Stephan Wittwer Streams Review

Released 2001.  

BBC Review

...has more in common with avant rock or left field electronica than free improvisation.

Peter Marsh 2002

Groß is fast becoming a household name for quality improvised music (well in my house anyway), with recent releases by Konk Pack, Josef Suchy and Jean Marc Montera all hitting the spot, and Stephan Wittwer's first solo album for the label is (for the most part) no exception. Wittwer is an improv veteran with appearances on FMP, Intakt and even ECM to his credit, and collaborations with the like of Radu Malfatti, Irene Schweizer and John Zorn under his belt. Intriguingly in the 80s he also worked on arrangements and production with legendary German studio whizz Conny Plank, and it's that influence which maybe makes itself felt most on Streams.

It's a record which has probably more in common with avant rock or left field electronica as it does with free improvisation; Wittwer, like Fred Frith or Hans Reichel, has always displayed a rock guitarist's ear for timbre and texture coupled with a predilection for extreme volume. Whereas his earlier record World of Strings was unadorned solo performance, Strings, like Josef Suchy's Smi2le, enhances Wittwer's already extensive vocabulary of alien clicks, whirrs and drones with a healthy dose of digital post production interference.

Tracks range from almost gentle abstractions (imagine a Fender Stratocaster being slowly disembowelled beneath the Sargasso Sea and you might get some idea) to full on car crash simulation, heavy digital crunching or scorched earth feedback. It's certainly the noisier end of things Wittwer's attracted to; "Sister Taboo" comes on like a death metal remix of a Mille Plateaux track, with regular pulses, clicks and bass sweeps beset by angry swathes of distortions, while "Zug" and "The Well" owe a little more to conventional free improv. Wittwer sounds quite Frith-like here, with quicksilver, almost bluesy runs superimposed over the digital bubble and squeak. "Bounce" lies somewhere between the two and along with the aforementioned sub-aqua guitar deconstruction of "Reverie" is probably the most successful meeting of digits (as in fingers) and digits (as in zeros and ones).

The 28 minute "Phlegma" begins as a sustained exploration of long feedback tones subjected to gradual modulations. It eventually settles into a fragmented episodic series of loops, speed metal runs and Merzbow type noisebursts, but the ideas on show hardly justify the protracted length. Programme that one out and file alongside Microstoria's Model 3 Step 2 and Josef Suchy's Smi2le as a prime example of post-modern guitar heroics.

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