Markus Mehr "Live In Bari" Reviewed at Cyclic Defrost

“The proliferation of looping pedals has been both a blessing and a curse for improvising musicians. One-man(woman)-bands are able to proliferate, backing their own noodlings with self-created walls of texture, rhythm and harmonic structure. The ease with which this is possible, however, can result in something of a uniform, and therefore stale, sound and dynamic between artists. This single track, live recording of Markus Mehr avoids much of that aural greyness.

Starting with the sound of a guitar jack being plugged in, which is looped to give us the first, simple rhythm, it doesn’t take Mehr too long to build up momentum. What initially sounds like guitar textures make up the bulk of the opening movement. About 10 minutes in, there’s a dynamic shift. At first, ghostly radio voices pass through semi-consciously, then walls of grainy synth chordal meanderings build to a near crescendo, with nods to Fennesz or Ben Frost. The grains are gradually amplified and split apart, haunting monk choruses flying in the background as the digital processing takes the lead role. I can imagine Mehr gradually moving from one instrument to another, then to his effects units/ laptop as the music meanders along. It is a visually evocative work, in that sense. Not in terms of being the soundtrack to some movie of the mind but, like a work of abstract expressionism, containing the movements of creation in some detail, while simultaneously maintaining its own sense of self-contained grandeur and wonder. An aural Rothko, if you will (Pollock or De Kooning far too brash for the sensitivity of sound heard below the static here).

As the piece progresses, a more static, drone-based stillness settles underneath the increasingly strident processing, before the two kind of mesh into a warm, noise like wash. A sudden rise in booming bass signals the end of this phase, cutting out with a single clunk before the meandering synths and sighs weigh back in. Those voices grow and grow, phasing around as a degraded tape recording, the airy synths eventually taking their place.

The set is a constantly evolving monolith. Apart from that one, dynamic shift midway through, you never really notice the shifts, yet where it ends up is a fair way from where it starts and from many of the points along the way. For a work that has the overall feel of ambience, no sound is ever stationary and, most importantly, unless you consciously decide to listen out for them, you never really notice the reliance on loops. The sounds just feel organic, not trapped inside circuitry. Coming after a decade or so of solo, loop based, ambient-noise explorations of every shade, the fact that Mehr has created a piece, within these parameters, that doesn’t sound stale, rote or like an artist going through the motions is an achievement in itself. That is imminently listenable, evocative and beautiful as well is a great bonus. The hearty applause at the end of the set is thoroughly justified.”

Cyclic Defrost

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