Invading Pleasures: Infinite Jest
Gruenrekorder [Sound Art Series]

Gruenrekorder has certainly made a name for itself as a central hub for field recordings-related activity, but there are other sides to the label, too, one of which is symbolized by Infinite Jest, a seventy-minute collection produced by Stuttgart-based saxophonists Mark Lorenz Kysela and Nikola Lutz under the Invading Pleasures name. Though it's tempting to describe the release as representative of the label's more conventional musical side, such a description is misleading: the material, while rooted in musical form, is anything but conventional; instead, it's as daring and experimental as anything else in the Gruenrekorder catalogue and fittingly is presented as an installment in the label's Sound Art Series.

The saxophonists draw inspiration from the instrument's seemingly limitless sound-generating possibilities, especially when it's augmented by electronics, and fervently apply that mindset to the six settings on the recording, two of them by Uwe Rasch and one by Lutz herself. The range of music explored on the album might not match the mind-boggling sprawl of David Foster Wallace's novel—what recording could?—but it does at the very least suggest it. In pursuit of their goal, Kysela and Lutz arm themselves with soprano, alto, tenor, and bass saxophones, as well as contrabass clarinet, tárogató (an Eastern European folk instrument), and, of course, electronics. Both musicians are engaged in exploring the overlaps between composed and improvised forms and between the acoustic and electronic realms.

Rasch's two pieces derive from a body of work he's creating based on Schubert's twenty-four-part song cycle Die Winterreise. The first of the two, aus vierundzwanzig: vierundzwanzig (based on “Der Leiermann,” the last of the cycle's songs), catches one's ear immediately due to the minute differences between the saxophones' unison lines. Beating effects are generated when the pitches closely align, and the pitch-shifting capacity of the instrument allows the patterns to gradually converge and diverge, making for all kinds of fascinating sonic effects. The second, aus vierundzwanzig: zwölf/einundzwanzig, uses pitches taken from the twelfth (“Einsamkeit”) and the twenty-first (“Das Wirtshau”s) songs, which are overlaid and separately voiced by the instruments. Complicating matters, a playback triggered by the players' foot pedals and based on the barking of dogs appears as recurring punctuation.

The energy level escalates in Malte Giesen's mit Verlaub, a wild, roller-coaster collage of bleating saxes, garbled voice chatter, multiphonics, unison pitches, programmed beats, and noise. A somewhat macabre dimension is added to the project via Remmy Canedo's Criminal Immensity, which doesn't come as a complete shock given that it's based on Georges Bataille's L'Archangélique and smears the saxophones' grinding and groaning with scabs of grime and distortion. As aptly titled but a little easier on the ears is Joseph Michaels' Assembly Line, which re-assembles recordings of Kysela's soprano sax playing to mimic the repetitious operation of an automated assembly line.

For Lutz's Graphic Sound VI, the musicians recorded a series of improvisations that she then shaped into a twenty-two-minute collage. Over the course of the piece, guttural, burbling, braying, creaking, and writhing sounds repeatedly surface in what could be construed as a direct challenge to accepted definitions of music. Still, as interesting as its wide-ranging soundworld is, the piece's explorative flow arrests the momentum established by Rasch's opener, and it's not the only time the listener is asked to accept meander on the recording. To appreciate what Infinite Jest has to offer, there are times when one must attune oneself to its oft-meditative character and set aside expectations of high-intensity fireworks—though there is a generous helping of that, too.

March 2016