Austrian composer and musicologist Bernhard Gál owns a definite place in this writer’s memory, as he was among the very first artists reviewed in Touching Extremes back at the beginnings, in 2001. Having lost contact with his production for several years, it was a pleasure receiving the latest news from him and discovering that not only the qualities found at that time haven’t vanished, but gleam of a light of improved responsiveness to the surrounding elements of reality.
Relive is both innovation and a look at the long-ago in that sense: as a matter of fact Gál – who usually performs equipped with no more than a laptop in his live activity – gathered eight excerpts from sets dating from 2007 and 2008, recorded in various locations of the world, using fragments and samples from past installations and CDs and combining them in all-new compositions, the large part remarkable when not outright riveting.
What distances this man from the average manipulator is a highly skilled, refined logic of placement of the event, whatever the initial plan; he’s essentially able to devise pieces where the juxtaposition of electronically treated birds, a motorized movement such as a subway train’s shutting door and a “voice sculpture” (“Velvet Green”) weigh exactly the same in the psychology of the listeners, who remain at once surprised and graciously embraced by the reasonably hospitable atmosphere that the (supposedly) improbable concoction generates.
In “Schulterblatt” we find ourselves perking up the ears towards the subtle whisper of a series of hissing tea kettles until vocal splinters, feedback resonance and sparse touches of piano slightly alter the dynamics of the piece. “Uhudler” – perhaps the best chapter in terms of pure aural gratification, a modified ship horn and an electric shower drain pump contrasting an enticing mesmerism – is the track which will mostly satisfy the craving of those who wonder if drones have a role in this music. They do, indeed. Yet it’s just one of the many hues utilized by a half-architect, half-chiaroscuro painter whose musical conception still privileges the probing of silence as a crucial starting point for investigation.