Static Motion

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Under the direction of label head Steve Feigenbaum, Cuneiform has searched hither and yon for artists across a wide spectrum of avant rock, jazz, and unclassifiable music for decades, and it was probably only a matter of time before the imprint released an album by a group specializing in the Devil's music. Not the likes of the dark, evil-sounding Univers Zero album Heresie, or other devilish Cuneiform recordings/reissues of the Univers Zero/Present school, but rather an album of music based on tritone intervals, given the Latin name diabolus in musica -- the Devil in music -- during medieval times. On Static Motion, the January 2014 Cuneiform debut by Swiss experimental rock quartet Sonar, electric guitarists Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner and bassist Christian Kuntner tune their instruments to tritones -- but never fear, although tritones have been regarded as dissonant throughout much of Western music history, hence the diabolus in musica appellation, you should be able to handle Static Motion without your head spinning in circles as you projectile vomit pea soup Exorcist style. On eight tracks ranging from four and a half to 12 minutes long (all thoroughly composed by Thelen), the guitars and bass are tuned to the tritone interval of C and F#, and the musicians extensively employ the natural harmonics of their instruments' strings, often creating a ringing sound rich with overtones in the guitars, contrasting with arpeggiated muted plucks. Beneath Thelen and Wagner's riffs and ostinatos in the right and left channels (played live without looping), Kuntner's bass provides a deep pulse and throb, while Manuel Pasquinelli's crisp but cavernous drums are played with an unflashy, utilitarian simplicity -- but that's exactly what the music calls for, a "less is more" approach in which the drums' counter-rhythms immediately establish another layer of depth without ever getting in the way.

Yet the guitarists most strongly define Sonar's extraordinary sound, whether plinking out muted patterns in counterpoint, letting their instruments' harmonics ring, or punctuating the proceedings with clipped, octave-rich "chords" that take on the character of brass accents. At times the guitars' timbres might suggest Zimbabwean mbiras; on occasion the music is imbued with a Middle Eastern/Balkan flavor; and you might even imagine an alternate universe in which Byrds-era Roger McGuinn brought his 12-string Rickenbacker to a Steve Reich session. Expect trance-inducing grooves rather than hummable melodies (although "Tranceportion" manages an almost indie rockish hook), tension and release akin to modal jazz, and music with a spacious, streamlined complexity that invites active listening but, ambient-like, can also easily slip into the background (unless your stereo is cranked up, of course). You might not form a deep emotional attachment to Sonar's mathematically precise music, but if you enjoy becoming pleasurably lost within musical angles and intersections -- and tapping your foot in uneven time signatures -- then Static Motion's 70 minutes of attractive patterns and structures could be the handbasket to hell you've been looking for, you devil you.

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