Album Review: Moritz von Oswald – Silencio

The Breakdown

...A beautifully orchestrated collection of work, bringing to fruition a set of ideas that leaves a solid document exploring the relation between man and machine...

What are the differences and similarities between human and artificial sound, between oscillations generated by vocal cords and synthesizer voices, voltage amplified by speakers? On Silencio, his latest album for Tresor Records, Moritz von Oswald works with a 16-voice choir to explore this concept.

Drawing from the ensemble works of long-standing inspirations Edgard Varèse, György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis, von Oswald and Vocalconsort Berlin delve into the space between sounds, creating a deeply textured collection that shifts between light & ethereal and dark & dissonant.

As masterfully demonstrated in early works of von Oswald together with Mark Ernestus’ influential Basic Channel project, repetition and reduction are key elements here, much in the tradition of techno and minimalism. The vast dynamism of the human voice adds to the profound weight of electronics while offering up a rhythmic source and sonic noise palette unexplored in von Oswald’s repertoire. In Silencio, von Oswald dredges a dank murk, pulling clouds over a distant pulse. It hangs, ready to take on new forms.

The compositions were written in von Oswald’s Berlin studio on classic synthesizers, such as the EMS VCS3 & AKS, Prophet V, Oberheim 4-Voice and the Moog Model 15. These abstract recordings were transcribed to sheet music for choir by Berlin-based Finnish composer and pianist, Jarkko Riihimäki and performed by Vocalconsort Berlin in Ölberg church in the city’s Kreuzberg district, only few metres down the road from where Dubplates & Mastering and Hard Wax opened their doors for music enthusiasts for many years so long.

The recordings of the choral versions were then incorporated into the synthesized parts of the album and brought into anew electronic context; in Silencio, the focus is not on using one means to imitate the other, but to sonically discuss the tensions and harmonies between the two worlds and create a dialogue between them.

The relationship between von Oswald and Tresor Records goes back thirty years, all the way to Blake Baxter’s Dream Sequence in 1991 – which von Oswald engineered alongside Thomas Fehlmann. The collaboration with Fehlmann lived on, seeing the duo team up as 3MB with Eddie Fowlkes or Juan Atkins. More recently, the Detroit-Berlin connection continued as Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald present Borderland.

This work is key to understanding how his collaborative nature draws together different communities in a sonic and cultural exchange, helping forge some of the everlasting relationships between musicians in Detroit and Berlin.

For von Oswald, Tresor Records and also the participating guest musicians of the choir, this release brings together audiences from other musical areas, cross-pollinating; Silencio is an album that stands for itself beyond the musical genre boundaries.

Verdict: A very interesting project with wonderfully composed minimal ambient pieces. The use of the choir to act as an accompanying element within the structure lends a very ominous tone compared to that of the choir omitted version(s) and thus shows from comparison what was intended from the work: an opening up of dialogue between the pieces. A beautifully orchestrated collection of work, bringing to fruition a set of ideas that leaves a solid document exploring the relation between man and machine when used as a musical element within a composition.

Track List:

  1. Silencio
  2. Luminoso
  3. Librarsi
  4. Infinito
  5. Colpo
  6. Volta (Version)
  7. Infinito (Version)
  8. Luminoso (Version)
  9. Volta
  10. Opaco
  11. Opaco (Version)

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