BY KIERAN WELCH
Art As Catharsis, 2016
Jochen Gutsch, the driving force behind Hinterlandt, is a highly eclectic and prolific artist. For more than two decades, the German-born, Sydney-based musician has released 11 studio albums, ranging from hardcore rock to experimental electronica. Though initially trained in classical trumpet, his early releases were in part a reaction against the “formalistic nature of classical compositions and its conservative surroundings”. However, as his output has progressed, Gutsch has ended up drawing upon this classical training more and more, whilst still incorporating it with the multitude of other styles he’s picked up along the way. His latest LP release ‘Ensemble’, is perhaps the best example of this yet.
‘Ensemble’ is the first of Gutsch’s releases to feature the fully acoustic Hinterlandt Ensemble, consisting of Bronwyn Cumbo and Natalya Bing on violins, Simeon Johnson on cello and Gutsch on trumpet and guitar. The quartet all also double on a range of percussion instruments, such the minimalist xylophone ostinato that begins the first track on the album ‘Umgangswelt’. However, the piece quickly moves away from the realms of minimalism as the rest of the ensemble gradually joins in, with the strings and trumpet providing a charming, flowing melody filled out with folklike harmonies. But it’s not too long before this morphs into a pastiche of a waltz, slowly collapsing under the weight of gradually heavier and more discordant harmonies, until eventually giving way to a much sparser, almost improvisatory section, underpinned by a plucked cello. And if that sounds like a lot of stylistic ground to cover, we’re still only five minutes through the 25 minute piece.
There are numerous interesting, charming, quirky and even catchy themes and sections throughout ‘Ensemble’, and Gutsch’s wide range of musical influences is laudable, but in the end it proves to be the album’s Achilles heel. There are just too many different musical ideas here, and those ideas often aren’t linked together coherently enough. This problem is also compounded by a tendency for some sections to stretch out for too long. For example, the third and final track ‘Alltagswelt’ begins with the same folklike harmonies that featured towards the beginning of ‘Umgangswelt’. But here, the melodic fragments end up being repeated too many times, without enough in the way of development. This occasional meandering wouldn’t be such a big issue by itself, but becomes much more noticeable when it already feels like there’s a surplus of musical ideas to get through on the album.
However, although at times it lacks concision and cohesion, the album is full of such character, and has much to like. ‘Ensemble’ marks a considerable departure from Gutsch’s previous output, an attempt to combine his varied musical influences to a much greater degree than before, and it’s a valiant effort for the ensemble’s first recording in this format. This is a group well worth keeping an eye (or ear) on.
For more about Hinterlandt visit www.hinterlandt.org.