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Gregor Schwellenbach – Spielt 20 Jahre Kompakt

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Label: KompaktScore: 8/10 

Someones thumping heck out of a piano at the beginning of this Kompakt anniversary record. An acoustic rendition of the A-side to Jurgen Paape’s “Triumph”. In case you’ve not already read about this elsewhere; as part of the commemoration for the Cologne based labels 20th year releasing records Gregor Schwellenbach, a classically trained composer and multiple instrumentalist, has been let loose upon the Kompakt archives to re-score 20 songs as chamber music.

This may not be music to the ears of some music fans. Previous crossovers of this kind have not always born universal admiration: I’d urge perseverance. This album stands up as music in it’s own right regardless of derivation.

For example, and returning to “Triumph”, though clearly generated from “classical” instruments the sounds captured to accompany the energetically struck piano are difficult to place, an effort has clearly been made to make this interesting, exciting and bizarre.

One of the real strengths of this collection is that is avoids one of the pitfalls of previous occurrences of this musical union. As above, it’s not the first time orchestral and house/techno worlds have been drawn to collide: straight up writing out the parts for a violin section and playing along with drum machines is something that definitely doesn’t need doing too often.

Although it’s set out as a view through the lens of “chamber music” the arrangement for each cover has been considered on a case by case basis. The result is music which draws in varying degrees from the originals and it works great. It’s like good sampling – clever recontextualising of ideas, not just a straight transposition.

Some pieces picked clearly lend themselves to the purpose of scoring for certain instruments. Justus Köhncke’sWas Ist Musik“ featured plenty of violins in it’s original state. Scored just with string instruments it’s a little more what you might imagine electronica as chamber music might sound like. With full acoustic treatment it becomes a little less camp but, incredibly, even more pompous.

Instrumentation becomes more sparse in the solo piano rendition of Closer Musik’sMaria”. The looser phrasing at the hands of the pianist gives it a quite stirring effect which continues into the abridged version of Boratto’sNo Turning Back”.

Ulf Lohmann’sBecause” sounds remarkably like the original chugging along with just as much charisma ending bitter sweet with wrought out piano which sets up for Kaito’sEverlasting”. Originally a vast and rocky bit of tech house the instrumentation is expanded from keys and strings, with the first inclusion of struck tuned percussion, and comes out sounding like the some of the more minimalist moments of a Thomas Newman film score: a very good thing.

Looping beeps and bips from Closer Musik’s “Departures” are transformed into beautifully off kilter piano ride offered rigidity at times with a kick drum replacement and depth from strings.

Things become a little more unsettling through “One, Two, Three (No Gravity)” and “Gong Audio”.  “AG Penthouse” makes a big departure in mood from the Triola version, not even a hint of the thick synthy techno, in it’s place Jane Berthe’s harp.

There are a few more solo piano pieces, all pleasant enough, in “Unter Null”, “La Somme” There’s a return of Berthe’s harp in “Melanie”. Supermayer’sTwo of Us” is led by the glockenspiel as featured in the original but accompanied (predictably by now I’m sure) by a small string ensemble.

Mayer’sSpeaker” and Studio 1’sGrün 4” both skip along with a good bit of drive. The latter in particular beats out nicely with really nice piano interspersions and one of the more varied sound palettes on show here.

I enjoyed this: It’s good to hear music in new contexts. I’ve already said a fair few good things and I don’t think there’s really much to say in the negative. There’s probably credit to be given for that both to Schwellenbach and to the Kompakt catalogue. Chamber music of a dance music fan can relate to for enjoy from the sofa: Appropriate for a label that traces some of it’s history through the “sit and bang” concept.

Check out the making of video documenting the creative process behind the album below

 

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