Sonar: Live At Moods

Chris M. Slawecki BY

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Sonar: Live At Moods
Recorded Live at Moods jazz club in Zürich (Switzerland) in May 2018, this set reconnects guitar electronics visionary David Torn with the band Sonar. Torn played with Sonar on their previous album Vortex, and this live set picks up three tunes ("Waves and Particles," "Red Shift" and "Lookface!") from that earlier collaboration.

How does Sonar make their music sound so different? For starters, founding guitarist Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner play guitars, and Christian Kuntner plays bass, in Thalen's unique "tritone" tuning. "I created a new tuning in which the guitar is tuned to tritones: C-F#, C-F#, C-F#," he explained in a 2014 interview. "We tried it out and never looked back. We all loved the natural harmonics of the tuning, and decided to go one step further and play as much as possible only using these harmonics. That led us to a whole new harmonic system that we call 'tritone harmonics.'"

Second, Sonar employs instrumentation most associated with progressive rock but focused almost exclusively on the progressive and leaving almost all the heavy, hard rock behind—They use familiar sounds but often in unfamiliar ways.

Propelled by whirling, circular time from drummer Manuel Pasquinelli, Sonar's singular approach results in a most unique sound on Live at Moods. "Twofold Covering" is the perfect opening and introduction: Based on a bass line that is exactly the same as the main guitar riff but played two octaves lower and half as fast, it meticulously builds up note by note, beat by beat, into a construction that seems to put itself together, take itself apart, and then put itself back together again. At its climax, guitar riffs pinwheel like musical skyrockets in colors fiery and fierce before melting into an electronic hurricane roar that blows the music away like dust.

"Waves and Particles" more effectively transitions from repetitive to hypnotic. It curiously feels like the music is rising up from the ground and bearing you up along with it, and similarly ends after electric guitar squalls pass through to rinse new colors into the sound.

Torn's improvised solo piece "For Lost Sailors" weaves rhythm and melody and harmony into a sound cloud that hovers and floats on feedback and loops, each note fluttering in the reflected sound of the notes that came before and after, even refracting the blues into that so cool it's frozen sound of Norwegian composer and guitarist Terje Rypdal.

Torn then sits out of "Tromsø," the very first piece of music that Sonar began rehearsing together and the first track on their first album (A Flaw of Nature [2012, Ronin Rhythm]). This piece suggests an electronic, digitalized Oregon, nuanced and subtle musical intercourse played primarily on instruments (bass, drum, guitars) not usually associated with such nuance and subtlety.

Live at Moods' sort of sneaks up on you but then disappears on you at the same time.

Track Listing

Twofold Covering; Waves & Particles; Red Shift; Tromsø; For Lost Sailors; Lookface!


David Torn: electric guitar, live looping; Stephan Thelen: tritone guitar; Bernhard Wagner: tritone guitar; Christian Kuntner: tritone bass; Manuel Pasquinelli: drums.

Album information

Title: Live At Moods | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: 7d Media

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