Peter Prautzsch: Schwere See
Neo Ouija

Recorded over two years in Kiel and Berlin, Germany and Hvide Sande, Denmark, Peter Prautzsch conceptually unifies his sophomore album effort Schwere See (Heavy Sea) by connecting its settings to the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century expeditions of oceanic and polar explorers. Water-based field recordings and radio transmissions lend further context to the project, whose eleven pieces range dramatically across a panorama of genres, including neo-classical, drones, ambient electronica, and collage, with much of the album cloaked in melancholy, even gloom.

Certainly the title of the brief overture “Beaufort” ties it to the album theme, as do the seagulls cawing alongside its foreboding drum pounds and swelling strings, which seem to swoop as dramatically as said birds. The album proper might be said to begin with “Skagerrak,” however, whose dense, nightmarish dronescaping is normalized by the hard-hitting punch of Marc Weiser's (formerly of Rechenzentrum) drumming. With its tempo reduced to a crawl, the gloomy “Nebelbank” is almost anemic by comparison, though it does allow for the percussive contributions of Sasu Ripatti (Vladislav Delay, Luomo) to be all the more clearly heard. In this case, snare and tympani accents provide an ongoing commentary to a woozy flow concocted by Prautzsch that can't help but suggest a ship's rocking. Also evoking the to-and-fro movement of an immense ship, “Treibeis” emphasizes the classical side of the project, with shuddering strings, horns, and other orchestral instruments moving in varying degrees of slow-motion alongside field recordings of water and noise. While some pieces are turbulent, others are relatively peaceful, such as “Aurora Borealis” and “Windstille,” whose delicate piano playing is augmented by Masayoshi Fujita's (El Fog) vibraphone shimmer.

There are moments that are almost Wagner-esque, so thick and dense is the horn-drenched sound Prautzsch generates, and much of the material unfolds at the same glacial pace at which the ships would have traveled in making their way through the Arctic Ocean and to the continent of Antarctica. The word cinematic gets thrown around fairly casually, but in this case the term applies: from beginning to end, Prautzsch's pieces tie together cohesively and consistently in their reinforcement of his evocative project's core concept.

March 2012