Alexander Berne and The Abandoned Orchestra:
Self Referentials Vols. 1 & 2
While some artists labour for any number of years over a single-disc collection, others issue copious amounts, almost as if they can't stop the music from flowing out of them. One such artist is Alexander Berne, who has just issued his third multi-disc collection in three years. In 2010 he released the bravura three-disc opus, Composed And Performed By Alexander Berne, which was followed by the double-disc affair, Flickers Of Mime / Death Of Memes, a year later; both were credited to Alexander Berne and The Abandoned Orchestra, despite the fact that the so-called orchestra is actually Berne alone. His latest outing, Self Referentials Vols. 1 & 2, is another two-disc set, and once again it's an exceptional collection. The superb musical content is complemented on visual grounds, too, as every one of its 800 units is graced by an original abstract cover painting by Berne. As a composer, creator, painter, and multi-instrumentalist, he's a rare modern-day example of the Renaissance figure.
The music's world character comes to the fore immediately when “Far Afield Recording” opens the collection with the kind of exotic dance rhythms and woodwind melodies one might hear at the center of a busy Middle Eastern bazaar. A vast array of influences and styles are refracted though Berne's unique sensibility over the course of the album. A collision between Reich-styled classical minimalism and Eastern trance music seems to take place during the alternating sequences of piano splashes, pulsating percussion patterns, and undulating string swirls in “Pulsationism (The Long Tick),” for example. Recorded in Florida, the collection also serves as a fantastic showcase for Berne's instrumental proficiency, with the musician acting convincingly as a global mini-orchestra of woodwinds (saxophones, wooden flutes), dulcimer, percussion (hand drums, kalimba, bells, cymbals, mallet instruments), strings, and piano (as on his previous releases, Berne eschewed synthesizers and samples in the making of the album material).
His music is arguably at its most powerful during its quieter moments, such as when the saxophone purrs sinuously during “Sonum Onscurum, Headphonic Apparitions Pt. I.” In keeping with that principle, the album's second volume, which Berne characterizes as “An Unnamed Diary of Places I Went Alone,” is the more potent of the two, as its seventeen pieces (titled by roman numerals only) surreptitiously seduce the listener throughout the disc's mysterious and enigmatic journey. A dazed voiceover by Jaik Miller (1970-2012) deepens the mystery of “IV,” while “V” bolsters its enchantment with wordless singing (vocal contributions by Christo and Flora Nicholoudis and Karolien Soete repeatedly enrich the second volume's soundworlds). Most are short pieces, though no less evocative for being so, especially when their stripped-down arrangements enable the instruments' individuating qualities to more clearly assert themselves. Snapshots rich in atmosphere and detail, they're as transporting as the dozen settings on disc one.Though Self Referentials Vols. 1 & 2 oscillates between Western and Eastern musical forms (sometimes merging them within single settings), it somehow manages to retain a cohesiveness due to Berne's sensibility as a composer. As an example, “Of Fugal Melancholia” might, on paper, be a solo piano piece, but in its compositional form it's a meditation of trance-like design rather than something emblematic of the Western classical tradition. His music is also entrancing, especially during those moments when its Eastern dimension is emphasized, as occurs during “Four Instantiations” when its saxophones assemble into hypnotic, pitch-shifting masses. Like elements swimming within a liquid mass, musical patterns often flow in and out of each other, adding to the music's free-flowing character. Less straight-laced Western composer than global shaman, Berne's incantations and lamentations seep into one's innermost self and alter it as dramatically as a peyote-influenced dreamstate.