Despite knowing Ulrich Krieger from a number of recordings, this is the first time I have heard one of his own compositions. Based on his work with Phill Niblock, Steve Reich and Zeitkratzer, I am not surprised by the form of Fathom (long tones, deliberate use of dynamics and a geological approach to timing) but I am surprised at how he has managed to take all his previous experience and influences and craft a truly original piece of music.
Fathom was commissioned by Sub Rosa for their new Framework series of albums. Each of the releases in this series feature a geometric pattern on the back of the sleeve and in Fathom’s case, the pattern has a Rorschach inkblot quality to it. This is fitting as Krieger’s piece has a lot in common with Rorschach’s open-ended visual stimuli. The role of the inkblots in therapy is to facilitate the patient’s dialogue with the therapist by giving them a starting point to begin describing their own thought processes. Abstract art has acted in a similar, if less directed way, and sound art too has this open, interpretive aspect to it. Fathom certainly leaves much to the imagination, depending on my mood the sounds range from being warm, womb-like and relaxing to being sinister, dangerous and arousing, much in the same way that a Rorschach inkblot could be both a demon and a flower depending on the inclination of the viewer.
Krieger’s composition also has an inkblot quality in its symmetrical structure. Two electric guitars (played by Krieger’s companions in the group Text of Light, Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht) initially form the focus of the piece, gently strummed harmonics shining bright in the middle of the darkness (represented by Krieger’s long, slow blows on the saxophone). Tim Barnes’ atmospheric percussion completes the picture, filling it out to the edges. Yet halfway through, this suddenly and almost subconsciously switches around with Barnes becoming the central point of the music, striking more bell-like instruments while Ranaldo and Licht move to a more vague and impressionistic mode of playing.
The line "Like flying through liquid space" adorns the back of the album and I honestly cannot beat that description when it comes to this music. It does feel like I am being pulled through some other, previously imperceptible dimension of reality for as long as the music is playing.
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