Paul Giger: Schattenwelt (ECM New Series 1487)


Paul Giger

Paul Giger violin
Recorded May 1992, Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The Greek myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth lies at the heart of Schattenwelt (Shadow-world), the Swiss violinist Paul Giger’s third album for ECM and one of the label’s most enduring solo programs. The underlying narrative begins with Minos, son of Zeus and ruler of Crete, who wishes to sacrifice a bull in honor of Poseidon but cannot bring himself to do it once he beholds the glorious white creature given to him for that purpose. He decides to keep it, much to the consternation of his omniscient father, who as punishment imbues the bull with a power so dangerous that only Hercules is able to tame it. Minos’s wife Pasiphae is also struck (though not without an enraged Poseidon’s influence) by the bull’s uncanny beauty and couples with it, thus producing the bull-headed/man-bodied Minotaur. In a fit of jealousy and outrage, Minos imprisons this abomination in the labyrinth of Knossos, where the Minotaur is eventually slain by Theseus, son of Poseidon.

Giger approaches these events from the top down in his Seven Scenes from Labyrinthos, starting in the cosmos and ending in the underworld, effectively traveling in the opposite direction indicated by a rather different labyrinth in his ECM debut, Chartres. The architecture of “Dancing With The Stars” indicates a coalescence of matter out of nothingness. “Crane,” however, pulls us from its meditation into penetrating light. Notes ululate and waver like that titular bird, long associated with ancient labyrinths such as the one at Knossos. Thus do we get “Creating The Labyrinth,” a procession of rising sirens delineating an impossible path. “Birth Of The Bull” and “Fourteen Virgins” form a balanced pair. Where one is a celebration of life, the other represents the novennial sacrifice made to the Minotaur. “Death” is a chain of brooding arpeggios that beats faster toward a harmonic resolution before bleeding over into “Dancing In The World Of Shadows,” forging a seamless connection between consciousness and unconsciousness in a whirlwind of scraping stick-to-string contact.

Two refractions of the same light, Bay and Bombay (Good Night), circumscribe the program’s darkness like a compass. Where the first is airborne, its bow drawing out inner life from strings like human breath until it is but a rasp in the throat of Time, the latter expands that unseen dimension into spiritual quest. Across them all, Giger draws a careful brush.

The music of Schattenwelt possesses the kind of harmony one associates with an old stone sanctuary, its glassless windows allowing every word sung or spoken full disclosure into the world(s) beyond. His technique is outstanding yet subtle, as in a beautiful passage of Bombay during which he sustains a lead melodic line on one string while bouncing his bow for a rhythmic accompaniment on another. The result is a self-contained universe that is constantly looking in on itself, for it knows no other way. After all, what is a shadow-world but a realm in which individuals have sacrificed the light in favor of blameless creation?

<< Stephan Micus: To The Evening Child (ECM 1486)
>> Bley/Peacock/Oxley/Surman: In The Evenings Out There (ECM 1488)

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