Semuin: Circles and Elephants

Circles and Elephants makes for a natural follow-up to Jochen Briesen's 2005 Semuin release Province. As captured on the sophomore outing, the Semuin sound world is an idiosyncratic one, to say the least, as the Berlin-based producer cultivates a highly distinctive personal style in the new album's ten wide-ranging settings. He boldly arranges acoustic instruments (guitar, flute, bass, oboe, and mallet instruments, some of them synthetically simulated), field recordings (speaking voices, for example), stop-start drum patterns, and electronic keyboard sounds into experimental oddities.

That unique sensibility is evident throughout the recording, and never more so than in the opening track. Its title inspired by Stravinsky, “Greeting Prelude” exudes the air of a magical forest when fountains of electronic sparkle cross paths with oboe and clarinet melodies; here and elsewhere, one encounters a child-like playfulness like the kind heard in Lullatone's music too. The rhythms lurching through “Wilma” might be reminscent of Vladislav Delay but the interplay of woodwinds and synthetic keyboard meander is very much characteristic of Semuin. During “Elefanz,” an African influence is heard in the loose, plodding rhythms played by mallet percussion and polyphonic interweave of dancing melodies and (MIDI-generated) choir singing. While the creaky cry of a Chinese Erhu in “Circles (Weiter)” transports the listener to the other side of the world, the kalimba heard in “Stem (I)” returns us to African soil. Whereas “+-” charms in its merging of flutes and cascading vibraphone patterns, “Circles” is glitchtronic in its fluttering blend of acoustic bass playing and acoustic guitar flurries. “Zombie” presents a far more cheerful sound—in its initial minutes at least—than one would expect from a song so titled; perhaps it's the grungy electric guitar solo that shows up halfway through that's supposed to represent the intrusion of the diseased humanoid into normal society. One regrettable move is Briesen's decision to open “Stem (II)” with ear-piercing combustion that would sound more at home on a noise recording than on Circles and Elephants. But it's pretty much the sole misstep on an otherwise engaging recording.

May 2010