Moritz Von Oswald trio Moritz Von Oswald trioHorizontal Structures
What these three veteran musicians – Moritz Von Oswald, Sasu Ripatti (alias Vladislav Delay) and Max Loderbauer– have done was as inevitable as it was complicated: to apply to electronic music the logics of live improvisation, developed in the 20th century, mainly through U.S. jazz and the current of musical improvisation that came up in Europe post-WWII. When their first effort “Vertical Ascent” appeared, one could have thought it was a whim of three musicians who had nothing better to do (which by the way they didn’t have to do, as their respective CVs already guaranteed them a more or less distinguished place in the history of electronic music). The magic was, of course, that “Vertical Ascent” worked very well, and their idea of integrating traditional and electronic instruments in an improvised and organic whole gave way to an attractive record that could be listened to over and over with new details surfacing every time. After last year’s premiere of an interesting live set-up in New York, now “Horizontal Structures” is here –for now, only on digital format; the CD will be out shortly–, a more polished effort, more focussed, but also more demanding of the listener than its predecessor.
The five tracks all go under one title, “Structure”, distinguished only by a number. This reticence to give more clues about the music is something that has its roots in the minimal techno past of Moritz Von Oswald, and it also is related to the collective eagerness to immerse individual identities with the intention of responding between one another, as if it were only one mechanism. I don’t know to what extent the recordings are edited, but judging from what I hear on this record, the understanding between the musicians is such that one could sometimes think that at least some parts were composed beforehand. Like on “Structure 1”, a track that passes placidly, with only some rhythmic outlines punctuated by the exciting double bass of Marc Muellbauer. The newest element on the album, Paul St Hilaire’s (aka Tikiman) meditative guitar, surfaces soon after the record starts, with hints of late seventies / early eighties cosmic rock with new age touches like Steve Hillage’s “Rainbow Dome Musick”. But the techniques inherited from dub and techno go beyond temporal references, giving way to thirteen dynamic minutes during which there’s always something happening, although the subtlety is such that you need to listen to it several times in order to appreciate how the musicians respond to each other, which without a doubt adds to the interest of the record.
The sudden ending of this first structure leads to the second, with a first few seconds reminiscent of techno that give way to a pulsating rhythm that leads the track to the horizon, with some synths flying over that at times sound like seventies space jazz. In fact there is talk of Sun Ra in relation to tracks like this one, though I myself think the most interesting connection is with futurist jazz records like Herbie Hancock’s “Sextant”. “Structure 3” is the most dubbed out track, both the guitars and most of all the rhythm sound deliciously raw, crunchy, earthy and slightly resounding. And if the third structure is closest to dub, the fourth is closer to techno during the most subtle and least melodic twenty minutes of the record, and partly because of this it’s the track that will ask the most of some of the listeners, although the rhythmic loop that forms the spine of the cut is hypnotic enough to maintain the interest in the ideas developed around it by Von Oswald and company. On the digital version there is a fifth structure, shorter and less interesting, dominated by the rhythmic rattling of Sasu Ripatti.
On “Horizontal Structures”, as on the previous two albums, the functionality of music for the dancefloor remains subdued to a mutual exploration of the sonic characteristics of the members of Moritz Von Oswald Trio, expanded here to a quintet, in which minimal techno and dub play a bigger part, two types of music which, as we can hear here, work very well as starting points for sonic improvisation, offering strictness, tension and elasticity at the same time. In improvisation, a big part of its success depends on the talent of the musicians and the level of understanding with regards to the musical ideas of each one. In both cases, Moritz Von Oswald Trio have more than enough.