Classical CD Reviews

ALEXANDER BERNE: ‘Self Referentials, Volumes 1 & 2’ – Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra– Innova Records – Innova (2 CDs)

Impossible to describe but must hear.

Published on April 8, 2013

ALEXANDER BERNE: ‘Self Referentials, Volumes 1 & 2’ – Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra– Innova Records – Innova 838, 91:12 (two discs) [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 

I have found Alexander Berne’s music very difficult to describe but very interesting and evocative and well worth your patient listening.  One way to describe his music is, perhaps, that it is part New Age, part “world music”, part avant-garde contemporary and wholly unique.

Berne’s earlier works, with which I am quite familiar, relied heavily on some creative use of his own personally developed wind instruments (like saxophone mouthpieces and reeds on recorders and flute-like devices) all of which are blended with electronics (but without synthesizers or sampling). As a matter of fact, The Abandoned Orchestra is actually what Berne refers to as his own unique blend of these timbres and their evolution into something that sounds larger and more “alien” than what it actually is. This present work also includes human vocalizations and bits of acoustic piano.

This very extensive two disc album is in some ways Alexander Berne as we have heard him and, yet, it is different, more introspective, and more metacognitive. There is an element of “angst” in the set as whole – a struggle in sound to discover some unspecified personal issues. Even the booklet notes, by Maxwell Chandler, are dense, requiring more than one reading and implying strongly that the “Self Referentials” are, for Berne, just that – some very personal imagery like one big attempt at self-discovery.

The opening music from disc one “Far Afield Recording” sounds nearly Indian with hints of Raga-like pulse and tonality. There is certainly a mystic feel to the whole set, but – again- close listening reveals a bit of struggle; within the tonality and outside of the bizarre mélange of traditional and non-traditional sound sources.

There is also an implicit dichotomy of the “tone” of the selections on Volume 1with those on Volume 2. Note that the “movement” titles in part one all bear exotic imagery-rich wording, like “Hidden Memories: Plangent Wail” (That cut in particular does have a disturbing lamentation-like quality to it.) However, Volume 2 is cryptically entitled “An Unnamed Diary of Places I Went Alone” and the cuts are left as bare static Roman numerals without imagery of words at all.

If this album in all its immense cerebral inscrutability were your first introduction to the music of Alexander Berne, I would advise that you let the sounds drive your feelings but be ready for what is an overall beautiful though somewhat unsettling experience. For those already familiar with Berne’s music you have to acknowledge this collection to be something wider and deeper (and longer) than what he has done before. There is a more profound feel that is hard to describe. I am a fan of Berne’s work. It is not intended to be placed in the same arena (let alone “compete”) with other ‘contemporary classical’ or ambient music. It is in a strangely lovely sphere of its own. I also admired the cover and label art that was apparently also done by this one-of-a-kind artist.

—Daniel Coombs

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