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Burkhard Stangl: Unfinished. For William Turner, painter
Attunement—something every listener must bring to each listening experience, and the principle applies especially well in the case of Burkhard Stangl's Unfinished. For William Turner, painter. A bit of background first: upon viewing the paintings of JMW Turner (1775-1851) in 2003 at the Tate Gallery in London, Stangl found himself struck, overwhelmed even, by the power of stillness in the work—their “exquisite liquid calm,” as he calls it—and knew then that he would one day try to distill the painter's “complex simplicity” into musical soundscapes. The fifty-three-minute recording presents three settings, all recorded live at different locations in Vienna (the first by Norbert Benesch at Porgy and Bess in 2013, the second by Fennesz at his Amann Studios in 2013, and the third by Philip Leitner at Garnison7 in 2010), that effectively document Stangl's attempt to render the poetic vision of Turner into sonic form.
The opening piece, a three-part setting of thirty-four-minute duration, unfolds in such a restful manner and at such a laconic pace (it's no surprise that its first part is titled “Unfinished - mellow”) that the listener naturally adjusts his/her normal listening tendencies to suit it. Time slows in the most welcome way as one surrenders to the lulling flow of Stangl's electric guitar playing and electronics, with outdoors field recordings of nature sounds and children's voices present as atmospheric augmentation. Though a shuddering drone acts as a steady undercurrent, the focal point is primarily Stangl's guitar playing, which largely concentrates on strums, tremolo treatments, and textural effects, even if there are moments during the last quarter where the guitar briefly cedes the stage to the field recordings.
Half as long as the first piece, “Unfinished - sailing” perpetuates the unhurried spirit of the opener in a first-take performance that augments the vibrato-heavy strums and plucks of Stangl's special-tuned Gibson SG with field recordings and instrumental air sounds. If anything, time slows even further in this piece, with liberal spaces separating the guitar phrases such that at times only a subdued drone is heard gently wavering in the background. The final piece, an unadorned solo guitar setting called “Unfinished – ending,” is dwarfed by the others in being a mere three minutes in length, though on its own terms it makes for a perfectly fine coda. Concise it is, yet in its own way the closer just as convincingly renders the peaceful calm of Turner's imagery into aural form as do the longer ones.