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Michael Vogt Argonautika Review

Album. Released 31 January 2005.  

BBC Review

Dark electro-acoustic musings from tuba mestro Vogt.

Bill Tilland 2005

In 1997, tuba player (tubist?) Vogt and drummer Chris Cutler hooked up with electronics wizard Lutz Glandien for an unreleased studio session. Glandien continued to tweak and massage the raw materials over the next three years until they eventually evolved into Glandien's The Fifth Elephant.

And although Glandien is not specifically identified as a collaborator on Argonautika, he did mix and master Vogt's CD, and it demonstrates many of the arresting sonic characteristics of Glandien's own electro-acoustic experiments. Argonautika may not be quite the eclectic, dazzling tour de force of The Fifth Elephant or Glandien's more recent ReR release, Lost in Rooms, but it is arguably more focussed and coherent than either.

Not only does Vogt restrict himself to processed, electrified tuba, effects units, tapes and vocoder, but he gives the music a loose thematic base, letting the adventures of Odysseus and other Argonauts of Greek mythology inform his musical vision.

Some of the mythological allusions contained in the song titles are fairly obvious. "Sirenen", for example, is beautiful, mournful and mysterious, with hints of danger, and it nicely captures the seductive power attributed to the song of the Sirens, who lure sailors to their death. Deep, low, foghorn-like tones are mixed with processed bells, chimes and unidentifiable sounds of a more sinister nature. The listener can almost imagine himself or herself adrift in a small boat, enveloped in fog and murk, senses straining to decipher the inexplicable but ravishing sounds that hover just beyond comprehension.

"Kirke?" (Circe?) begins with eerie drones and the characteristically cavernous low tones of Vogt's processed tuba, but it gains both rhythmic energy and a strong suggestion of malevolence as it progresses. (Circe was the sorceress who changed Odysseus' men into swine.) The final piece in the set, "Schlafend erreicht Odysseus Ithaca" (Sleeping Odysseus Returns to Ithaca), alludes to Odysseus' deep, death-like sleep when he is left on the beach in Ithaca by the Phoenicians prior to his awakening and subsequent revenge against the usurpers of his kingdom.

Other song titles contain mythological references of a more obscure sort. "Hylas" was a companion of Heracles and fellow Argonaut who was supposedly ravished and torn apart by river nymphs (no one knows for sure), while "Mopsos Ende" seems to be inspired by a soothsayer (Mopsos) who traveled with Jason and the Argonauts and was killed in Libya (so it is told) by the bite of a poisonous snake. Vogt's music is certainly not programmatic; it makes no obvious attempt at sonic depictions of any actions or events involving these (or other) characters. But the soundworldhe has created nonetheless consistently evokes qualities of magic and disorientation, emphasizing the darker subconscious of the ancient Greek mystery religions.

Perhaps the most arresting piece in the program is simply titled "Tombeau" (Tomb). It features a gorgeous, solemn melody on electric tuba, with an almost Wagnerian gravitas, but overlaid with sad whistling noises initially and then an eerie, rhythmic purring sound, distorted vocal chatter and an intermittent jangly, almost techno beat. I'm not sure what is going on here, but this tomb is clearly not a final (nor a peaceful) resting place. Typically, it's hard to be too specific about the state of mind or emotional quality Vogt is striving for, but the excellence of his music is contained in his consistent ability to evoke amorphous but emotionally powerful moods and mental states.

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