Both musicians found ways to remain active during the pandemic. Neuzeit was accomplished via phone calls and file sharing, with Schwalm doing the final mixing and editing. It features Henriksen's trumpet and voice in a frequent solo role, a rare approach in Schwalm's recorded work. Reuter has used Zoom to conduct workshops and interviews, as well as hosting musical discussions. His improvisational duet project TEAR with guitarist Mark Wingfield included several live recording sessions via Zoom (in a soundscaping style which worked despite the well-known audio lag issues with the software).
Schwalm and Reuter began their collaboration long-distance by trading files. Dissatisfied with the results, they agreed to meet in person at Schwalm's studio, and the chemistry was immediately apparent. Schwalm describes the process as "at least ten times more effective. We laid the foundation for eleven pieces in four hours." While there is an atmosphere suggestive of lock-down at times, in fact the collaboration began two years ago, and was mostly completed pre-pandemic. Opener "Der Aufbruch" (The Departure, also the title of the album) sets the mood with dark, thumping sounds and a low drone. While Reuter is a striking soloist, his role here is as co-creator of ambient soundscapes. For some listeners this may require an expectation adjustment.
The following track "Von Anbeginn" (From The Beginning) sounds less apocalyptic, but makes its point through washes of sound, punctuated by percussive bursts, finally breaking out in a jerky sequencer pattern. Here as elsewhere, it is remarkable how the two musicians merge into a single collective voice. Even though Reuter provides a great deal of the sonic foundation, Schwalm's contributions place his distinctive fingerprint on the final result. It is that rare collaboration that neither contributor could have created on their own.
"Rückzug" (Withdrawal) opens with the first obvious touch guitar sounds on the album, although they quickly become the basis for a more abstract wash of sound. There is even a guitar solo, almost . "Abbau" (Dismantling) and "Der lange Weg" (The Long Way) are both notable for the use of Schwalm's electronic percussion, giving the electronics a more rhythmic role. Near the end of the program "Lebewohl" (Goodbye) and "Losgelöst" (Detached) both benefit from Sophie Tassignon's hushed, wordless vocals. It is a humanizing sound in this sometimes bleak landscape, aided by the prominent touch guitar on "Lebewohl." "Abschied" (Farewell) concludes the album on a soothing, chorale-like note, a calm ending to a sometimes turbulent emotional voyage, but one that is consistently both challenging and intriguing.
Der Aufbruch; Von Anbeginn; Ruckzug; Abbau; Ein Riss; Der Iange Weg; Lebewohl; Losgelost; Abschied.
J. Peter Schwalm: Synths, Pianos, live treatments, electronic percussion, programming; Markus Reuter: Touch Guitars® AU8 and U8 Deluxe, Soundscapes, Electronics; Sophie Tassignon: Vocals on „Lebewohl“ and „Losgelöst.“
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