Steamboat Switzerland - Zone 2 (08.2007)
Zone 2 is the fifth CD of the power trio Steamboat Switzerland and the fourth that the Swiss musicians have released on GROB (2001:
Budapest, GROB 315; ac/dB [Hayden], GROB 316; 2005: Wertmüller, GROB 655). Steamboat Switzerland – Dominik Blum, organ; Marino Pliakas, e-bass; Lucas Niggli, drums – are a rousing live band who have developed an absolutely individual way of playing and expressing themselves out of their examination of sludge metal, post-serialism and free jazz. Their records, however, differ greatly from their live repertoire, already classic (the band has given many hundred concerts in the ten years it has existed). Their studio albums are recorded live, and sometimes come together from concert recordings, but they follow a strict design that the band has either not tried out, or done so only temporarily. And just as the albums do not even try to mirror the live situation, neither do the live performances contain the program of the current CD.
Zone 2 isn’t an exception: it is simply the first recording which is primarily played on acoustic instruments; the amplification is not foregrounded. Marion Pliakas changes to the acoustic guitar, Lucas Niggli plays a reduced drum set and Dominik Blum can be heard on piano. The music – one continuous piece – is improvised.
Felix Klopotek, author and co-manager of GROB, gives his impressions in a short text below.
There is a kind of flourish, a start. Isn’t there? You put the CD into the player, turn the amplifier up and after a few seconds there is a bang, no, it’s not a bang, but rather a lush entry, a well-placed beat. OK, a start. Or could it be any point in their improvisation which has already gone on for a while? That could be it: the musicians have already played a half-an-hour, and then the recording engineer pushes the button to record! Because the start doesn’t refer to any kind of dramaturgy that follows. The music that we hear afterwards is infinite music, not fixed, following no sense of suspense whose procedure would necessarily contain a point toward which everything strives, in order to ebb away afterwards.
It doesn’t matter if the start is really a start or any point in the coordinate system of time/sound. That makes up the infinite character of the music. The musicians could stop – whenever they want. And continue – whenever they want. Let’s say, in four days? Of course, no one would want to buy the 20-DVD box, on which the first and last DVD, music could be heard in the narrowest sense, while the 18 DVDs in the middle didn’t document anything else than the four-day break.
Whoever gets lost in the ocean of infinity also loses touch with the concept of infinity – one has to know where one is and how one masters the situation, which is always a concrete one. Therefore, the 45 minutes of music that we hear after the start (we’ll just assume that is “really” is one) are not just any 45 minutes of music, but rather the span of time that the musicians wanted to play and found to be valid, beyond this moment – in sheer endless processes of discussing, mixing and mastering.
What follows the, now stumbling again, ... the start is a breathless sense of suspense, which is breathless because one never knows how it will develop, and yet is coherent. Always when the music has advanced, one feels a sense of confirmation: however it happened, it had to happen this way. But this insight of the listener is a retrospective one. At minute eight we do not know what new patterns will result three minutes later out of this infinitely (not again!) finely woven set of instrument voices. Afterwards everything is clear.
The musicians achieve this through dense interaction, which does not take on the character of direct communication – call and response; permanent playing all the instruments, which has nothing to do with permanent high energy performing (there is no break-out, only compression, amalgamation, entanglement); complete absence of domination – no one overdoes another; exceeding the instrumental limits – who makes which sounds: the guitar can sound like a contrabass or like a percussion instrument, it can apparently make such diffusely hovering sounds as the table-top guitar of Keith Rowe; the drum set can be a piano played from the inside; and the other way around: the piano is used strictly percussively. Those are all surprisingly simple means, tested a thousand times and played again and again. But they are a means. The fact that the musicians do “crazy” things with their instruments isn't enough in itself.
And of course there are passages when the piano sounds like a piano, the drums like drums, and the guitar like a guitar. The sound of all the instruments together is, however, not a guitar-drum-piano triad, but rather something else, located far away from conventions.
Dominik Blum (Homepage)
Lucas Niggli (Homepage)
Marino Pliakas (Homepage)
back to GROB catalog
GROB960 Azeotrop 2006
Steamboat Switzerland live at the Loft on 05 June 2007 (Release concert)
Photos by Hans Grob