Although the word “enigma” refers to hidden meanings and messages, the music of composer-instrumentalist Alexander Berne discloses itself in starkness, not darkness. Nowhere so clearly as in this triptych of albums released in 2010 on the progressive Innova Recordings. Closest in spirit to the multi-tracked worlds of Stephan Micus, Berne’s universe expands well beyond the binary of flesh and spirit into geometries of neither.
The Soprano Saxophone Choir opens this 158-minute path by slowly melting away any obscuring hinges of expectation until the door falls away, leaving the listener between the infinity of two opposing mirrors. The ensuing soundscape unfolds a variety of topographical textures, each suited to its theme like light to color. The initiatory “Shores,” for example, paints miles of coastline with a minimal palette, evoking waters and coastlines with a fisherman’s intuition. It doesn’t so much tell as comport its story, as a dancer would favor gesture over pen. Yet it is not only bodies but environments themselves which move with mammalian self-awareness, moving stealthily through the sun and groundswell of “Gardens” and picking the “Hyacinth” that grows in its soil. What follows is a spectrum of nodes, moving from the isolationist jewel that is “Eschaton,” through the science fiction scope of “Reaches” and the ritual motifs of “Uhm,” and linking to the cellular origins of “Magic,” where modal poetry glows like desert canopy.
The Saduk takes its title from an instrument of Berne’s own invention. Something of a cross between a saxophone and a duduk but of a sphere all its own, it unfolds the very map charted on the first disc and adds names to its rivers, mountains, and geographical regions. The “Aubade” is a morning love song by name, a migration of geese and cranes reflected in sunlit waters that sets a viscerally focused tone, by which the tenderness of Berne’s performance sheds skin to reveal a syncopation free of clots in “Wanderer,” whereby the itinerant body reveals the lessons of its calluses and sunburns as if they were scripture. In contrast to this arid passage, “Clepsydra” (Greek for “water clock”) pours its liquid song from one vessel to another and back again in a droning piece that absorbs brief rhythmic elements to count the seconds. Filling the chasm framed by the eternal golden braid of “Sirens” (wherein one can hear the inner beauties of the saduk in all their glory) is Christo Nicholoudis, who provides vocals on two tracks: “Tridoula” and “Supernal.” His presence subtracts a feeling of architecture and substitutes cavernous breathing in its place. A stirring at the biological level.
The Abandoned Orchestra is Berne’s self-styled refraction, an expression of self that finds union in multiplicity. “Plumescent” is the first of seven steps into this more colorful anatomy. Pulses provide requisite traction, but feel almost accidental in their flips of grace. “Lustening” dips into Muslimgauze territory with its distorted break beat and fading reed lines, while “Kenosis” (another Greek word, this referring to the processes by which one empties the self to receive divine will) diffuses a mind interrupted by its own vocal desires. “Najash” refers to the snake in the Garden of Eden, enchanting with charmer’s croon but disappearing into the self-replicating spiral of “Arise” before being blasted into strands of infinity by the soprano saxophone in “Auriga.” Named for the constellation better known as the Charioteer, the latter does indeed pull its charge from one night to the next, unrelenting in its quest for fire.
Standing out like facial features along the way are three “Chronicles,” each a summary of what came before that treats every lilting line with the care of a mother bird warming her eggs. Averaging at 16.5 minutes each, they constitute a nomadic horizon at various stages of recession, and leave us wondering just how long it will take for our shadows to stretch until we step on our own heads.
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