Moritz Von Oswald Trio Vertical Ascent (Honest Jons, 2009)
Words: Stuart Watson
The first recorded work by one half of Basic Channel, Maurizio and Rhythm & Sound, and who can be said to have defined at least one significant strain of hazy techno over the last two decades, the Moritz Von Oswald Trio follows its namesake's ongoing recovery from a stroke: a recovery borne out not least by this excellent recording. The album features Vladislav Delay on metal percussion, Max Loderbauer on synthesisers and Von Oswals on synthesisers, Fender Rhodes and mixing.
The lift-off drones and overdriven Radiophonic analogue electronics of Pattern 1 give way to lush pads and handclaps, pointillist clusters of Fender Rhodes hanging in space, lightly driven along by Delays tuned percussion. Theres a return here also to some harsher and more abrasive sounds reminiscent of the percussive elements of Basic Channel tracks sych as Phylyps Trak, as distended glissandos and spongy electronics rise in the background, returning eventually to elements of classic Detroit techno in the closing minutes of the track.
Pattern 2 presents a step into more unfamiliar territory: beginning with a menacing bass pulse what resembles the pluckings of an ethnic stringed instrument merge with Delays reverbed percussion, this time sounding as if played on Tibetan prayer bowls and woodblocks, to create a cavernous humidity that becomes claustrophobic as dissonant electronic bell-like tones rise to the foreground joined by ricocheting delays and brushed metal. The track ends with another cluster of dissonant modulated tones, reminiscent of early electronic soundtracks such as Gil Melle's The Andromeda Strain.
Delays gamelan of metal percussion ushers in Pattern 3 as the music is underscored by sub bass drops and the first 4/4 pulse of the album. The influence of African and Brazilian musics can be felt in the tracks interlocking rhythms, in parts sounding like a less baleful Shackleton as Delays percussion takes on steel drum textures and the jazzier Fender Rhodes chords splash in the background. Oswalds presence on the mix is felt here as throughout the album, as percussion and unidentifiable electronics are sucked into a vortex of echo and sliding frequencies.
The loping beat of Pattern 4 provides the clearest link between the expansive textures of the Trio and Oswalds most recent work in Rhythm & Sound, though in common with the rest of the album the sound has a more analogue feel with what resembles the live grit of delays deployed in real time, as the track is scythed apart by a roiling synth drone that reaches a crescendo of distortion before abruptly cutting out. The album as a whole has a distorted, saturated sound fitting to its conception as a live Trio as echoes peak in the red alongside electronics resembling the work of the pioneers of the 60s and 70s.
While its basic sound elements, incorporating textures more familiar from the Fourth World fantasias of Paul Schutze and Jon Hassell represent somewhat of a departure from Von Oswald's more recent work as Rhythm & Sound, it's in the reverbs and delays that the album shares common ground with all Von Oswalds work, displaying a finely tuned sense of space and placement of minimal sound for maximal effect.