J. Peter Schwalm – How We Fall [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR096, 55:25 [6/8/18] ****:
Brian Eno always has inventive collaborators, from his days in early Roxy Music to projects with David Byrne, Robert Fripp, John Cale and David Bowie; and his production work with U2 and others. One of Eno’s fine colleagues is multi-instrumentalist J. Peter Schwalm, who was an Eno associate for six years, including 2001’s Drawn from Life. Over the years, the Germany-based Schwalm has created several musical documents, from film soundtracks to theatrical pieces and a continuing slate of imaginative albums. Schwalm’s latest is the nearly-hour-long How We Fall, an all-instrumental follow-up to his 2016 effort, The Beauty of Disaster. Both records have been issued via the UK RareNoise label, which appears to be a fitting home for Schwalm’s artistic aesthetic. The Beauty of Disaster focused at least partially on the fascination and allure of catastrophe. How We Fall centers on existential experience, specifically when Schwalm was diagnosed with a brain tumor and his subsequent chemotherapy sessions. It was a tiring and trying time, and the material Schwalm later composed reflects his restlessness, fear, despair and anger. How We Fall is available as a four-panel CD digipack, gatefold double-sided 12” vinyl and multiple digital formats. This review refers to the CD configuration.
How We Fall includes some of the same musicians who were on The Beauty of Disaster: English bassist Tim Harries (a former member of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and folk-rockers Steeleye Span; he’s also done studio time with Eno) and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset (credits include Bill Laswell, Jon Hassell, Jan Garbarek, David Sylvian and many others). How We Fall melds electronic music, rock music, ambient and atmospheric elements, digital and analog effects, and production techniques which mask or alter guitar, piano and drums into a myriad of noises where it’s sometimes impossible to differentiate who or what is making the sounds. Pieces occasionally intertwine from one tune to another. How We Fall has more pronounced beats, rhythmic pulses and expanded grooves compared to The Beauty of Disaster. That is noticeable during the opener, the throbbing, eight-minute “Strofort,” which contains a condensed layering of electronics, percussion, drums and processed guitar. That’s trailed by the dramatically cinematic “Battenfeld,” with tensely-implemented drum beats, swirling electronic reverberations and—despite numerous tones and sounds—is a solo Schwalm track. After that start, the moody, ethereal “Auua” laces together acoustic piano, vivid electronic structures and oscillating rhythmic constructions.
A sense of agitation permeates the seven-minute “Ibra” where Harries’ vibrating and pulsating bass is at the forefront. Guitar-like attributes are also distinctive, although it’s challenging to tell if the manipulations are from Aarset or from Schwalm. During the second half of “Ibra” the music becomes denser, and machine-like clamors echo combat or battleground skirmishes. Much of Schwalm’s pieces have distressed or deliberately damaged melodies. Case in point is the abstract “Gangesthal,” where the melody is built as an extended drone and then shaken back and forth by odd meters, multitracked effects and shape-shifting auditory impressions. With all of that, it comes as a surprise to hear the solo acoustic piano introduction to the eight-minute “Stormbruch,” which commences with a chamber jazz approach. Schwalm and Harries don’t stay in that area for long: the piano is gradually subsumed to turbulence, anxiety and a semblance of a scratched-up sonic landscape. The piano rises back at the tune’s conclusion. “Stormbruch” sometimes is like something which could have emanated from a Nicolas Winding Refn movie such as Valhalla Rising, which is logical since Schwalm and Eno did the music for Refn’s Fear X. A tight but also fluent groove pervades the 6:22 “Clingon,” which appears to be titled after characters from the Star Trek universe. Persuasive, wordless voices ebb and flow; a precise beat drifts through; and there is a streamlined conformation not as anachronistic as the other compositions.
How We Fall ends with the slightly orchestral “Singlis,” where a guitar is clearly distinguished as a guitar; reverbed acoustic piano notes resonant; and the electronic components are not as intimidating as on other tracks. There is a positive, nearly uplifting quality, reminiscent probably of how Schwalm felt after he had completed his cancer eradication and relearned his home studio apparatus. How We Fall may seem cold and dark to some listeners, particularly those who prefer straightforward acoustics to maneuvered electronics. Anyone who understands and appreciates electronic composition by artists such as Boards of Canada, Tycho or Eno’s later releases such as Nerve Net should immediately dive into Schwalm’s music.
J. Peter Schwalm – producer, guitar, piano, electronic and digital sound modules, mixing, desks, drums, synth; Eivind Aarset – guitar (tracks 1, 3-5, 8-9); Tim Harries – bass (tracks 1, 4-7, 9)
Link for more information on “How We Fall” at RareNoise Records: