zeitkratzer: volksmusik

Recorded live at the Donaufestival Krems, Austria on April 29, 2007, volksmusik (the “people's music”) finds its inspiration in folk recordings from countries bordering the Danube and the Alpine regions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc., and as such is conspicuously different from other zeitkratzer releases. The eleven pieces aren't traditionals re-imagined by the Berlin ensemble but compositions by pianist and artistic director Reinhold Friedl (including a few collaborations with Maurice de Martin and Burkhard Schlothauer). Anything but precious in its attitude (liner notes emphasize the group's receptivity to the “contamination” other sources bring to its music), zeitkratzer not surprisingly treats the folk tradition with audacity.

Being so grounded in folk rhythms, the material erupts with energy, something less immediately apparent when “Batuta” opens with the lurch of a funeral march and strings that seem intent on mimicking the wail of tormented souls. But soon after the tempo accelerates to breakneck proportions with horns and strings violently colliding—the band sounding more like a wild pub band than anything else. Trumpets, clarinets, and bagpipes dance through the klezmer-like “Bouchimich” and thunderous “Sirba” respectively, while “Hora” sways drunkenly as its meter oscillates between 5/4 and 7/8, the tempi never played in total synchronicity. In “Picior,” percussionist Maurice de Martin leads a lively call-and-response prior to Hayden Chisholm's sinuous bagpipe solo, and violinist Burkhard Schlothauer violently scrapes and flails his way through the swinging dance piece “Lirica.” Comparatively more sober though no less extroverted is “Mountain,” where Franz Hautzinger's trumpet brays against a string-drenched background. The group also delivers a couple of vocal pieces (“Jodler,” “Holzlerruf”) with untrammeled panache.

It's tempting to characterize volksmusik as an anomaly within the zeitkratzer discography but doing so would be misleading when it's simply one more in an ongoing series of audacious recordings. In 2007, the Berlin ensemble successfully took on the seemingly impossible challenge of transcribing Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music into notated form (Asphodel's definitive CD-DVD package even features Reed briefly sitting in on guitar during the live performance), and has most recently issued three “electronics”-themed collaborations with Carsten Nicolai, Terre Thaemlitz, and Keiji Haino. Nevertheless, anyone hearing volksmusik without some prior familiarity with zeitkratzer could come away with a rather skewed impression of this fearless and chameleonic ensemble.

March 2009