Edwards Berlin Strings is a classically trained chamber ensemble specializing in collaborations with pop and indie musicians, as well as cinematic compositions. The quartet consists of Lisa Marie Vogel (violin), Johanna Wundling (violin), Tabea Haarmann-Thiemann (viola) and Luisa Babarro Fernández (cello); the inspiraton is to make classical music more tangible for the modern listener. With dissonances and polyrhythmic sections woven into loops and layered over electronic soundscapes, the album “On A Dark Night” transports the listener into a dream world.
German Berlin Strings are a string quartet, but above all they are a promise: that complexity doesn’t have to sound hermetic. That danceability and introspection fit into one bow stroke. That music can be complicated, but not in an exclusionary way, but in one that you want to understand, one that allows for a number of approaches. And in all of this, Berlin Strings are first and foremost: a promise that classical music can be more than ingenious solo efforts by lone fighters.
Lisa Marie Vogel, Johanna Wundling, Tabea Haarmann-Thiemann and Luisa Babarro Fernández have worked long enough as researchers on their own sound since they got to know each other in the National Youth Orchestra and founded Berlin Strings 13 years ago. A sound that has always been permeated by both: the discipline of classical music, pure craftsmanship, the sublime set of rules of composition that make communication wordless. But also of experimentation, the flirtation with dissonances and arrhythmics, with cuts and loops, the electronically constructed underpinning, which now becomes the supporting force of many string arrangements on their first album “On A Dark Night”. An architecture that works because it is always centered around violins, viola and violoncello.
That was the challenge when, in the midst of pandemic paralysis, Berlin Strings set out to actively search for collaborators for an album that is above all courageous because its makers relinquished control over the compositions they would later record. “On A Dark Night” has become such an approachable album not least because it tells of trust between artists from a wide variety of genres, sound activists, arrangers and film musicians, who were guided solely by the working title “Play It On A Dark Night”, a song by musician and lyricist Patti Smith and an Edward Hopper picture. And the knowledge of this one silent agreement: the string quartet remains in focus.
An anchor that lets the quartet’s strings revolve around their own fixed point in the unsettled realms of Shannon Sea’s avant-garde aesthetic just as vividly as they do surrounded by Therese Strasser’s beauty of repetition. Which leads back to the deleted or plucked core of the album from Philipp Thimm’s post-rock-like voice field recordings just as much as it lets Ella Zwietnig’s siren-like vocals get out of hand just for a snapshot. With all this, “On A Dark Night” is not a shadow album, it is hopeful in the most dazzling way, as the forward-looking opening track of Ralph Heidel and Dascha Dauenhauer’s permanently rebuilding “Play It On A Dark Night” predict. And sometimes it’s even funny to cry. When the violins in Gunter Papperitz’s “Night Ride Under Ground” start a staccato sprint, for example. And it’s healing when Conrad Oleak’s electronica splashes down like life-giving drops on a dry basic arrangement, while you just get in and out somewhere like in a Coen brothers film – in Anneli Bentler’s filigree sound design backdrop, for example, or in “Somnium” by Berlin Strings member Tabea Haarmann-Thiemann.
The way this album was created is also hopeful – made possible by community crowdfunding, implemented on their own. “On A Dark Night” was recorded as part of a big reunion with all collaborators in Berlin’s Vox sound studio. A challenge, says Luisa Babarro Fernández, because unlike in pop, when you play string arrangements, you hear everything, every scratch, every stumble, every carelessness. Little can be edited, cut, moved. On “On A Dark Night” there is no carelessness to be felt, no scratch to be heard – or it is intentional. Maybe because Wundling, Vogel, Haarmann-Thiemann and Babarro Fernández have known their instruments since childhood, maybe because they were quite sure of their abilities, but maybe also because Berlin Strings made a promise with this album not only to their listeners, but also to themselves: Whoever stumbles here will be caught. – Jennifer Beck
Verdict: A combination of contemporary classical with a light touch of electronica. Beautifully performed and brimming with ideas, each composition delivers a very emotive narrative from the musicians. The collection plays out like scenes from a film, with each individual piece capturing a certain mood, from joy and wonderment to wistful melancholy and sometimes, even moments of fearful apprehension. Berlin Strings choice of collaborators on the album is faultless and works harmoniously within the compositions, especially when bringing artist to combine electronic synthetics within certain works. ‘On a dark night’ is not only a prime example of how classical instrumented works have their place in today’s musical landscape but also how its bastions are shaping its future.
A1 About Glow And Soaring
A2 Play It On A Dark Night
A3 The Walk
B1 Night Ride Under Ground
B4 Dear Father (Beatless Version)
B5 What Brings You Down
Musicians: Lisa Marie Vogel (violin), Johanna Wundling (violin), Tabea Haarmann-Thiemann (viola), Luisa Babarro Fernández (violoncello) / mastering. Martin Ruch / Recording & Mixing@Vox-Ton Studio: Henrik Havelka / Mixing: Conrad Oleak, Philipp Johann Thimm, Ella Zwietnig, Christoph de la Chevallerie /Artwork: Bianca Strauch, Mjam Mjam /Artist Photos: Rebecca Kraemer