Hans Reichel

Death of the Rare Bird Ymir/Bonobo Beach

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This CD combines two albums of visionary solo guitar music (or more accurately, guitar-based music) from 1979 and 1981, respectively. Guitar-based because the instruments used are not standard guitars, but rather guitar-like inventions of Reichel's own creation in which the frets, bridges, and other parts have been modified, rearranged, and/or removed. He uses traditional picking and strumming techniques, along with some more unorthodox methods such as percussively tapping the strings and, on "The Call," playing two guitars at once. Whatever the technique, the resulting sounds are noticeably different from what a standard guitar produces. "Good Days" sounds like the product of a Japanese zither-like instrument, whereas a few other pieces have a percussive element that brings to mind an undiscovered cousin of the hammered dulcimer. "Two Small Pieces Announced By a Cigar Box," meanwhile, features some animalistic noises that prefigure his later invention, the daxophone ("dax" being German for "badger"). When he switches over to electric guitar, Reichel often summons up layers of ringing overtones, volume swells, and carefully controlled drones that don't seem physically possible for one person to achieve in real time without any effects, but the credits state that this is, in fact, the case. However, for all of the technical innovation and potential novelty value, what makes this music really work are Reichel's well-developed (and rather good-natured) musical instincts. While associated with the European avant-garde free improv community -- the FMP label is, after all, one of the field's most significant labels -- he does not shy away from tonal harmony, sing-able melodies, or pre-composed material. Some of the music does have a disorienting, alien effect, but there is a hard-to-place folk music feel to most of the tracks, which keeps them somewhat grounded. In his liner notes to this reissue, fellow guitarist Fred Frith puts it well when stating that these albums sound "...not shockingly avant-garde but shockingly traditional (although which tradition isn't always clear!)." Considering that they still sound not just contemporary, but really unlike any other music being made, more than 20 years after their initial release, The Death of the Rare Bird Ymir and Bonobo Beach qualify as avant-garde in the truest sense of the term, but they are also just about as delightful and user-friendly as avant-garde music can get.

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