Aufbruch, the title of the debut collaboration between electro-acoustic composer J. Peter Schwalm and guitarist Markus Reuter, translates as “departure” or “emergence.” Either definition offers an evocative interpretation of the powerfully immersive sound-world they’ve conjured together, but even more suggestive is the ambiguity between the two meanings. For the music of Aufbruch feels like both an awe-inspiring journey of discovery and a welling up from the murkiest depths of the subconscious.
Begun as a correspondence and fully realised as an in-person collaboration, Aufbruch captures and sustains an imposing air of alluring menace, an atmosphere that feels somber and distressed yet powerfully optimistic.
It’s true that the global conditions in which the album was produced might lend themselves to thoughts of rebuilding after an apocalyptic disaster rather than the somewhat more hopeful idea of preventing such disasters outright. But the Aufbruch, the “emergence” at which the title hints suggests that some remnant of humanity might be able to pull itself free from the wreckage and rebuild, about as cheery a thought as one could discern in these mesmerisingly bleak yet captivatingly rich aural landscapes.
Reuter instigated the music on his self-developed Touch Guitar, digitally processed and manipulated in real time. Schwalm added his own colors via newly-devised synth sounds and later edited the improvisations into their final forms. On two tracks the duo is joined by the remarkable Belgian-born, Berlin-based vocalist Sophie Tassignon, whose late appearance returns a trace of the human to the stirring machine-made environments (and whose Mysteries Unfold was released on RareNoise in 2020).
Both artists can boast a storied history of brilliant collaborations and startling sonic palettes. In 1998 Schwalm’s electro-jazz ensemble Projekt Slop Shop caught the ear of legendary musician/producer Brian Eno, instigating a six-year partnership that included recording the album Drawn From Life, composing the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Fear X, and the creation of a multi-channel sound installation in the crater of the Volcano del Cuervo on the Spanish island of Lanzarote. Schwalm released Musikain, the first album under his own name, in 2006; since then he’s released four other albums, the last three for RareNoise: The Beauty of Disaster in 2016, How We Fall in 2018, and Neuzeit with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen last year, as well as collaborating with Chat Noir (Their collaboration Nine Thoughts For One Word was released on RareNoise in 2016).
Reuter’s work as recording artist, solo performer and collaborator spans (and frequently fuses) electrophonic loop music, contemporary classical music, progressive and art rock, industrial music, world jazz, jazz fusion, pop songs and pure improvisation. Over the course of a two-decade career, he has been a member of multiple bands, ensembles and projects (including Centrozoon, Stick Men, Tuner, The Crimson ProjeKct and Europa String Choir) as well as a solo artist. His prolific output bridges genres both within and between projects, and he was worked with a wide swathe of exploratory musicians including Ian Boddy, Robert Rich, Tim Motzer, Mark Wingfield, Asaf Sirkis, Kenny Grohowski and several members of King Crimson.
The swarming distortion of the title track inaugurates the album, growing from void to immense proportions from the emptiness of the ether, shrouding the listener in a swirling, shifting cloud of noise. The calming shimmers of “Von Anbeginn” are undercut by the agitated buzzing underneath, growing ever more insistent until the piece erupts into howling industrial rhythms. Reuter’s reverberant tones float weightlessly at the outset of the mournful “Rückzug,” while “Abbau” suggests images of rainfall spattering the rusted girders of an abandoned factory.
The distorted his and skittering, untraceable noises of “Ein Riss” presents the music at its most unsettling, while the spectral march beat of “Der lange Weg” has the haunting feel of a ghostly parade. The sudden appearance of Sophie Tassignon’s ethereal voice on “Lebewohl” is almost shocking in its introduction of a more organic feeling into the proceedings, prompting a more open, airy sensation in the piece. Tassignon also graces the following track, “Losgelöst,” one drone among many that contributes to the sound of a hybrid pipe organ. The album closes with the blissful, somberly soaring “Abschied,” a steely but determined gaze into an uncertain future.