A Ludger Brümmer Miscellany

TroTropforT – 1987

TroTropforT builds slowly and then breaks off suddenly. It starts up again with similar material, then breaks off again except for some quiet stuff to which are eventually added some clangs; but it goes on mostly quite quietly, with hollow little sounds and little short-wavy sounds and some very soft, low frequency thuds, hardly thuds–more like pulses.

In fact, much of the piece is very soft, very small little sounds with infrequent little bursts of this and that, including one right before the end.

Which is as much to say as that while it’s not at all a grab you by the throat thrill ride, its quiet subtleties will stay with you long after you’ve heard it, I’m sure. And it will get more and more attractive with each listen. At least that’s been my experience with it.

La cloche sans vallées – 1993

This was the first piece of Ludger Brümmer’s I heard, the piece that sent me rushing back to the stores to find all the Brümmer I could find.

La cloche sans vallées opens with an arresting gesture and then immediately subsides into some very quiet loveliness. That gesture recurs several times and in various guises throughout the piece’s 22 minutes, each time unexpectedly, each time perfect.

And there’s the Ravel, of course, the snippets from La vallées des cloches. Those, much altered but unmistakable, are about as magical as it gets. About. For near the end of the piece, after a great swath of silence, the Ravel, less altered, reappears, even more magically than before. A long descent into silence and the piece, too soon, is over.

The Gates of H – 1993

The Gates of H opens with short loud crescendo ending in a loud, quick gesture. Then silence. A loud crash. Long silence. Loud gesture.  Soft but threatening to explode. A long crescendo to a quick stutter. Soft. Loud gesture (glitch kind of noise). Soft. Loud swell of choral sounds then a wild flurry of all sorts of different noises.

(Silent means silent, by the way. It’s even quieter than the extremely quiet parts.)

The quick stutter, again. An extremely quiet bit, all quite distant sounds at first then gradually adding closer sounds and gradually getting louder. Some more vocal sounds. Another wild flurry. And a collapse of same. Loud irruption. It is a vigorous and exhilarating piece, with complex sounds and volatile dynamics.

Many Brümmer pieces alternate long quiet sections and sudden short loud bits. None are quite as restless as Gates of H, however, which never really lets up, even in the very quiet parts.

Ambre, Lilac – 1993

Like The Gates of H from the same year, Ambre, Lilac is quite an active piece, except with longer stretches of repose. Its very quiet opening, for instance, lasts about 40 seconds until the first outburst. That is followed by a very low frequency drone under some delightful and subtle noises. Then there’s a rather sustained loud bit, made up of rather sustained noises, some of them pitched or almost. Some electronic organ sounding stuff, even.

And then, that low frequency drone, now clearly a rumble under lightning flashes of other noises. It gets very, very quiet, again, just like the opening. Then there are even louder slashes of sound.

After a long, quiet but busy section of juddering and sparkling and jangling, Brümmer takes us back to the very quiet, low frequency rumble, with furtive little things going on over it, then a sudden loud flash and a lot of electronic glissandi and such. This is quite a long and richly varied section, ended by a loud clangor.

The crescendo that follows, and its aftermath, is indescribably gorgeous and intricate.

Le temps s’ouvre – 1994

After some simple, innocent chords, we are plunged into a swirling maelstrom of pianistic impossibility. About a minute of this and we’re plunged into something very soft, something very like the maelstrom but at the very edge of audibility. A loud and practically unaltered chord (but accompanied, as it were, by an unambiguously electronic noise) leads to a longish section of piano playing very little altered.

Which is as much to say as this is not at all a “show off all the ways to electronically alter a piano” piece. It is just a piece, always musical and even “musical” in a rather old-fashioned sense (but without ever sounding old-fashioned).

After a long diminuendo, some short, choppy electronic keyboard-like chords lead to an almost completely electronic section. This is quite an exciting section, much like a sudden irruption of brass, percussion, and winds would be after a long, soft bit for strings alone. Another long, slow, quiet section and then everything gets really complex and busy–and even pretty funky at one point–until the player piano-type sounds, which have been quite prominent in this part of the piece, toss us into an incredibly lovely section of broken up bits and pieces, bright, kaleidoscopic fragments of piano and of almost unrecognizable sounds. (And sometimes almost inaudible sounds–soft and as if coming from a great distance.)


CRI – 1995

CRI opens with a fairly quiet gesture then becomes extremely quiet. If the volume isn’t high enough on your system, you will hear nothing here for awhile. Turn it up. There’s a brief swell and an ebb, all very spacious sounding–the sounds are both close up and far away and widely spread apart. A not very loud whoosh is disproportionately startling in the pervasive quietness. And even the obviously prepared for clang that follows makes me blink every time. Things get very quiet again, save for a sudden, quick crescendo. Then some sounds that had been vaguely vocal some minutes ago come back not at all vague. And in the foreground now, too.

After the next sharply cut off crescendo, the silence is so extreme that one thinks perhaps of Francisco López, though Brümmer’s aesthetic is quite different.

After another long, and mostly quiet section, a few really harsh, loud sounds lead us to the long, quiet section that concludes this extraordinary piece.

Phrenos – 1997

Phrenos is a piece of long lines and sudden interruptions. Irruptions I should have said. A lot of voice sounds, some fairly close to “normal,” some quite dramatically altered. A really rich-sounding piece, whether the sounds are warm or cool, high or low, they’re all rich and full. And the space created by this piece is much larger than whatever room it’s in. (This is just a guess. It is much larger than my living room, anyway.)

After a fairly busy opening section, there’s quite a long bit that’s mostly an obsessive little four note “tune”–this gradually changes to an obsessive little one note repaeated over and over while other noises swirl around it, very softly at first, but getting gradually louder and denser.

Some very delightful swoops and clangs usher in a very soft and intricate section, lots of very different, subtle, and tiny noises. This builds, too, very slowly, losing some of the intricate and delicate qualities as it gets louder. Some only, not all.

Throughout all of this are those occasional irruptions. Don’t forget about those–though as you listen to this piece, you probably will, and be startled by each one as it occurs. First one, for instance, comes right before the three minute mark, plenty of time to have been lulled into complacency. And even though the next one comes after only a few seconds, it also startles. The opening clangor comes back at the end but in such a way (as an irruption) as to seem wholly fresh and new, even though at the same time completely familiar. It’s a great bit of aural theatre if you can pull it off. Brümmer certainly can.

Lizard Point – 1997

After a short loud gesture, Lizard Point subsides into some of the loveliest rich, deep sounds imaginable. A loud eruption very like the opening destroys that idyll but ushers in something else. And the something else makes up in complexity and ingenuity what it (possibly) lacks in loveliness. Change is good.

The second eruption leads to something even more else, descending to practically inaudible realms before the next outburst. Each outburst is different, too. More similar than the sections that follow, but still different.

A crescendo of clatter then leads to an extended section of loud, dramatic sounds, which eventually subsides into something like the first soft bit right after the opening. This too gets inaudible right before an even more different eruption. The piece is essentially alternating variations–variations on the loud, complex eruption alternating with variations on the longer section of soft and rich sounds. A simple pattern worked out with nicely calculated variety and virtuousity.

In a slightly longer version, Lizard Point also appears on a Wergo DVD (see image for Thrill, following), as both an audio track and with a video by Silke Braemer.

Thrill – 1998

A sharp, loud opening leads into a section of very soft, but very huge sounds. That is, they sound as if they would be very loud if you heard them “up close.” And when, later, they are played at what seems the “normal” volume for them, they are indeed very loud. Then there’s some tinkling and pulsing sounds–mezzo–growing louder and more insistent (and more shrill). Some enormous crashes way off in the distance (so fairly soft) but coming closer and closer.

Then there’s a great crash, an actual crash, the sounds of falling over, of falling apart. Some great hammer strokes grow and grow until they end in another huge crash, several crashes, actually, through which come some mostly synchronous sounds, like that of an enormous machine, working at top power and occasionally faltering. A very thrilling bit, to be sure.

Another loud swoop, which this time fades hardly at all. Stays pretty loud and grows louder for another great gesture and then fades to some really lovely sounds. Fades slowly to nothing.

This piece also comes with a video by Silke Braemer, called Le temps s’ouvre, confusingly enough.

de la nuit – 1999

Very soft, slow opening. Two sounds emerge, a low throbbing drone and a high(er) bell-like sound. The drone takes over and climaxes in a loud bell clang which subsides into something cricket-like.

Another loud clang and some very deep, rich sounds under some extremely high-pitched chirps. Drones and clangs and pitches almost inaudible. Softer clangs and sudden extremely loud clangs. And lots of activity throughout on all levels (pitch and volume and distance–Brümmer almost always works the front-rear axis as much as the left-right and the high-low ones.

A rhythmic figure, almost (but not quite) drumming, comes in, and everything else gets more frenetic. Not immediately loud–the crescendo is long and slow–but certainly frenetic. After the climax a very low drone gradually grows, to which are added some long lines that actually make up a melody. (These lines even sound a bit like voices singing.) Some more purely electronic sounds slowly crescendo and overwhelm the singing. (Amazing, though, how clearly you can still hear the singing, even when the loud other sounds are quite loud.) A huge climax gives way to a very soft serene section, with some quite spacious sounds. Or sounds in a large space, I should say.

Inferno der Stille – 2000

Inferno der Stille starts with an innocent sounding chord, which goes into a fairly fast crescendo, made up of some really harsh noises.

And then, of course, slowly, comes the Stille. In fact, as I was preparing these reviews, I looked at this title and thought “That’s not a bad description of Brümmer’s music.” I mean, if you have to have a brief description.

The soft section of this piece is quite long, around five minutes out of only twenty three. Very small and mostly very far away sounds. (As in Thrill, some far away sounds sound as though they could be very loud if you heard them “up close.”)

A long crescendo includes some metallic whip sounds that are very exciting. Slow fade to similar long, quiet section. Brümmer really likes to work at the threshhold of audibility, perhaps more here than in any other piece.

In the next crescendo, there are some quite noticable snippets from Mozart’s Requiem. (In the booklet notes to this piece, Brümmer says that the whole piece grew out of sound particles derived from the “Introitus” of the Requiem.) This ends in an overwhelming climax. And then, quite soon, there is another climax, this one even more overwhelming than the last.

And then there’s the final crescendo, the one with the most obvious extracts from the Requiem and the most overwhelming of all.

Fade to Stille.

Medusa – 2000

Starts inaudibly and builds slowly to sounds somewhere between clang and tinkle. Some soft marimba-like sounds lead to a brief glimpse of percussion. Another, quicker cresc to a richer and more complex climax. Now the percussion is prominent and unaltered (marimba, not marimba-like). Wildly gorgeous bit of ratchet noises and other things–throughout one bit of  “backwards tape” kind of sounds, used in gestures and even phrases.

Very atmospheric bit–lots of small, brief sounds–but never a sense of busyness, any more than sitting quietly in a forest listening to all its noises is busy.

It becomes busy, then, propulsive. Builds to another climax. Soft bits and sudden, brief outbursts. Long section of just the resonant, pitched percussion. Then a long cresc of a drone. More percussion.

Long, soft ending.

Nyx – 2001

Opens with a really huge, complex sound that quickly disintegrates. Persistent thuds usher in a long, quiet section that is quite spacious, horizontally as well as vertically; that is, there are very high sounds and very low ones, front stage sounds and back stage sounds. This is a very slow moving section, too, almost stationary, like a vast space slowly rotating.

The music swells and subsides for quite a long time until one swell seems as if it just won’t ever stop. It softens a bit, and then another swell comes up immediately, leading to a great crash some powerful low frequency throbbing, like having a powerful diesel engine right in your living room.

This leads to a section of clangs of various sorts, a section that slowly dimishes in volume but not in richness or variety. And then some really loud clangs and a long bit of wind chime-like randomness–not the sound of such a chime, the structure. A short walking through leaves bit underneath that leads to a great, echoing factory gone mad section. Delightful! This in turn fades out, some clangs getting softer and further away, some just getting softer.

All this turns into something that’s almost dance music–strong, primitive (but pretty funky) dance music, suddenly cut off. Some complex little patterns call to each other from various parts of the room (amazing what can be done with only two channels–imagine this music in a hall with eight speakers or thirty-two!) and some extraordinarily rich low sounds and another high drone that swells louder and louder to some really bright, hard clangs. Everything gets softer again, without getting any smaller (the sounds are still huge) and then everything gets slowly smaller as well until a distant echo of the opening leads to the final fade out.

Glasharfe – 2006

Small taps and dings, a couple of them piano sounds. As it goes on, more of the sounds are piano sounds, and the sense grow on one that the other sounds (like the clicks and the tapping) could equally have started out as sounds one can make with a piano.

Several minutes in, and it’s all still very small little taps and jingling and chirping. A few slightly louder bursts. Nothing too loud. Even a fairly large crescendo finally is also quite short, and the music goes back to being soft. But that brief climax has signaled a large change–the sounds are all now smooth and sustained and round. This grows slowly louder until a new sound, a mechanical sound, takes over. And then all the sounds are mechanical. Like a room full of whirring, clicking machines. Then the mechanical sounds collapse into the resonant sounds, now even more bell-like, before clanking back into whirring and clicking shuttle-like noise again.

Sadly none of that description really captures the sheer excitement of this section–or of this piece. For it is quite simply a thrilling piece of music, a great deal of energy created by that back and forth between mechanical sounds and asynchronous, sustained tones. And all of it shot through with complex, subtle, almost furtive little noises. The kind of thing that gets more and more fascinating with each hearing.

As I was preparing this review, I stumbled across a YouTube video of Speed, also from 2006.

Ludger Brümmer, Speed – 2006

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