As Yves Drew A Line. Estate by Alfred 23 Harth came out in September, on Hong Kong’s Re-Records label. There was very little fanfare and it garnered only one or two reviews on specialist experimental music websites. A shame, because it’s an engrossing, maddening wonder, sprawling across 21 tracks that mix free jazz, improvisation, electronics and groggy, ambient textures.
Harth is a musician, composer and multimedia artist with a venerable CV and massive discography. German-born and now resident in South Korea, he’s made records for ECM and worked with luminaries of the avante-garde like Peter Brötzmann and Ōtomo Yoshihide.
However, I know next to nothing about how this record was made, or what its title – or the rather baroque track titles – mean. (Is ‘Yves’ a reference to Yves Klein? Why is he walking a line? Is it something to do with Johnny Cash?) Despite this, I’ve been fascinated these past months by the record’s fine-textured approach and shifting musical ground.
‘Point D’Accrochage’ reminds me of an intricately composed free jazz ensemble piece – something from Mingus Ah-Um perhaps – its horn and piano lines creeping forward like storm clouds slowly rolling down a mountain. ‘Terrace. Stirling Rumors’ offers cut-up fragments of free improvisation, while ‘Family Management. Slurred’ gives us buzzing, hysterical trumpet improvisations overlaid with buzzes and scratches, as if Harth is rubbing down his master tapes with course sandpaper.
The record shifts in scale too. ‘Cityone. Shanti’ is a foggy, widescreen soundscape, a miasma of echoes and lugubrious horns. Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘Solar Panel Scratch. Volatile’ and ‘De Re. Aedificatoria’ abruptly switch focus to the micro level, giving us scratchings, fumblings and rumbles at the edge of hearing. Yet every piece is equally fine-grained, making for fascinating listening.
The album somehow sounds coherent too, but not in the way you’d expect. There’s no sense of development or progression, nor any sense of a story or narrative. It creeps and trickles, circling slowly, bringing ideas and sounds into and out of focus.
Perhaps Harth is giving us an illustration the creative mind, working in an intuitive, illogical way. Or maybe this is where the ‘line’ of the album’s title comes in. This line is not a straight road laid down for us to follow. It’s taking a pencil to a blank sheet of paper and seeing where it leads, what strange patterns and images appear.
In any case, it’s a signal of how good this record is that, each time I listen , new sounds and juxtapositions are offered up. And, with such an involved sound-world , I don’t mind missing an intellectual framework though which to analyse this record.
Instead, I think if the album as a river, constantly flowing and moving, with rocks, silt and debris tumbling along in its current. Every time I listen, I lose myself in its depths.
Get it here: http://www.re-records.com/discography/re-cd-008r/