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Album Review

Samuel Rohrer: Continual Decentering


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Samuel Rohrer: Continual Decentering
Berlin-based Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer's solo album Continual Decentering is a follow-up to his quartet work Dark Star Safari (2019) with Jan Bang, Eivind Aarset and Erik Honore and to his previous solo album Range of Regularity (2017), both released on his own Arjunamusic label. With drums, percussion, modular synthesizers and assorted electronics Rohrer created a sophisticated, richly orchestrated variety of music on the cutting edge and interchange of acoustic and electronic sounds. The result is thirteen pieces anchored by distinctive translucent or subjacent melodic motifs born out of polymetric percussive moves and elaborated by echoing, morphing and transforming those.

The album renders a distinguished and surprising organic variety of creational processes in concentrated short pieces as well as more extended instances. Key are the shifting, tilting and overlaying of its metrics on the micro and macro levels. It's a continuously differentiating affair within the flow, the transparency of its melodic foils and attractiveness of hatches opening up. There is, by coincidence, some correspondence with the shifting movements and intricate patterns of confluence in gamelan music produced in ensemble work. In short, you shouldn't expect the standard drummer album with additional electronics. The album is rather an electro-acoustic work of refined varied orchestral qualities by a multi-instrumentalist.

A lot of present beat-driven repetitive minimalist approaches work mainly in a linear and cumulative fashion, achieving trancing effects. Unlike these climax-oriented approaches, Rohrer's music opens the space it is moving through by revolving dancingly within orbits as well as disappearing beyond the curvature to resurface within again. Both the revolving and the inherent shifting polymetrics evoke a continual decentering.

Beats and beat patterns are not so much stacked and extended by repetition and recombination but differentiated from their inner rhythmic life. The music is led and fed by felt cosmic principles, not so much by the urge to achieve climaxes. With its breezing flair it is music that just happens and takes its place as a wondrous mark of having found a desired locus in between evocative scintillating momentum. Or it might be perceived and received as a soundtrack of the travels of a wondering bold spirit, lingering and wandering through moments in which things fall into place. Listeners will find a lot of feathering short pieces, all of high consistency and fulfilling resourcefulness, as well as some remarkable longer, spun out and phased pieces. They highlight sides of our existence and its perception. All feel like universes in miniature.

Samuel Rohrer has gone through a remarkable development from ECM sideman, highly sought-after drummer to inter-pares musician in a couple of international units (amongst others Vincent Courtois and Daniel Erdmann) to collaboration in a trio with Swiss compatriot clarinetist Claudio Puntin and Berlin techno pioneer Max Loderbauer, known from Sun Electric and for his collaborative works with Ricardo Villalobos and Moritz von Oswald. Thereby he developed his very own aesthetics during the past number of years. They are aesthetics coming forth from an advanced musical cross-pollination and confluence of developments of improvisation in acoustic jazz and wider horizons of live electronics, which has found its expression in the releases on Arjunamusic.

The individual pieces are easy and not easy to characterize. It is easy concerning their character, their mood, consistent and clear gestalt as well as their ways of moving. It is not so easy concerning their musical complexity and sophistication. It is no doubt an appealing kind of complexity comparable to the structuredness of plants or ocean organisms. The structuredness steers and determines our perception, but mostly we are not aware of the sophisticated interplay of form and structure. In the case of close listening to Continual Decentering you are quite quickly drawn into the perception of the emergent overall form of expression. Here are some observations with respect to the thirteen pieces.

The broadly measuring "Spondee" enters with iridescent metallophone sounds. From its bright haze the sound of the drums and electronically generated sounds gradually emerge, spread out, and mark the widening space. Zooming in and out, the drums—slightly reminiscent of The Beatles' "I am the Walrus"—give shape to the space thereby inviting listeners to hum along to an undercurrent, translucent melodic trace.

"The Bridge" ties in with the metallophone infused sound of its predecessor, "Spondee," and further elaborates its gamelan characteristics. It is the longest piece of the album, evoking the image of a manta ray's majestic flight in the middle of manifold pulsations of an underwater space, arising and disappearing, coming and going. Beats are not simply laid in fast forward mode under the floating movement. Rather, thematic flow and beats emerge playfully from their interdependency.

"Fulcrum One" is just happening for about one minute, but it's quite something, invading here at high pressure and swooshes along dynamically. In "The I-I" dense and loose qualities are interlocking. The music is levitating together with intense overlapping rhythmical to-and-fro movements, similar to the undulating and abruptly turning musical movements of a gamelan ensemble. "The Climber" spirals, each helical strand nesting inside each other in the progress of the piece. It brings to mind Henry Threadgill's musical tactics. "All Too Human" is a magical stop-and-go, call-response affair, increasing tensions then letting them go. "The Descenders," counterpart to the spiraling and nesting "The Climber," has a great lightness, a circling jauntiness and exulting exuberance. "Fulcrum Two" with its gong-and rocketlike sounds feels like an elongated announcement of a non-appearance of something highly expected.

"Subterranean Dark" has its very own melodicism based on a brief repeated and transformed melodic motif wrapped in floating swaths. The piece is full of echoing patterns and lives by the coexistence and tension of the regular and irregular, of exactness and melting away—one reflecting the other. "The Fringe" reminded me of the rhythm and melodicism of Charlie Chaplin's movie acting. Rhythm may be the master and melody the servant—a universal given—but both are two inseparable sides of the coin here. In "All Too Human Var." the initial motif sounds like a final summoning.

"Body of Ignorance" has a threatening character with an inescapable lugubrious mood generated by a complex rhythmical interplay rolling through the space—a kind of stumbling Einstürzende Neubauten. It is a rather insistent piece, strongly appealing not only to the imagination, but also appealing to transposition into modern dance, making visible a fundamental thread through movement and masks. The oxymoron "Plane Waves" serving as title of the album's outro denotes a real physical phenomenon, namely waves whose fronts are straight lines that move on a flat surface. An approximate example is the ocean waves running towards the beach. "Plane Waves" is indeed the most evenly floating piece on the album. Driven by a deep quiescent base impulse, it spreads shiningly. The last two pieces might feel as omen or soundtrack of present days in April 2020. Maybe you have to listen to it in reverse order.

The observations indicate that Rohrer's music conveys a strong sense of its processual character that includes uniting opposites and leaving traces of those felicitous moments that things fall into place in an ever-progressing process of achieving clarity.

Track Listing

Spondee; The Bridge; Fulcrum One; The I-I; The Climber; All Too Human; The Descender; Fulcrum Two; Subterranean Dark; The Fringe; All Too Human Var. ; Body of Ignorance; Plane Waves


Samuel Rohrer: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Samuel Rohrer: drums, percussion, electronics, keys, modular synths

Album information

Title: Continual Decentering | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Arjunamusic Records

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