Sonar- "Vortex" featuring David Torn with interview
“Benoit Mandelbrot first coined the term 'fractal' in 1975, discovering that simple mathematic rules apply to a vast array of things that looked visually complex or chaotic. As he proved, fractal patterns were often found in nature's roughness describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation”.
Master architects in the construct of sonic temples even when utilizing lush melodic hypnotism, “Sonar” can only be described as being on the fringes of what separates us from infinity and the other. Hailing out of Switzerland, the band brings us the new record “Vortex”, destined to not only break compositional boundaries but attain timeless acclamation from all music lovers and critics alike. Sounding like a more prog-ish orchestral “Jp Bouvets Childish Japes”, originality oozes from all corners.
The Zürich-based quartet’s new release comes forth grand-sized with the addition of legendary guitarist and musical poet, David Torn. This combination has led to the 8th wonder of the world, the visible acquisition of painting with sound attained in 3 dimensions both with a transcendental concrescence and refined illustrative growth patterns. Birthing a time completely of its own making all the while housing vast directional tides, vortex is not a city, planet or solar system but a reflection of the cosmos itself. As per where one confronts a universal synaesthesiac event, the marvel met devours him whole with no resistance. The mercurial winds and thick gastric air fostered within this sonically engineered black hole are one-way tickets into the possibilities of music as a perception altering drug. A musical molecule attuned and aligned to the nature of things on all scales and vestitudes. While David’s guitar sound has a gravitational pull of its own orbit, Sonar’s accompanying guitarists Stephan and Bernhard birth rich organic textures and undistinguishable naturalism. The bass and drums appropriate world polyrhythmic discussions and deep odd timed matrix grids that bear constitutional components of Terry Bozzio, Effrain Toro, Mick Karn, Bootsy Collins, and Sun 0))).
The first track on “Vortex”, “Part 44”, addresses the depth of the 7:4 time signature and displays rhythmic displacement mastery at its finest. Guided by the geometric modeling of the drums’ entropic dysfunctional masquerades, gyrative and plucky palm-muted guitar accents the complex dynamic systems that underlay the grooves’ edges. From the get go, David Torn appears to have a lot to say and express. Having grown into a more background character in live outfits, it’s truly a cold slap in the face to be reminded what David Torn as a lead guitarist actually entails, and it is full-heartedly appreciated.
“Redshift” is intellectually stirring, experimentally daring and resembles listening to the wise man native of the farthest secluded village speaking his knowledge. Powerful and thoughtfully perfected, the precision of spatial sculpting is statuesque and highly engaging. Oddly, the pulsar of the song has underlying similarities to Eberhard Webers heavenly track “Quiet Departures”. Not so much as a whole but rather as a subtle conduit bringing that archetypical energy of Weber into the vast geometric concussions of “Sonar” as they play with high speed collisions. A cut that is “ECM” bound.
“Waves and Particles”, the next installment, has a more post-rock progressive tendency amidst drawing ecologies similar to the Japanese band toe, all within a mature lens of chordial picking emanating pure Al Di Meola-isms. 9:4 is the foundational pattern that weaves this mystery and expectation of constant unpredictability and astonishment. Likely the most math-rock of the arrangements besides "Part44", this is our second favorite and not a track to miss. Laced in mystery and mystique, these waves spawn a paradoxical softed-aggressivity.
Even though mystery remains an underlying thread up until and through track 4 “Monolith”, the song wears seasonal cyclic progressions that deign the air to a fog-like, fall morning consistency. Cylindrical in nature, the breaths and instrumental motion occurs on the walls of the kaleidoscopic cut. Seemingly cored, David Torn slowly introduces himself until all that’s left is his synth-like warmth. Tabla tones deliver directional impressions as East Indian tense harmonizing ensues. Seemingly within an instant, more and more layers of medium are interlaced - creating schizophrenic urgency. Quicker than it arrived, the slideshow pulls back, deep in breath and prolonged, droning outcries.
“Vortex” - figured as a balancing act between noir-era, private-eye film music and something much older and primal - continues the LPs journey into the abyss. The blend of night-drive era TV with animalistic disfigurement shines light on the widening effect of contrasting idioms and the effectiveness at creating palatably textile volume. Predominantly in 13:8, the dynamic systems and rhythmic guidance of drummer Manuel Pasquinelli alone manifest solid ground to walk on.
The final cut, “Lookface”, examines extreme 80’s production at hand while re-examining the voicings of “poly town” with world-class polyrhythmic tribal harmonic time. Perhaps in 27:8 the track is simply sheer discarded inhibition and a destruction of social normalcy. Inappropriate dinner music overlain against a futuristic halfbird, halfrobot pop-out book with a cardboard-jungle twist. Having Arto Lindsay-esque surrendering noise rock tension dives one deep into the ecstasies known only by the freaks and iconoclasts. Being rather obscene and rugged is not far from the exterior of most things, the piece has a interactive conclusion to seeming impossible questions and the human interaction with waves and numbers.
Sonar is Stephan Thelen (guitar), Bernhard Wagner (guitar), Christian Kuntner (electric bass) and Manuel Pasquinelli (drums)
“The music of SONAR is based on the natural harmonics of two strings that are tuned a tritone apart in the equal temperament, i.e. the vibration ratio of the two strings is exactly √ 2 : 1 (such as the ratio of the diagonal to the side in a square). This irrational ratio is juxtaposed to the just, rational ratios of the natural harmonics (fifth 3:2 and major third 5:4), so the SONAR mood is an amalgam of pure (rational) and equal (irrational) temperament.
This principle leads to a scale of six tones (a mode of limited transposition in the sense of Messiaen): The intonated tones of the C major triad: C, E, G and the just intonated tones of the F# major triad: F#, A#, and C# (where F#, A# and C# are symbols to denote tones that are displaced by a just intonated tritone from C, E, and G, respectively).”
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TMRT To Manuel Pasquinelli: Do you remember the first poly rhythm you encountered? What were some challenges and accomplishments that stand out with piecing together such a deep and masterful style? Who in your mind is most responsible for your musical persona?
Manuel's answer: I really don't remember, what the first polyrhythm was I encountered. Maybe a 7/8 groove with straight quarter notes in 7/4. I was always fascinated by the possibility of playing various rhythmic patterns at the same time, and how they are linked together. I started experimenting with polyrhythmic grooves as a teenager, before I knew the word "polyrhythm". With Sonar and my own band (AKKU Quintet) I now have the possibility to apply polyrhythmic grooves in bands, what I find is great. It's not easy to find bands where you can play such grooves, because not only the grooves, also the music has to be polyrhythmic! I always listened to various kinds of Music, and I really don't know who is most responsible for my musical persona. I think by far the biggest influence are the Musicians I play with and people I talk to. But not only musicians, also sound engineers, artists of other disciplines or friends that have nothing to do with music. When I'm learning a new polyrhythmic groove, I try to understand the nature and shape of a groove and where its gravity points are. I try to make it sound as natural and organic as a normal rock beat in 4/4. And I try to listen carefully to the parts of the other instruments, to make the groove fit in the musical context.
TMRT To: Stephan Thelen: can you explain the inspirations and mechanisms behind Sonar’s rather unique tuning and more importantly how it effects your playing. Why did you choose this vehicle over standard or other alternative tunings?
Thelen: Bernhard and I were talking about doing a project together for quite a while, but I felt that we had to come up with a really original concept, something that had never been done before, otherwise it would just be a good and not a great band. One day, I was listening to pieces I had done in the past and remembered that I once had to use a special tuning to play a certain piece that was otherwise unplayable, a tuning in which – partly inspired by Glenn Branca – I only used two notes that were a tritone apart, a C and a F#. I was using Robert Fripp’s new standard tuning at the time, so that’s probably why the lowest note is a C. I showed the tritone tuning to Bernhard and we started fooling around with it. Bernhard discovered some cool chords and I noticed that the natural harmonics of the tuning produce a beautiful, mysterious sound. Suddenly, there was this thought : let’s use this tuning for the guitars and the bass in a new band…a crazy idea, but the moment it was there, there was no turning back. This of course meant that we had to complete relearn our instruments, because all of our old licks didn’t work and we had find new and fresh ones. And as if that wasn’t crazy enough, we also decided to discard all our cherished effect and looping pedals (except reverb), concentrating on the pure and direct sound of an electric guitar. So the tuning was really the starting point for Sonar, a classic example for the idea that it’s sometimes better and more creative to reduce your options, not increase them.
TMRT: Less is more, indeed. Are the pedals ever missed? Do you feel people use too many guitar effects? The technology has come a long way from evening star. Do you guys set out to paint particular ecologies or do you create and define after the fact. Can you deepen our understanding of this brave goal of painting with sound?
Thelen: I don’t miss my pedals in Sonar, but I also do things outside of Sonar where I use them. I am finishing a solo album (David Torn and Markus Reuter play heavily on that album too), where I use lots of pedals. No, I’m fine with people using pedals.
Here’s a quote from Anil’s interview:
Gradually evolving, pattern-based music gives the listener a much more active and liberating role in the ritual of performing music. It’s not about being passively entertained, about personal feelings, or about admiring musicians with great technical abilities. It’s about players and listeners being together in the same space and at the same moment in time, standing in awe of the seemingly infinite power of music, and working together to gradually create something remarkable. (http://www.innerviews.org/inner/sonar2.html http://www.innerviews.org/inner/sonar.html )
TMRT To Bernhard Wagner: Have you come across the phenomenon of double hand tapping taking over modern musical landscapes? How do you feel about double hand tapping and textural based techniques like harmonics/cordial slides? What are some of you favorite ways to tie together melodies and soundscapes?
I don't feel in the position to make such a statement about a specific playing technique. If at all, my observation of anything taking over the musical landscapes is the concern with social media and how to sneak or bribe your track onto popular playlists, where sticking to honing the craft would get you so many likes and subscriptions further. Double hand tapping and textural based techniques like harmonics/chordal slides
Any technique that serves your musical vision! Personally, I'm neither adept nor overly concerned with double hand tapping. I feel that I have a broader palette of expression when using the good ol' pick. Not to say that occasionally branching out to achieve a particular effect would do any harm. Harmonics on the other hand is something very prevalent in our music, possibly more so on previous releases than on Vortex. I find it an important element in my toolbox providing an extended range in terms of register.
Apart from Sonar I do live looping where harmonics are an important technique to avoid a loop becoming too crowded. Anyone interested should check out Andre LaFosse and his excellent ongoing series about looping techniques (https://www.patreon.com/andrelafosse). He explains why harmonics are particularly suited to live looping. Chordal slides: Love hearing other people doing them expertly. When applied with taste they can really add something, notably when the bass is moving independently. If you manage to weave in and out of an existing soundscape, occasionally contrapuntally, then in parallel, it can be a very effective tool. Nik Bärtsch once drew up the analogy of a perfectly camouflaged stingray that occasionally emerges from the background by moving quickly from place to place, seamlessly meshing into the backdrop whenever settling somewhere between moves. As for inspirations I'd say Steve Reich, Nik Bärtsch, Don Li, Robert Fripp.