Less than five years after the appearance of its first CD, the sort of scraped and staticy tones promulgated by the Vienna-based efzeg quintet have become more common at free music sessions than walking bass lines or drum press rolls.
Today, in fact, the crackling whooshes and intermittent instrumental prongs that characterize this CD seem almost as commonplace as hard bop licks. Expansion and repetition has made listeners more familiar with the genre. But at the same time it's evident that cohesion and natural adaptation have also affected efzeg's sound. The formerly frosty outlay has become warmer and more accepting, even as new influences have been introduced.
There may even be a hint of harmonic détente in the disc's title. "Würm" means "worm" in German, which suggests that the efzgers are prepared to dig even further below the surface to come up with more distinctive sonic tones.
Not that the band members aren't being as enigmatic as ever. The instrumentation below was pieced together from other sources, the sleeve merely lists the performers names, followed by "electronic and acoustic instruments". Of the group, Billy Roisz is a video artist responsible for the QuickTime movie that's the final track. The others spread their talents around. Guitarist Martin Siewert, for instance, is also a member of the Trapist trio and plays with everyone from flugelhornist Franz Koglmann to electronics whiz Josef Novotny. Burkhard Stangl, the other guitarist is in SSSD with Siewert, and was part of Polwechsel. Saxophonist/electronic manipulator Boris Hauf has strong links with Chicago players; while turntablist Dieb13 has worked with percussionist Günter Müller.
Snatches of pre-recorded voices and sounds are one of the modifications to the efzeg sound, most obvious on "günz dus". Here the usual hissing static and motor turning timbres are interrupted by what seem to be p.a. system announcements and conversation snippets, as well as chiming guitar runs and smearing sax lines. Beginning with what could be rolling thunderclouds, the sound is soon rent with a metal on metal pitches, produced by the scratch of a wire brush handle on top of a ride cymbal. Later in between waveform oscillations and grainy static is the sound of a deep-voiced announcer who could be working from Mission Control. As high and low fluttering fan belt spins, toilet bowl draining sounds and what is probably chains ruffled against the cymbals are heard, one of the guitarists strums a disconnected acoustic line.
"Mindel ena" and "mindel dwa", which run right into one another, have a tougher rhythmic thrust, most likely related to the addition of second drummer Steve Heather on the former. Here oscillating and pulsating drones face layered vibraharp peals, rattling percussion and bubbling electric piano glissandos. Eventually the textures of the first tune begin to resemble that of a jalopy on a gravel road and give way to the trembling, intermittent sine wave pulses of the second track. Hisses crackle and pop, wood blocks are hammered and it appears as if plastic flaps are hitting a rotating wheel until the sound vanishes into an occasional whistle and machine-like sine waves.
With elongated strumming and intricate finger picking, Stangl, Siewert or perhaps both, define "riss", the more than CD's 131/2-minute tour de force. You can even hear the beginning of a melody among oscillating reverberations, vinyl hiss and crackle and what sounds like the electric pulse of a motor being turned on and off. Soon sharp strokes that could be a match being struck, light rim shots and fingertip taps on lower-pitched guitar strings introduce a different tempo. But these ratcheting and bolt-loosening tones are submerged under an organ-like swab of watery, fluttering oscillations. Stentorian, rocket ship launching textures move the piece to a finale, with sporadic guitar plinks piercing the thunder. Coda is one pressured bass note.
Static ruffles of air and the hissing of surface noises may still be omnipresent on this CD. But it's apparent that with experience, the band has added anthropomorphic humanity to its formerly robotic sound.
-- Ken Waxman