M. Ostermeier: The Rules of Another Small World

Marc Ostermeier has wasted no time in concocting a sequel to his previous full-length release, Chance Reconstruction, which came out last fall. Also issued on Tench, the follow-up, The Rules of Another Small World, is in some ways a natural extension of the previous release and in other ways a departure. While the earlier one tended to emphasize acoustic piano playing while at the same time augmenting it with understated helpings of electronic colour, guitar, and field recordings, the new one adjusts the balance somewhat by bringing a more equal degree of emphasis to all of the album's sounds. The title selected by the Baltimore, US-based composer is telling, as he purposefully applied self-imposed limitations—rules, of course—that helped guide the album's compositional process. The result is a distinctive electroacoustic collection dotted with micro-tonal detail that largely sidesteps any one delimiting style for a more open-ended presentation. Working with an elegantly restrained hand, Ostermeier doesn't overload the tracks' arrangements either yet still leaves them feeling rich with detail and colour.

The eleven pieces weigh in at a refreshingly succinct three minutes or thereabouts each. As stated, one thing that distinguishes the material is that it doesn't feature acoustic piano only. Instead, a typical setting embeds minimal piano ruminations within bright electronic-laden contexts that unfold unpredictably. The contrast that emerges between the acoustic piano playing and burbling electronics during a track such as “Streambed Arrangement” makes for another of the release's pleasures. Environmental sounds from field recordings also contribute to the sonic range of the material, as heard during “Sunlight On My Desk” when unidentifiable workplace clatter is added to the field of shimmering vibes cascades, piano, and electronics. A fireside seemingly crackles during the ambient calm of “Underwater Drifting,” while “Suspicions” paints a spectral scene populated by nocturnal flickers and the chatter of micro-life forms. In general, each piece keeps the listener guessing by emerging with its own set of surprises, whether it be the field recording textures that differentiate one piece from another or the subtle shifts in balance between acoustic and electronic sounds. There's a playfulness and lightness of spirit to the material, or a child-like simplicity perhaps, that's also not heard that often in genre recordings of its kind.

May 2011