Field Rotation: Acoustic Tales
Fluid Audio

Welcome to the magnificent sound-world of Christoph Berg's Field Rotation whose Acoustic Tales presents eleven evocations of panoramic character and moods all held together by the discerning artistry of their creator. Created over a two-year period, Acoustic Tales represents an attempt on Berg's part to meld the literary traits of Kafka and Hemingway into auditory form, and certainly the enigmatic and brooding qualities of Kafka's writing are evident in the album's tracks. It would be easy, for example, to imagine many of the tracks (the second and fourth tales for starters) acting as parts of a soundtrack to some cinematic treatment of The Castle, as ill-advised as such a film project would be.

The compositions and arrangements on this exquisite album are marvelous. Not a sound is out of place and a perfect balance is struck in terms of precisely how many sounds are in play at a given moment. While producers operating in the electroacoustic ambient field are as a general rule meticulous, Field Rotation embodies this quality in the most satisfying manner, as a clinical degree of circumspection is brought to bear upon every sound choice. Anyone desirous of a reference point might imagine some ideal fusion of Max Richter and Rachel's as a start.

The first tale, a brooding organ-heavy setting, provides a promising gateway to the album but more glorious tracks follow. The second immediately raises the bar higher when the mournful melody of a solo violin appears against a sparse backdrop of strings, lapping percussion, and clanking accents. Berg develops the piece beautifully by following the initial episode with a variation on it now supplemented by a heavy percussion element and an all-around richer palette. Even more resplendent is the fourth tale, which finds Danny Norbury's cello emoting against a crackle-soaked blend of shuddering strings and hand bell accents, with all of it topped by sparkling celeste melodies and harp plucks. What it amounts to is seven remarkable minutes of compositional and arranging artistry that stands head and shoulders above the electroacoustic ambient norm.

Acoustic Tales aligns itself to the electronic-classical genre with the emphasis on composition, sound design, and arrangement above all else. That classical dimension is rendered overt in tracks such as the funereal seventh and stately, waltz-like tenth where harp plucks share space with elegiac strings. An occasional field recording seeps into a given tale, and a light coating of haze blankets much of the album too. While it might seem churlish to be critical in light of the high calibre of music-making, the album's near-seventy-minute running time means that more is featured than necessary and the album loses a bit of cohesiveness as a result; Berg might have been wiser to have included the best eight of the eleven pieces on the album, and kept the remaining three for another time and place. It should be noted that Fluid Audio's presentation is a match for the musical content, as the release (available in 200 copies only) comes in a letterpressed package that includes a twenty-page booklet featuring photography by Antonymes and poetry from Estela Lamat.

January 2011