Thomas Demenga cello
Heinz Reber pipe organ
Recorded October 1980 at Pauluskirche Bern, Switzerland
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Cellorganics is exemplary of what I see to be ECM’s primary aesthetic: the dialectic possibilities of seemingly disparate instrumental voices, cultures, and sociopolitical contexts. The pairing of cello with organ is but a step away from the former’s canonic place beside the piano. And yet this juxtaposition opens us to entirely new areas of sonic creation, dramatically enhanced by the lofty recording space.
The album arises as if from slumber with the lone cello, whereupon it is gently accosted by the organ. Thus begins a delicate conversation that before long erupts into a frenzied catharsis. At this point Reber repositions himself, providing a dense and layered backdrop for Demenga’s no less contemplative phrasing. This stichomythic structure continues, interspersed with stunning moments of confluence—occasionally dipping into reverberant depths of scraping and sustained chords—before the cello works through its own degradation into a sort of intertextual improvisation.
The album’s center finds the two musicians in an exuberant melancholy; one suffused with both rhythmic buoyancy and introspective caution. The organ’s pointillism becomes a comforting counterpoint to the cello’s harmonic glissandi, giving way to an expansive exposition and coda.
Ultimately, this album is about power relationships and their reconfigurations. The organ’s long-held position as a vessel for moral weight, as imposing as it is transcendent, is challenged here in its pairing with a “lowly” string. This is not a cello that yearns to be heard, but one that sings out of its own self-sufficiency. The pizzicato passages that open the final chapter in this narrative are like footsteps, neither approaching nor receding, dancing in place to the tune of their own inner voices. The organ, too, becomes a living organism, literally breathing life through a forest of esophagi.
This recording invites us not only to listen, but also to speak.
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