Günter Schlienz: Contemplation
The recordings in Preservation's ‘Circa' series continue to surprise, with the latest two, despite being as always united by Mark Growing's cover designs and issued in 300-copy runs, presenting dramatically different sides of the equation: on the one hand, there's the gentle synthesizer etudes of Günter Schlienz's Contemplation; on the other, the raw folk-styled musings of Dusted Lux's Neverended.
Though Contemplation is the German composer's first full-length work, Schlienz has, in fact, been creating meditations for about a decade. As the opening setting, “Immaculate” and the later “Waning” reveals, Schlienz's material situates itself comfortably next to the kind of cosmic synth-based material released by Oneohtrix Point Never and Panabrite, among others, and it therefore makes some kind of cosmic sense that fellow astral traveler Norm Chambers (aka Panabrite) would contribute synth, strings, and Rhodes to “Humble.” But, with one possible exception, the brooding, thirteen-minute dronescape “Lament,” Schlienz's tracks are neither epic in scope nor frosty in character. Instead, a representative piece such as the starry-eyed lullaby “Janitor” draws the listener into his world with warmth and pastoral serenity.
The first two or three times I listened to Contemplation I was reminded of Another Green World and an instrumental miniature such as “Little Fishes”; there's an innocence about the pieces on Schlienz's disc that charm in the same way Eno's did so many years ago (still do, for that matter), and certainly the pairing of Masako Kamikawa's piano and Schlienz's synthesizer makes “Home” sound very much like a lost track from the Eno album. But as I listened further, it began to dawn on me that Contemplation is perhaps even more reminiscent of the self-titled album Eno released with Cluster in 1977 on Sky Records. That's never more apparent than during “Humble,” where the delicate synthesizer melodies sing ever so sweetly, and “Numb,” where child-like melodies and simple drum patterns burble placidly. Regardless of whatever associations it invokes, his soothing material offers a refreshing respite from the omnipresent noise around us, and as if to drive the point home, Schlienz threads the nocturnal thrum of insects, recorded by dictaphone in Croatia, into the peaceful fabric of “Shimmer.”
If Contemplation in places recalls Eno and Cluster, Neverended by Dusted Lux aka Connecticut-based Lee Camfield suggests kinship with a far different figure: Kurt Cobain. Don't get the wrong idea: Neverended is hardly Nevermind's lost cousin, but on some songs Camfield's songwriting does call to mind the undeniable melodic sensibility that infused Cobain's raw productions. Perhaps it would be more accurate to draw a parallel between Camfield's folk songs and the general character of Nirvana's Unplugged set.
The essence of the Dusted Lux sound begins to crystallize during the shape-shifting opener “Sun Dogs” in its melding of hazy, lo-fi production textures and acoustic-folk guitar playing, the combination of which some might be inclined to label psych-folk, even if the material on Neverended eschews the disorienting wildness sometimes heard on a typical psych-folk release; one exception does appear, however: “Flight of Sparrows,” wherein Camfield sings like a man possessed against a backdrop of distorted percussive accents. The Dusted Lux sound comes into even fuller focus when Camfield adds his haunting murmur to the title track's lilting rhythms. Even more stirring is the plaintive ballad “Mono No Aware” where Camfield presents his chanting voice as an ethereal choir against a simple backdrop of acoustic strums and piano. Both worlds converge in the ten-minute opus “What is True” when his jangly acoustic picking gradually emerges out of a thick, industrial-folk fog and is joined by an hypnotic vocal.
Dusted Lux's Neverended soundworld is a a queasy one comprised of broken fragments, a puzzle of oddly shaped pieces that gradually coalesces into a slightly surreal depiction of a mist-covered landscape. When listened to alongside Contemplation, one comes away from the experience impressed by the explorative possibilities the Circa series continues to offer its artists as well as the overall high calibre of its material, even when the releases are so different as they are here.