Duncan Ó Ceallaigh: Ecclesia Semper Reformanda

John R Carlson: In November

John R Carlson: Recollections

Van Der Papen: Majestic

In keeping with Parvoart's intended concentration on four main genres (micro-sound, contemporary classical, ambient dub techno, and post-rock), the inaugurating titles from the Wismar, Germany-based micro-label are a stylistically diverse lot of 3-inch releases by label head Duncan Ó Ceallaigh, electronic duo Van Der Papen, and pianist John R. Carlson. It's high-quality material all around with each disc (50 copies available) providing twenty to twenty-five minutes of music. Ó Ceallaigh, who recently impressed with his U-cover outing Distant Voices, Still Lives, formally introduces Parvoart with Ecclesia Semper Reformanda whose electronic drones wouldn't sound out of place on 12k. Despite the prominent presence of background crackle and static, the title piece flows placidly for a soothing eight minutes. Gauzy tones flicker like fireflies over the lulling base, after which “Spatial,” a near-microsound interlude of footsteps-like percussive patter and warping tones, offers marked contrast. As its title indicates, “Perpetuum Mobile” revolves slowly in place, casting miniscule reflections off of its shiny surface while the sharp bristling tones of telephone wires rise and fall outside. The amplified gouge of a needle striking the vinyl surface subsequently emboldens the piece tremendously with subtle rhythmic and textural enhancements. “Perpetuum Mobile” in particular showcases Ó Ceallaigh's considerable gifts for artful sonic-sculpting.

With the first release so resolutely electronic in character, it comes as a surprise—though a far from unpleasant one—to discover the second, In November, to be a five-song collection of unedited solo piano improvisations by John R. Carlson, a one-time ballet dancer who has over seventy musical productions under his belt (in fact, so “live are the pieces, they were recorded without breaks or second attempts). Playing a Bechstein Grand, the US-born, Wismar, Germany-based pianist presents five elegantly flowing pieces that are emotional but not overwrought, technically accomplished yet free of needless embellishment—in short, Carlson's an artist whose focus is compositional first and foremost. In keeping with the release title, the material is often elegiac (“Silk”), wistful (“November's End”), and ruminative (“Epiphany”) but most of all lovely. The most elaborate piece, the eight-minute “Gone and Went,” brings an autumnal mood to its stately lines while constant shifts in key and melody introduce tension and drama, and insistent patterns add a shade of Eastern mystery to its multi-directional character.

At first blush, Carlson's Recollections sounds like In November II with “Remembrance” weaving elegant lines not unlike those on his first outing. As before, the release is a five-song collection but the addition of Oliver Sonntag's drumming to the opener provides immediate differentiation. In truth, while his sensitive percussive accompaniment does add a new wrinkle and while he does expertly mirror the pianist's changes in tempo and dynamics, the drummer's presence forces Carlson into a slightly more rigid style of playing that wouldn't develop if he were heard solo. The ultra-pretty “Elegie,” “Fragrance,” and “Mediate” pick up stylistically where In November left off and return the spotlight to the pianist alone. “Recollections of Emily” begins on a promisingly wistful note but is weakened by an unnecessary percussive pattern that gallops quietly but not so quietly that it doesn't prove intrusive and distracting. In short, Carlson's playing impresses most when presented in its most natural and unadulterated form. If you've read this far, you'll have guessed by now that Carlson's EPs aren't unlike Peter Broderick's lovely Float in that both artists' releases contain elegant, unedited improvisations the pianists laid down in single sessions.

The surprises continue with Parvoart's fourth release, Van Der Papen's Majestic, a deep plunge into vaporous techno that electronic producers Ronald and Christoph Lonkowsky (not only brothers but twins) suffuse with a heady dose of Basic Channel ambiance. In the epic “April,” languorous synth washes provide grandiose symphonic sweep and vinyl crackle adds texture while minimal techno beats slam, off-beat hi-hats ching, and cavernous bass lines chug. The mighty pulse's nine-minute throb feels so good one wishes it'd never end. Hammered Dulcimer playing by guest Ó Ceallaigh pushes the comparatively more atmospheric “30483” into exotic territory, after which “Uvea” returns us to the galaxial style of the opener for a ten-minute, light-speed cruise through the heavens. A descending synth motif broods portentously while kick drums and hi-hats slowly bring the piece to a percolating broil. A rather tribal and ritualistic feel infuses the final third with percussive accents and rolls moving to the forefront and subtly intensifying the track's jacking house feel.

Having come to the end of Majestic, it's apparent that Parvoart's first four releases are so stylistically wide-ranging, it's impossible to know where it's headed next—never a bad thing for a label or its listeners.

October 2008