Thrill Jockey have had a busy year, releasing over twenty albums since January, most of them variations of the avant-rock and drone/ambient styles the label has become associated with. Blaze Colour Burn is an altogether more abstract creation than, say, Black Pus’ All My Relations or the latest Barn Owl album, and perhaps the oddest release on the label for quite some time, maybe even since Thrill Jockey first started; and indeed, it is the first in a series of releases set to appear on the label that will explore less conventional genres such as electro-acoustic compositions and field recordings. If future works are as good as Blaze Colour Burn, the TJ people could be about to embark on a triumphant new path.
Fans of Mouse on Mars will of course be used to witnessing St Werner in full deconstruction mode, but on Blaze Colour Burn, he takes the duo’s unusual approach to genre convention into fresh and surprising new territories. The album is centred around two pieces, ‘Cloud Diachroma’ and ‘Spiazziacorale’ (the latter divided into two separate tracks) that provide the backbone and best moments, crystallizing the German composer’s vision, albeit abstractly. ‘Cloud Diachroma’ opens the album in a storm of muted electronic wobbles and streaks of brittle, processed drone, possibly produced on guitar but, if so, distorted to the point that they resemble saturated bursts of barely-marshalled white noise. There is a grim dynamic at play here, especially when the piece recedes into brooding, diffuse ambience, but also a playfulness, as if St Werner is sharing a process of exploration with us in real time, allowing the track to evolve almost organically, unpredictably, never collapsing into bleak oppression as many a dark ambient act might do. ‘Cloud Diachroma’ belongs to the tradition of moody drone that includes early Cluster or Tangerine Dream and, like those doyens, he’s too smart to merely wallow in distortion and darkness. This ambiguous approach breathes space and air into his compositions. Closer ‘Sipian Organ’ is subtly upbeat, with see-sawing organ drones and crackling synth effects that never settle but rather bubble and sway woozily, while a persistent, heartbeat-like underlying pulsation gently goads the piece forwards. It’s an almost elegiac conclusion to the album, one that confounds the impact of what has been before.
The two segments of ‘Spiazzacorale’ differ markedly from the condensed, shifting drone and fluttery electronica of ‘Cloud Diachroma’ and ‘Sipian Organ’, instead touching into an electro-acoustic tradition in which “real” sounds are melded into music, sometimes jarringly, sometimes elegantly. Both parts were taken from a recorded performance that took place in a public piazza in Italy and which featured live musicians on a variety of instruments. On top of that, the audience from the performance plays an integral part of the sounds St Werner has subsequently edited into seven and eleven minute tracks. ‘Spiazzacorale B’ starts with an unsettled electronic buzzing that is punctuated by the random coughs of either a musician or an audience member. After a brief passage of silence, a flute orchestra and vibraphonist are gradually introduced, their massed hums and resonating tones sounding more like a ringing glass played by Charlemagne Palestine, albeit reverbed to the max. They are joined by a mournful sax solo and the chattering voices of punters inside the piazza’s cafes. St Werner effectively breaks down the barriers between performance and studio wizardry, between the listener and the outside world. This is even more tangible on ‘Spazziacorale A’, where the field recordings of voices, instrumental passages and street sounds become ghostly semi-presences, constructing an environment that is immediate, even familiar, and yet somehow forever out of reach. Jan St Werner conducts these samples and welds them to electronic drone elements with the (sleight of) hand of a master, reviving the acousmatic music of Luc Ferrari and Bernard Parmegiani for the digital age. That this duo of steadfastly avant-garde adventurism sit so comfortably alongside the more immediately recognisable sounds on the rest of Blaze Colour Burn signals a remarkably coherent, yet exploratory, vision.