Ernst Karel

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reviews of Swiss Mountain Transport Systems are collected on the Gruenrekorder site



reviews of Heard Laboratories are collected on the and/OAR site



reviews for Falter 1-5 here:



It's very heartening, right on the heels of "Acts Have Consequences", to encounter another release that's in the same ballpark a far as essential quality and indescribability go (I should mention that "motubachii" is right there as well, a recording I still can't figure out what to say about), though this was recorded in 2006 and, I believe, contains substantial post-production work, presumably by Karel. Whatever the case, "Falter 1-5" is one absorbing, excellent work.

A bunch of us were talking about Krebs' music last week in Philly and the term that kept popping into my head was, "coltish"--that wonderful combination of awkwardness and just-rightness. In her own work, this can force the listener into wider accommodations than he/she might normally be used to, which is a very good thing, if not always the easiest matter. While I assume that Karel's contributions make up a good half of the raw sound element here, I'm also guessing he molded the entire proceeding, encasing Krebs' coltishness inside another layer of form, a translucent one, a very fascinating idea. 

One of the core strata that weaves its way through these five pieces is the "electricalness" of them. Current is everywhere, controlled here, erupting in sizzles there. One expects to receive a mild electric shock when retrieving the disc from the player. Otherwise...rather tough to define. The mix of various components is very well balanced: gritty/smooth, loud/soft, harsh/oozing. But essentially, everything feels grounded and real-world somehow; it's far from field-recording, but almost gives the sensation of sounds encountered in situ. That's a compliment, a big one.

- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside



The tracks on both of these CDs [Olivia Block and Kyle Bruckmann, Teem, and Falter 1-5] are numbered, not named, so we'll take their measure first as quantities. All four of these musicians have experience with free improvisation as well as past and present involvements with conventionally scored music. Three of them (Block, Bruckmann, Karel) have lived in Chicago, although only Block does now; the sole non-American, Krebs, lives in Berlin. Bruckmann and Karel currently inhabit opposite American coasts, which doesn't stop them from playing together in an electro-acoustic improv duo, EKG, that sounds nothing like either of these records. While both of these albums could be characterized as electroacoustic compositions, that doesn't get you very far in grasping the how, what, or why of either disc. They're both devilishly hard to pin down; even when you can tell exactly what the sound is that you're hearing, it's as hard to know why it's there as it is to dispute the rightness of its presence. Block and Bruckmann worked on their album for five years, commencing when the latter moved to San Francisco in 2003 and carrying on as a remote collaboration save for one studio session shortly before its completion. The music is predominantly acoustic, but the most conventionally instrumental passages are also the most artificial-sounding because of the ways they have been layered and juxtaposed. Massed and manipulated, Bruckmann's double reeds are at the head of the mix, sometimes as blown instruments, sometime as tactile sources of sound. Most Block recordings teem with the sounds of the outdoors, so it's tempting to attribute the field recordings that contain Bruckmann's tones to her, but you never know. What more certain is the richness and depth of this aptly named recording.

Falter 1-5, on the other hand, is quite overtly electric. The bumps, buzzes, and hums that issue from Karel's analog electronics sound like voltage itself, and not terribly different from the small crackles and hisses that Krebbs obtains from her electric guitar. The piece was realized more quickly than Teem, but it is a very considered arrangement of spontaneously made sounds. It was recorded in 2006, when Karel lived for a spell in Berlin, so it predates his recent solo CD Heard Laboratories,  which is composed of recorded, unprocessed lab sounds, and perhaps it's a precursor; like that record, it makes you feel like you're eavesdropping on machines rather than hearing played instruments. This frees the listener to appreciate the sounds themselves, to ponder their textures and the way they start and end rather than get hung up on the actions that made them.

- Bill Meyer, Signal to Noise



Across the five pieces on this album, Ernst Karel and Annette Krebs explore an expansive but tiny sound world; the crackles and rough noises are akin to macro photos of the components of unknown objects. The whole item is out of frame but the viewer (or in this case, listener) is given a generous amount of detail of a small part. Here the sources of the sounds are deliberately kept obfuscated but it forces the listener to pay attention to the minutiae of these noises. The result is an engaging and exhausting album which challenges and drains in equal measure.

While the music is generally formless, it is not lacking in direction. As Karel generates swells of electronic sound, Krebs populates these empty landscapes with tiny denizens and features. Her guitar playing is mostly camouflaged, what I assume is Karel’s work could be hers or equally what is listed as "objects" and "tape" in the liner notes I could be misidentifying as being something else entirely. The textures in "Falter 3" could easily be stones being rubbed together, apples being crushed or electronically synthesized. The ambiguity of the sounds gives the pieces on Falter 1-5 their attraction; there is nothing like a good mystery.

While it is easy to make comparisons with artists like Jacob Kirkegaard and even Philip Jeck, Karel and Krebs take a less conceptual approach to their music. The music falls closer to free improvisation than to the careful electronic works that would be at home on Touch. As such, Falter 1-5 does not lend itself to background listening as the contrasts and juxtapositions of the various sounds manifests only with careful attention. The silent pauses that appear throughout the album bring to mind the anti-rhythms of Keiji Haino; a sudden void which gives the listener a moment to take in what they have just heard.

"Falter 5" introduces a wider range of materials, human voices appear through a haze of tape hiss and the duo take on a tighter, almost musical approach to playing. It is the densest of the five pieces and stands out because of its sonic concentration. As it peters out and leaves a final blank slate hanging in the air, it is hard to enter into the music again or even to replace Karel and Krebs with something less intense. Falter 1-5 is one of those albums which is a gentle ripple on the surface but deep with hidden power, dragging me under and leaving me in no fit state to function afterward.

- John Kealy,



Falter 1-5, a duo electroacoustic improvisation recording by Ernst Karel and Annette Krebs” is lo-fi and disturbingly panned across the stereo field of short pulses and silences,  as the artwork suggests very minimal micro sounds – painfully careful constructs of  detritus sounds,  mains hums, vinyl surface noise, microphone fumbles, all minuscule non-entities of sound, like pocket fluff, carefully placed in silences and panned with watchmaker precision across the stereo field.  Very much “compositions” of found? sounds remarkable in their inconspicuousness. Perhaps bringing attention to a world focused on the macrocosm the micro, though I find the carefulness, fragility and perhaps sincerity and thoughtfulness strangely out of place in the current epoch in which the gentle only serves as decoration, and the trivialities are not precious and marginalized but rendered in neon.

- jliat, Vital Weekly 754


Unsounds CD 20U

Ernst Karel/Annette Krebs
Falter 1-5
Cathnor cath 008

On the surface is may appear that there are similarities between these European CDs which pair an eclectic guitarist with an academically trained electronics manipulator for extended improvisations. But while both have much to offer the adventurous listener, they couldn’t be more unlike.

For a start, Rebetika is involved with the rearrangement, reassembling and deconstruction of nine rebetika tunes, using samples of the early 20th century so-called Greek blues as the base on which to perform electronically altered, re-compositions. Falter 1-5, on the other hand, deals with abstraction and pure sound, treating the reconstituted sonic properties of the one “real” instrument – the guitar – as a sound source no different from those created by objects such as a mixing-board, tapes and analogue electronics.

On the other hand, because the recorded material with which Yannis Kyriakides and Andy Moor work includes vocals by songsters with the aggressive timbres of Country Blues singers such as Son House and Charley Patton, the tracks are suffused with emotion. In contrast, Ernst Karel’s and Annette Krebs’ five improvisations are precise and clinical, only divorced from microtonal parameters at those junctures when triggered samples clash with simultaneously outlined electronic pulses.

Perhaps that’s to be expected. Cyprus-born, London-raised, Amsterdam-based Kyriakides teaches composition at The Hague’s Royal Conservatory of Music, is artistic director of Ensemble MAE and has composed in a wide variety of media. Concerned with traditional performance practices, digital media and sensory space, he has improvised with players such as London saxophonist John Butcher. Even more visceral in his creations, British guitarist Moor has been a mainstay of Dutch Punk-Improvisers the Ex since 1990, works with French sound poet Anne James Chaton, creates film soundtracks and improvises with the likes of drummer Han Bennink.

Classically trained, Berlin-based guitarist Krebs is more interested in reductionist sounds and their relation to the sonic impulses from objects and electronics. Over the years she has improvised with trumpeter Axel Dörner and harpist Rhodri Davies among others. Manager of Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab and the Film Study Center, Karel has researched the anthropology of sound; recorded, mixed and sound designed himself; has mastered and re-mastered CDs; as well as improvised on trumpet and/or analog electronics, most notably in the EKG duo with oboist Kyle Bruckmann.

Animated with chunky granular synthesis, radio-tuning static and undifferentiated drones, Falter’s five tracks are punctuated with samples of captured broadcast sounds –and silences. A definitive guitar lick appears on track one, but isn’t replicated anywhere for the remainder of the disc. Instead a contrapuntal intermix of impulses from both sources precede fortissimo explosions which seem to consist of scrubbed friction, shaking wave forms and samples of remote mumbling voices These tones slowly unroll until the staccato impulses are superseded by envelopes of abstracted ring modulator-like whooshes and clawing abrasions.

Layered and spiraling, the mercurial drones and mechanized sideband pulsations, cascade throughout before reaching a crescendo of intermingled pops, thumps and ruffled extensions during the 20 minutes of “Falter 5”. Grinding and inconsistently balanced flanges buzz motor-like and are mixed with split-second voice samples that squeal, burp and resonate as their properties are mixed down alongside snatches of music and synthesized, granular intermittent yelps and buzzes. Following a vigorous intermezzo that exposes refractive whistles, pressurized machine-gun-like fire and signal-processed sound leaks, plus additional novel tones that could come from a jackhammer or recording tape running off a reel, these timbres are finally superseded by strident, inchoate drones that in this context appear positively relaxing. Before a fade, the timbres resulting from each improviser’s strategy begin to mirror one another.

Crackles, buzzing and granular pulses also emanate from Rebetika’s nine tracks, but whether some of the dirty glitches result from processing or have been ground into the surface of 78 rpm discs during the past century remains moot. What Moor and Kyriakides do is to match the extended Country Blues-like growl of the original performers with oscillating references from a laptop plus Moor’s percussive strumming and near bottleneck styling.

Sharply picking his guitar strings, Moor’s vibrating chord structures mirror the original performances in intensity, with his snaps and runs toughened by Kyriakides’ vibrating chordal pulsations. Examples of this appear on “Haremi” and “A School Burnt Down”. On then later, Moor’s straight-ahead flat picking is only audible in snatches as the backing oscillations almost subsume guitar licks. Cutting through the computer program’s time-stretching, the guitarist eventually reappears with a broken chord reprise. As for “Haremi”, an aleatoric overlay of wiggling whistles, ramping pops and repeated grooves from Kyriakides finally manage to connect with Moor’s neck tapping and downward string splintering. This pulsing interface adds lyrical depth both to Moor’s playing and the original melody.

Then on “Five in Hell”, the two manage to mix ganularized software samples with the acoustically-recorded 78, in such a fashion that not only does the weight of the elderly needle create its own percussion line, but the distorted and refracted fiddle and guitar samples are also accompanied by accelerated pulses from the computer. Moor’s bass string thumps help the laptop pulsations create a pedal-point base for the initially recorded sounds, with the distinctive tune’s coda an unprocessed, old-time fiddle solo.

Using traditional and newly invented instruments and processes, both international duos have created distinctively novel electro-acoustic melding, neither of which owes anything to the others’ strategies. Preference for stark abstraction or melody glimmers will influence whether listeners appreciate one more than the other.

- Ken Waxman, Jazz Word