Debut album of Field Rotation’s Christoph Berg, Paraphrases.
Three instruments alone form this heartbreaking album; the double bass, the piano and the violin. Of course, this is a point that has been raised in numerous reviews of this release, but it’s an important point to make I feel; the narrow range of classical instrumentation results in a clean, pure and more intimate sound, one that is not so easy to pull off. The sparsity of the textures lays everything out to dry and any slight imperfection would ruin it; luckily Berg seems to be a man who knows what he’s doing.
The opening track “Falling Asleep” introduces the somewhat uncomfortable nature of the album; while the soft sounds of the violin in all its multi-layered, multi-textural beauty are calming and soothing there is also a distinctly unsettling and dark tone, reminiscent of the dark thoughts that swill within our subdued unconscious while sleeping. “Elegy” moves us along and is every iota of its namesake; a “piece of music in a mournful style”. The double bass begins to make its presence known as it sets a slow pace whilst the wistful strings force some mournful notes out.
As we move into “Poems Written By An Old (Prepared) Piano”, delicate field recordings begin to seep into the sound as the clack of the typewriter mirrors the lightly distorted piano chords that patter quietly. The music is even more minimal than before, stripped back to the absolute bare bones as we sit down to write a few words on the memories we have of sitting behind the old piano. The piano is disharmonious, sketches of memories of music from our childhood, the sound tired and dusty. “Buildings At Night” is our escape from this nostalgia, bringing those piercing, elongate violin strings back again and submerging the night view with a light drone fog, or perhaps the bleak and ever present background rumbles and noises of any city.
Maybe the mid-album “Interlude” is going to introduce us to a somewhat less intense second half; a return to the warmth of daylight is summoned by the muffled shouts and chatter of a crowd, making way for a richer, drone filled latter track as we complete our escape to the countryside, away from the grey misery of the city. Crows and other admittedly ominous sounds begin to intrude; the crunch of leaves underfoot, the rustling of hedgerows; you never know quite where you’re at with this piece, nor indeed with this album. After a true interlude with minute “Paraphrases (Vinyl)” we approach my favourite track of the album, “A Small Path Crossing”. Defining quite what is appealing to me about this is tricky; there is a moment of focus and clarity where the overlapping violin textures seem to align and conjoin around 3 and 4 minutes in, the meeting of man and nature in a gesture as simple as crossing a stream over a bridge and pausing for a few seconds to look down its course.
And that’s all but it for this album; closer “Quiet Times At The Library” instills an atmosphere of calm and contemplation as we leave this gentle release behind, somehow making the prospect of sitting at a desk working an enjoyable task. Almost undetectable taps and scratches remind us we often dont work alone and draws us back to the work at hand at a time when perhaps our attention may waiver as our eyes cast over the other busy souls and the myriad of books.
It’s a minimal album for sure, and the frequent moments of disharmony may challenge listeners, but there are some real Modern Classical/Ambient gems here and I find myself being continually drawn back to the thin richness of the sound and the obviously meticulous and careful nature of its construction.