How far can the timbres and sounds of certain instruments be transcended? Extended playing techniques have long been common in New Music, but are comparatively less common in Jazz. Christoph Pepe Auer, a Vienna-based clarinettist and saxophonist with the Jazzbigband Graz (JBBG), among others, began his personal sound research about a dozen years ago. It led him towards abstraction, but above all towards an individual combination of rhythmic patterns and grooves, minimalist structures and an innovative, electro-acoustic aesthetic. Auer has received several awards for his characteristic playing, including the Austrian Hans Koller Music Prize three times, and much international press praise.
Auer’s sense of experimentation on his debut “Songs I Like” was followed by an extensive tour, during which the quartet’s current formation, consisting of him, cello, piano and drums, was established. This worked out excellently and so it was obvious that the now available second release was recorded live. On White Noise, composer, arranger and namesake Auer, cellist Clemens Sainitzer, pianist Mike Tiefenbacher and drummer Gregor Hilbe are the sound painters:
“White Noise is an acoustic or optical signal with the same intensity at different frequencies, resulting in a constant spectral power density. White is a balanced sum of colours and as a structure complete. If one of the colour options is emphasised, moods such as the Golden Hour are created. This is the hour before the sun sets on the horizon. Red becomes more present and creates a specific colour and atmosphere. One finds acoustically spectral soundscapes in nature. For example in wind and rain, at waterfalls, by the sea or in galactic sounds. In music, the phenomenon is constantly present, but is rarely noticeable. Electronically generated signals make the white noise effect stronger, and by using them, one can find ways to make this mainly unconscious layer of sounds more perceptible. The psychological effect of White Noise on the human brain is a calming and an activation of the mind at the same time. This phenomenon, which apparently serves opposites at the same time, is therefore investigated and used in sleep and learning research. It serves as a vehicle to reach a deeper, more focused state of mind. Finally, this level communicates strongly with the emotional part of the brain. All these descriptions are aspirations that I also want to achieve with my music.”
White Noise is characterized by the multifaceted interaction of acoustic instruments and electronic vignettes. The bass clarinet with its earthy, soft tone and its innumerable possibilities of sound production is in the centre of attention. Auer composed pieces around it, which differ from each other at times, not only in their arrangements.
The lead story Golden Hour slowly creeps up, the arpeggio of the synthesizer reminds of film music. An offset groove and a catchy melody take the lead, the next break follows a little later. In the last third the piece drifts clearly towards jazz with complex instrumental dialogues, spinning phrases and an agile bass clarinet solo. Big Five atmospherically tends in a similar direction, only here a grand piano plays the arpeggios. The drums entice with a cheerfully syncopated pulse, above which the clarinet makes virtuoso excursions. Finally, a dancefloor beat and warmly timed, weightless tenor saxophone entice the listener; in between, the cello throws in shimmering or almost staccato phrases, and a little later it meets the saxophone to form common melodic lines. It then becomes cinematic again with Die Kontrabassklarinet. Its abysmal, distinctive, buzzing tones are contrasted in higher registers by the chamber music cello – bowed or plucked -; an infectious drum groove provides the lift, swirling in breaks. White Voice begins as a reduced song in ambient or lounge style, but the first impression is deceptive. Although the piece maintains its relaxed mood for quite a while, piano and drums finally penetrate, fuelling the tempo and shifting the action to a jazz club.
All in all, the complexity of the music lies above all in its rhythmic and tonal variations. Some people already perceive it as pop, says Auer, in fact the rhythmic level in particular goes far beyond the usual pop horizon. In some titles, drums and self-recorded samples arranged in groovy patterns form a precise network, which can be heard concisely in The Sequence Part I & II. Remembrance tends in a completely different direction, leaning towards music of the 14th century and seeming to be permeated by a slightly sacral aura. More recently, Auer has also developed a close relationship to analogue synthesizers, inspired by the British singer/songwriter and electro scene.
His saxophone makes Auer sound as soft and floating as a Japanese Shakuhachi flute, on the bass clarinet he finds lines, riffs and slaps in the style of an electric bass. Percussive noises complete his imaginary one-man rhythm section. Apart from his latest sound tool is a double bass clarinet. “It reaches even deeper than a double bass and can make the floor vibrate like only an organ without an amplifier,” Auer grins. “I got it from an instrument collector in the USA, but it had to be restored for almost two years to make it playable.”