Paul Giger violin
Jan Garbarek tenor saxophone
Pierre Favre percussion
Musicians from Appenzell (Switzerland) silvesterchlauseschuppel, schellenschötter
Recorded 1990/91 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo; 1990 at Trogen
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The first time I heard Swiss violinist Paul Giger, my soul might well have wept. His is a spiritualism beyond the trappings of human politics, a stage populated by human-animal hybrids, faceless musicians, and dancers of many forms. For this, his follow-up album, Giger is joined by saxophonist Jan Garbarek and percussionist Pierre Favre in a sonic portrait of his homeland. Delving into living folk traditions, this trio gives us as wintry a feeling as possible without ever stepping foot in into the Alps. Yet this is no mere sonic postcard, but a concerted effort to flip the land inside out and expose, as from under the logs we overturned as children, the life teeming within.
(Photo credit: Anita Brechbühl)
This music came into my life when I still had a violin in my hands. At the time, I was struggling with the idea of expressing my inner voice through an external instrument. Hearing Giger showed me it was possible, and this album’s second piece, Karma Shadub (Dancing Star), is something I played quite often in my ultimately futile attempts to emulate a sound that was beyond me. I even performed it once with an interpretive dancer at a high school assembly. Though the violin soon faded from my grasp, I remain ever in its shadow, a humble and open listener of its masters, of which Giger is a nonpareil example. Every dissolve of Karma reveals new visual combinations, each so rudimentary, so fundamentally alive. Garbarek’s throaty call dovetails with Giger’s in a symbiosis of dance and darkness. Alpsegen introduces the album’s first percussive colors. A caravan of metallic nomads, ranging from tambura to cymbals, processes across an ever-widening sound palette. Cowbells recede like ancestors as Giger leaps in evolutionary pirouettes. On Chuereihe, Garbarek revisits the herding calls that enthralled on Dansere, and climbs the peaks into which the cover photography beckons us. Giger’s violin here is sometimes insectile, sometimes onomatopoetic, but always anchored by Favre’s deepening drums. Chlauseschuppel gives us a taste of the Appenzeller bells, rung at the end of every year to ward off foul spirits as the new one is welcomed.
(Photo credit: Vera Rüttimann)
When I first heard Trogener Chilbiläbe, which closes the disc, its backdrop of urban sounds led me to believe it had been recorded in a church with the door flung open. Its inspiring solo cycles of fast runs and soaring meditations end with a slam, as if shutting out the noise of the outside world. Only later did I discover that the door in question belongs to a prison cell, and that the piece was recorded in the jail where Giger must serve out a few days of each year for refusing to pay military tax. As insightful as these biographical minutiae are, it is the Zäuerli, a haunting yodel particular to the Alpstein region making three appearances here, that is the album’s lifeblood. In order to evoke its polyphonic splendor via a single instrument, Giger taps his fingers on open strings, eliciting harmonics from within. These hidden voices are his aesthetic soil. As we come to be wrapped in their atmospheric blankets, we are awakened even as we slumber.
Alpstein is a cosmic alignment. Like all of the violinist’s albums, it is markedly different from the rest but digs just as deeply. Giger may not always look to the same future, but he does draw from the same mythic past. His playing is only one step removed from breath, for every stroke of the bow enriches the universe like air to a lung.