Bearing in mind that this is an album from an experimental chamber music ensemble who have just released a live performance of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music to grab our attention and generate some column inches, you can rest assured that full of radio friendly unit shifters it most definitely ain’t.
Xenakis (A)Live! is instead the latest original work from German composer, performer, curator and musical director Reinhold Friedl, performed by his usual band of noisescape cohorts Zeitkratzer. In the same way as better known art racket curators such as Steve Reich and John Cage, he is blurring (or perhaps more accurately fuzzing) the boundaries between classical and contemporary music, between ancient, modern and futuristic.
His blend of electronic distortion, feedback loops and samples is more relaxing, more (dare we say it) melodic here than on Metal Machine Music, recalling the junglist dawn choruses of Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, or the death lament of a particularly depressed robot whale. The music is surprisingly organic underneath the electronics. Processed from life rather than created from scratch in a cold, lifeless studio, there is an underlying warmth bubbling through to the surface.
Zeitkratzer perform using instruments that will be familiar to any chamber orchestra: piano, violin, cello, contrabass, clarinets, trumpet, tuba and percussion. It’s what they do with them that makes them special, tearing the heart and soul (or melody and harmony) out of them and putting in its place something all together darker and more interesting.
Xenakis (A)Live! does sound remarkably that: alive. If music can be verbal, this composition is waking up, emerging from the darkness of night into a tentative new day as the hidden night terrors only partially retreat. Sonorous tubas bellow beneath the birdsong twittering that seeps under your skin, at once both a lullaby and a warning to run.
Inspired by and dedicated to Greek electro-pioneer Iannis Xenakis, who died in 2001, this is Reinhold and Zeitkratzer doing what they do best – in fact, what only they could probably do at all, which is to take music that it should be impossible to recreate outside of the studio and perform it live.
The result has a lot in common with Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Deliberately of course – it is no coincidence that they release their performance of Reed’s re-evaluated masterpiece and this album on the same day – and there are thematic links between them beyond the simple existence of feedback and loops. Of the two, this is the gentler, more chilled option, so laid back that it has gone beyond the horizontal.
Its deep tones and juxtaposed twittering samples has an almost womb-like quality, the noises that enter your head during sensory deprivation or when you sink underwater, dozing off half asleep in a very hot bath.
As a counterpiece to Metal Machine Music, it works wonderfully, minimal and loose, floating away into an abyss of electronic dreams, sinking down through feedback clouds to a dark night from which you might one day emerge but where, until then, you’ll be happy to lose yourself and forget anything outside of this ever existed at all.