Hot Tracks #05

Paul Giger: ars moriendi
(ECM New Series, 2022)

Artist: Paul Giger
Album: ars moriendi
Published: August 26th, 1992
Label: ECM Records / ECM New Series
An ECM Production
Recorded January 2015
Chiesa Bianca, Maloja (Chantun Grischun, CH)
Tonmeister: Peter Länger
Guggisberglied recorded 2021 in Walenstadt (St. Gallen, CH)

Paul Giger: Violin, Violino d’amore
Marie-Louise Dähler: Harpsichord, Positive Organ
Pudi Lehmann: Gongs, Singing Bowls, Conch Shell, Frame Drum
Franz Vitzthum: Countertenor

Carmina Quartett
Matthias Enderle: Violin
Susanne Frank: Violin
Wendy Champney: Viola
Stephan Goerner: Violoncello

If the primeval inception of the Hot Tracks column on printed media, a few decades ago, was there to poke into a sound engineer’s mind, to suggest that great sound often defies any border between musical genres… it’s a pity this album wasn’t published any earlier than 2022!

Because: if there’s one artist who can easily dodge labels, moving as seemingly effortlessly as he is across J.S. Bach, Baroque- and modern contemporary classical music, with Swiss folk and improvisation thrown into in for good measure, that’s Paul Giger – and ars moriendi just proves (t)his unique perspective.

Outline’s R&D department is peculiar in many ways, its crew (musically) spanning through all directions, from angels to demons (and back)… which is why ars moriendi made it to Hot Tracks, no less: colleagues have listened to it as it was played on one’s desk, but they couldn’t just do it passively – and it stuck with them, and after playing there for days, they collectively decreed it had to become Hot Tracks’ed!

Paul Giger travelled the world (and the Orient, especially) street-busking on violin solo, for years; he got to a formal music education only years after his wandering, graduating at 28 and serving 3 years as concertmaster in the St. Gallen Symphony Orchestra.

His very own worktools are violin and violino d’amore (11-stringed), and along with J.S. Bach, Baroque music and Swiss folk, there’s quite a sizeable portion of Indian music influence, and Arabic one, inspiring his micro-tonal approach – with improvisation happening both solo and ensemble.

ars moriendi has quite an expanded tonal palette, in itself: there are different performers on different tracks, and a sound design (or sound gestalt, most probably) that you wouldn’t normally link to J.S. Bach and Baroque… Pudi Lehmann, on percussions, takes the experience to other worlds and galaxies, Marie-Louise Dähler takes it back in time and history to most vivid moments… Carmina Quartett adds a sensible depth to the recording, as a central component of the entire “gearbox” – but it’s Franz Vitzthum’s countertenor that adds that extra spoon of magic to the recipe…

Nothing is banal, in ars moriendi… starting from the presentation on its booklet, worded by the very Paul Giger in German (with the perfunctory translation into English), and ending with the lack of any mention of Manfred Eicher’s production to the album, not at all typical for works off the ECM shelves…

its content warrants the purpose of our listening exercise: what you don’t see coming, what you can’t expect, what you wouldn’t have ever thought to listen (without being tipped by Hot Tracks), is what yields to a third eye appearing on your forehead, and the stunning field depth that it empowers you with – or is it the third ear you didn’t even know you had in you, before you listened to ars moriendi?

takes a lot of courage, and genius, and skills, to conceive (and compose, perform, produce, and deliver) ars moriendi – as life-changing music is often the music you can’t easily describe, you have to let go of yourself, without putting up any resistance against it, and fully accept to be transformed by listening to it!

listen to it on Tidal · on Qobuz · on Apple Music

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