Percussionist Daniel Buess was just 40 when he died, overwhelmed by the waters of river Rhine into which he had accidentally fallen in a tragic February evening of 2016.
Buess was a founding member of Ensemble Phoenix Basel, active since 1998. The group specializes in the repertoire of essential, if unsung composers whose common trait is the connection of diverse sonic macrocosms in relation with aspects of the being often classifiable as “obscure”. EPB have no fear of tackling the unknown, usually producing results that defy the arithmetic of expectation.
The meeting of minds between Buess and Ilios occurred in 2014, as the latter – an indefatigable provider of immoderate frequencies destined to alter our perception – was asked to prepare a score capable of bringing the Ensemble’s purpose and instrumentation to parallel the Greek’s vision, frequently identified by certain press with scents of death and assorted grim definitions. This, of course, includes Ilios’ activity with Mohammad (aka MMMD), with which everybody is hopefully acquainted.
The title translates as “the invisible ring linking the world of shape to the world of idea”. The unforeseeable demise of Buess in the preliminary phases unavoidably changed the project’s complexion. The music is now considerable as a posthumous threnody for the Swiss artist but, at the same time, it seems to clearly represent his disembodied presence along the performance by his earthly comrades.
Starting with indecipherable recordings of voices captured during some sort of secret intercommunication, the piece describes – in all senses – a slow arc. The overall dynamics follow a silence > soft > loud > soft > silence trajectory. The instruments – required to stay together from the highest to the lowest possible frequency – move across the space via a marvelous near-immobile glissando, at times recalling quite closely Luigi Archetti’s analogous investigations of sloping pitches inside a distinct environment. The whole body is permeated by strong vibrations and hyper-murmurs.
Halfway through the path, the acoustic physicality stabilizes around a single droning axis for a while. From there, EPB and Ilios begin to mutate conditions with a sinister concatenation of violent chords accompanied by the tolling of a bell. The work reaches its dramatic apex right here, getting closer to suggestions of the aforementioned Mohammad. The players seem to be following Buess’ ghost drum in a quest for the ultimate heartbeat of a dark cosmos. The effects become even more impressive when one thinks that this is a live recording without further editing, recorded at Geneva’s Cave 12 with the lights entirely out.
The last minutes encourage an intense process of regrouping after the massive shock. Resonance fades to susurration, heard until the very end. The audience enters an area of downright blackness, coinciding with the definitive quietness.
The multi-level impact of this glorious track can only be savored by blasting it in absence of human hindrances. No word of mine can do justice to its imposing severity. As a final note, I feel it’s my duty to name all the instrumentalists:
Bass Flute / Flute: Christoph Bösch
Contrabass: Aleksander Gabrys
Violin: Wojciech Garbowski
Electric Guitar: Maurizio Grandinetti
Percussion: Sebastian Hofmann
Oscillators/ Field Recordings: Ilios
Trumpet: Nenad Markovic
Electronics: Thomas Peter
Bass Clarinet / Clarinet: Toshiko Sakakibara
Baritone Saxophone: Remo Schnyder
Keyboards: Samuel Wettstein
Take a bow – and thanks.