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«Terrifying Sunset»

«Terrifying Sunset» was conceived when contemporary German visual artist Albert Oehlen invited the experimental Swiss ensemble Steamboat Switzerland to create music for his solo exhibition Tramonto Spaventoso at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles in June and July 2021. Oehlen (who collaborated before with Mats Gustafsson on «Trost Jukebox #1», Trost, 2014) and Steamboat Switzerland – organist Dominik Blum, bassist Marino Pliaks (known from Peter Brötzmann’s Full Blast trio) and drummer Lukas Niggli – had already collaborated in 2019 and 2020 at the London’s Serpentine Galleries. Steamboat Switzerland was founded in 1995 and is known for its border pushing and radical aesthetics, being a sonic crossroads between contemporary music and free improvised music with influences from hardcore, drum’n’bass and noise. This ensemble has recorded before works of Swiss composers Felix Profos, Michael Wertmüller (who also plays in Full Blast) and Marc Kilchenmann.

«Terrifying Sunset»’S two extended compositions draw connections between Oehlen’s visual strategies (seen on the cover) that uses abstract, figurative, and collaged elements to disrupt the histories and conventions of modern painting Oehlen interpreted and transformed in this exhibition the painting of Russian-American modernist painter John Graham (1886-1961, who was a mentor to young abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning), «Tramonto Spaventoso» (Terrifying Sunset) (1940-49), believed to be a self-portrait of Graham. Oehlen said that this puzzling painting is «some kind of vehicle for me. It’s like a construction kit of motifs. It’s actually one motif, but with various elements that are different in nature. It goes from the graphic to the picturesque. That means there are parts that prompt you to paint more, to become more plastic…»

«Terrifying Sunset» was recorded live at Photobastei Club in Zürich during the ensemble’s five-day residency in September 2020 and offers the ensemble abstraction of Oehlen’s improvised strategies. Steamboat Switzerland’s first composition, «Chimborazo=South=Face», suggests a dense and volatile, improvised puzzle of raw prog-rock, with Blum’s Keith Emerson-like Hammond manic organ flights, and the rough, uncompromising and often distorted and noisy rhythm section of Pliakas and Niggli. The second composition «Tiger=East=Face», with Blum adding wordless vocals, transforms the surrealist wall-of-sounds beast of the previous composition with even more extreme, absurdist and excessive motifs of speed metal, abstract noise, and ecstatic free jazz, stressing the radical sonic range of the innovative ensemble.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Dominik Blum (hammond org, v), Marino Pliakas (el.b), Lucas Niggli (dr) 

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