforst, and 2000's Pop) and 2000's Betrieb, based on samples of works by Charles Ives and Arnold Schoenberg. Using orchestral fragments, Ehlers created hypnotic loops that retained identifiable traces of the originating works while Voigt catalyzed his material into ambient techno of Teutonic grandeur. But with the two seemingly concentrating on other projects, Marsen Jules (Dortmundian Martin Juhls, who also records under the monikers krill.minima and Falter) has stepped in to fill the void. His sound is still classically rooted and constructed from loops yet excludes the techno dimension that figures prominently in the Gas recordings, especially the earlier ones. The melancholy Herbstlaub (“autumn leaves”) sounds less majestic than Königsforst and more impressionistic compared to the austere and academic style of Betrieb. Another difference is that Jules weaves together samples (the recording of a string trio, a harp orchestra, a symphony in rehearsal) and the playing of his own acoustic instruments, though the resultant mass of sound largely renders the component parts homogeneous.
Herbstlaub's intimate pieces unfurl elegantly, with loops functioning as rhythmic anchors in place of explicit beats. Jules sometimes defines a relatively static base that allows for a more organic play of strings and strums on top. In “Aile d'aigle,” for example, lush strings swoop and fall over a pedal point drone, the piece vaguely reminiscent in its romantic character of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Consistent with the album's autumnal theme, Jules fashions pensive, meditative oases (“Tous les coeurs de cette terre” and “De la mort d'un cygne”) where interweaves of dulcimer-like patterns, pianos, and strings ripple through dense smears of static. Dreamy and peaceful, “Aurore” evokes the most blissful of countryside settings, with looped strums reflecting like sunlight off a summer pond.
Herbstlaub is the third such project from Jules, coming after Lazy Sunday Funerals (2003) and Yara (2004), both available in their entirety as free downloads. Though still appealing, the tracks on Lazy Sunday Funerals are more static by comparison, suggesting perhaps that Jules was tentatively exploring the concept that now appears fully realized on Herbstlaub (it's also conceivable that he intentionally designed the pieces to be more ambient). In this case, Jules builds pieces using samples, often single chords or notes, of resonant orchestral fragments.
In term of its genesis, Yara deviates radically from the other two. In the autumn of 2002, the Dortmund classical trio Yara performed two club concerts that were recorded with a microphone positioned at the bar away from the stage. Because of the distance separating them, ambient noise—people talking, glasses clattering, doors opening and closing—appeared on the tape in addition to the trio's playing, all of which Jules extracted and then deployed as source material for the six pieces (an idea conceptually kin to Terre Thaemlitz's Interstices where tracks were built from interstitial detritus). In some cases, the difference between Yara and the other two recordings is clearly audible; in addition to the fourth piece's static clouds and piano sprinkles, for instance, an aquatic ambiance emerges from the combination of soft voices and harbour-like bells. Yet while Yara's sonic palette is more varied and expansive, looped fragments still coalesce into hypnotic pieces swathed in delay and reverb. Conceptually, the work is deepened by the indexical presence of human activity yet the result sonically complements the other two in spite of Yara's pronounced field dimension. Regardless of the differences between them, Jules focuses on atmosphere above all else, his pieces sonorous portraits built from layered loops of textural fragments.