Relative Things: Selected Soundscapes, 1994-1997

Tibor Szemző

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Relative Things: Selected Soundscapes, 1994-1997 Review

by Thom Jurek

Leo Feigin, owner of Leo Records, has to be commended for many things. He recorded the work of so many great Russian free jazzers for those of us in the West (before the Iron Curtain was torn asunder), beginning with the Ganelin Trio; he recorded the Anthony Braxton Quartet's complete series of concerts in Coventry, London, and Birmingham (no matter what Braxton thinks of those gigs, they are valuable and should be available); and he was the first to bring us the work of Hungarian composer and soundscapist Tibor Szemzö. Szemzö is perhaps Feigin's greatest discovery after the Ganelins. As a composer, he works with texts and music equally; he presents the spoken human voice -- in many languages -- in contexts so unusual yet so familiar sounding, listeners are engaged to take them in even if not understanding what is being said. This collection is a beautiful introduction to Szemzö's work. Most of these works were created for film scores and have a cinematic, incidental quality to them. They use silence very well, and their sparse, minimal melodies nonetheless cut to the heart of the emotion in each track. The first three tracks, "Blow #2," "8 Nico," and "Parijs," were composed for Péter Forgác's 1997 film Maalstroom. Four other soundtracks are represented by these sound sculptures. No two are the same, even though all make use of the same basic structures (repetition being the most prominent) and a lack of tension. Szemzö's pieces, even when they involve the darkest texts, float in the ether though they are most definitely "there." Szemzö has a keen sense of modulation, interval, and harmonic invention. His working with so few instruments -- from accordions to bass clarinets to tape and percussion -- leaves integrational space for microtonal possibilities that can be incorporated into the work either sectionally or in totality. There is nothing simple or elementary about Szemzö's approach to either composing soundscapes or chamber pieces, nor in his approach to the transformative and illustrative power of sound itself. And perhaps these 12 short pieces illustrate this in a more accessible way than his longer works, which can be hypnotic and overwhelming, though they are just as deceptively simple to "hear." Thank you, Leo Feigin.

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