Review: Mendel Kaelen - The Tragedy That Drowned Itself (2012)


artist: Mendel Kaelen
release: The Tragedy That Drowned Itself
format: CD
year of release: 2012
label: Sineszi
dur­a­tion: 70:16

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

Given an indian har­monium to make an album with, I know I would be dron­ing away hap­pily for an hour. It’s the obvi­ous thing to do. But give it to a sound artist like Mendel Kaelen, and you’d best expect the unex­pec­ted. I’m not sure if Kaelen lit­er­ally took the har­monium apart piece by piece, but he has cer­tainly treated it that way in terms of sound.

The five long tracks on this relax­ing but at times estranging album are all con­struc­ted around the vari­ous noises that can be coaxed out of the instru­ment, par­tic­u­larly the non-standard ones. The wheez­ing of the bel­lows, the pas­sage of air through vari­ous parts, the creak­ing of joints: these are some of the bod­ily - almost human - sounds that are given centre stage.

At the same time, he doesn’t go down the rad­ical path of min­im­al­ism and tone­less­ness; the har­monium is allowed to breathe its inten­ded musical notes at times, dron­ing and calm, but it rarely dom­in­ates the tracks on The Tragedy. Instead, they set up a beau­ti­ful and pre­cari­ous bal­ance between music and what we might call acci­dental sound. It’s quite like the neck slides we always hear in acous­tic gui­tar play­ing, but instead of being releg­ated to the back­ground, peri­pheral noises are put on the same level as the music in Kaelen’s metic­u­lous com­pos­i­tions. If I’m not mis­taken, Kaelen incor­por­ates some field record­ings and elec­tronic manip­u­la­tions as well, but they never over­shadow the nat­ural sounds that form the heart of this album.

Like many good albums in this style, The Tragedy is excel­lent med­it­at­ive ambi­ent listen­ing, but the har­monium sounds them­selves are so full of char­ac­ter you’re bound to perk up your ears quite often dur­ing a play­through, which indic­ates that attent­ive listen­ers will find much to savour here as well. Kaelen’s debut Remem­ber­ing What Was For­got­ten had the same eye for detail, but he really hits his stride with the ori­ginal approach dis­played on this follow-up record, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with - or pulls apart - next time.

Reviewed by O.S.

[Note: I was, in fact, mis­taken; there are no field record­ings on this album. All sound is har­monium.]

Track­list:

1. The Cloud (7:57)
2. The Stream (11:32)
3. The Horse (19:59)
4. The Heart (12:30)
5. The Dream (18:18)

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