Moritz von Oswald Trio - Horizontal Structures
The newest Moritz von Oswald Trio release is more properly a quintet recording: the core trio of von Oswald (electronics), Max Loderbauer (electronics), and Sasu Ripatti (percussion) is joined by Tikiman on guitar (!) and bass from Marc Muellbauer. Like many von Oswald projects, these “structures” follow a relatively fixed path, with little in the way of thematic development over their respective durations. ”Structure” is a great term for these pieces, really, as they lend themselves to the kinds of analysis often reserved for architecture or visual art rather than music. Instead of harmonic development or melodic evolution, I find myself appreciating them in terms of proportion, balance, weight, texture, and palette.
What is unique to Horizontal Structures, especially in comparison to the previous Vertical Ascent release, is a significantly diminished reliance on beats. When one considers that the core trio can sometimes function with all three providing percussion-oriented sounds at once, rhythmic delineation on this record is handled with a surprisingly light touch. Though these pieces are improvisatory, it sounds like several conditions must have been laid down by the group at the start of recording, foremost among them a special emphasis on listening. For this music, “listening” isn’t simply a matter of listening to each others’ improvised phrases and working toward a cosmic frenzy—instead each musician is listening for the Structure itself, a collective effort of building and preservation.
Structure 1 is my favorite, and it’s very evocative of an early to mid 80s NYC Downtown Scene jam, perhaps a cousin of early Bill Laswell. Its “structure” is fortified through short phrases exchanged among the group that are sustained through atmospheric washes of reverb. Guitar lines alternate between occasional nods to blues playing and whole tone descending passages (symmetrical scales are a great way to install some balance in a “structure,” I think). Structure 2 keeps the reverb and feels even more minimalist, spinning around a long-repeating rhythmic synth pulse and eventually supporting some gentle percussion that sounds more tribal than dancefloor.
Dub beats themselves, a mainstay of von Moritz projects like Basic Channel, don’t materialize until Structure 3, over 30 minutes into the album. In the first half-hour, only the subtlest of allusions are made to dub through occasional moments of triplet delays bathed in reverb. Structure 3, though, will satisfy listeners looking for a track more expected of a von Moritz group. The album closer, Structure 4, has a bit of the tribal vibe of Structure 2 and more symmetrical harmonic action like Structure 1 (this time riffing for a long time around a simple tritone), but distinguishes itself through a mix that ultimately sheds the blanket of reverb worn over the previous structures, and increases musical density. It closes the record with considerably more percussion than the first half, but returns to avoidance of anything that could remotely be considered a dance music rhythmic cliche. It’s also the longest track of the album, leaving some space in its final third for individual musicians to briefly peek through the mix with independent voices before coming closely together for a soft, quiet landing.
Is there an intentional contrast between Horizontal Structures and Vertical Ascent? The album titles beg to be compared. The “structures” are all longer than the “patterns” of Vertical Ascent, so in a literal sense, there is more horizontal space afforded to pieces on the new album. On a conceptual level, there are subtle differences in overall approach between the two albums, but nothing jarring. Vertical Ascent’s “patterns” are all more beat oriented than most of Horizontal Structures, though Structure 3 wouldn’t be out of place in Ascent. And the Vertical record is lacking a bit of organic feel from the guitar/bass addition to Horizontal—the acoustic bass parts especially enrich the vibe of Horizontal for me, warmly grounding each Structure. But overall both albums have a similarly sparse approach to collective improvisation, and both focus on quickly creating and sustaining a particular atmosphere with each piece rather than searching for thematic leaps and falls.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is a Structure 5 track available as download-only. It’s a shorter recording than the other Structures at 8 and a half minutes, and it does have more of a dynamic rise and fall than the CD/LP cuts. The whole track is drowning (or “swimming,” if you prefer) in reverb, and it’s made mostly of percussive hits and distorted and ring modulated synth sounds that evoke an early industrial-era vibe (though again without delineating a particular beat). It comes to a gentle conclusion much like Structure 4, but it takes a shorter and noisier route to get there. Foreshadowing of an upcoming project focussing on the diagonal, perhaps?