Carbon & Chairs is a wonderful work of sound-art by Vienna-based musicians Andreas Trobollowitsch and Johannes Tröndle. In 2007, Trobollowitsch and Tröndle founded the electro-acoustic duo nörz, which uses cello and live electronics, as well as a no-input-mixer, tapes, and various prepared objects. nörz focuses on composing in real-time; they are concerned less with improvisation, and more with spontaneous interactions that create shape and structure. Since their inception, nörz has played dozens of concerts throughout Europe, and their debut CD Acker Velvet (Schraum, 2009) garnered critical praise among the experimental music community.
For their new CD Carbon & Chairs, Trobollowitsch and Tröndle took a different approach: they created twelve pieces based on a series of improvisations that they performed and recorded, and then they reworked these pieces via computer. As they dove deeper into the production process, it became clear that this work was more open, more structurally complex, and possibly more accessible than nörz. They christened their new group "Acker Velvet" as a way to link this work to their previous CD, but also to signal that this is a different sonic direction than nörz.
The resulting thirty-nine minutes of music has an otherworldly beauty that's mysterious and evocative, an engrossing field of sound that's a sheer pleasure to enter. Standouts include the five-minute "emma," which has a repetitive motif and metallic drone that builds slowly and steadily into a multi-layered electronic march. There's a lyricism here that dances on the edge of noise, interrupted and supplemented by wild buzzing and pitiless machines. The intriguing "xyl" employs a cello sample by Meaghan Burke to create a haunting atmosphere with plucks and bells and the occasional clang. The song is full of strange, menacing sounds that teeter on the edge of the identifiable, sonics that slip past words and don't allow for categories. The short but sweet "ol" resembles a tropical jungle, complete with what sounds like (but isn't) froggy-cricket vocalizations. And in the fascinating "haco," the duo turns the traditional tension-and-release compositional model upside down: rather than create tension just to release it, they like to create tension, then ride it to its ominous, almost unbearable edge. "Flesh" contains fabulously eerie vocals and lyrics by Werner Kitzmüller that are backed by chiming bits of resonance. The piece morphs into an atmospheric field that sounds like stormy weather, and then comes back to the vocals for a disquieting but immensely pleasing ending.
With Carbon & Chairs, Trobollowitsch and Tröndle have created a riveting work of art that continues to expand with repeated listening. As the duo goes forward with their groups nörz and acker velvet, it will be exciting to hear just where their willingness to grow and explode boundaries will take them next.
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