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Archives: Discourses

„Es gab viele spezielle Situationen im Studio in Lugano, während der Arbeit an „Discourses“ – die meisten drehten sich um die Arbeit. Sowie intensives Hören, kleine Kommentare. Stille. Die Sache ist die, dass das Aufgehen in der Musik, die Konzentration, enorm waren, Aber das erste, was mir in Erinnerung kommt, ist, dass ich Manfred eine Menge Schweizer Münzen schulde. Nach der Landung, oder auch früh morgens, ging  ich stets gleich ins Studio, ich bekam es nie hin, mein Geld in Euros zu tauschen. Und jedesmal, wenn wir eine Kaffeepause machten, nahe den Toiletten, ausserhab des Studios, ist der Raum mit all den Kaffeemaschinen, ich hatte nie passende Münzen und ein ums andere Mal öffnete Manfred seine Geldbörse und fand die richtige Anzahl Münzen und besorgte mir den Kaffee. Das passierte wieder und wieder, und mit der Zeit machte es mich doch etwas verlegen. Also schulde im ich ihm tatsächlich eine Menge Kaffee. Wir hatten so viele gute Gespräche dort, während wie wir an den hohen Tischen standen und unseren Kaffee tranken, aus kleinen Plastikbechern.“  


(Jon Balke – his solo album is one of four solo piano albums (from four artists) ECM has released this year, more them ever, and will be part of my year‘s end radio night next Saturday – it‘s at the same time a disquieting and  seducing album. Steve Tibbetts will speak about one of the other solo piano works, Benjamin Moussay‘s „Promontoire“, and a bleak American autumn.)


Die Titel von „Discourses“ sind von programmatischer Strenge – the certainties, the suspension, the polarities usw. – und weisen,  Jon Balke zufolge, auf eine immer mehr aus den Fugen geratene politische Rhetorik der Ausgrenzung und  Unversöhnlichkeit. Tatsächlich haben die manchmal zögerlichen, eruptiven, Stille überspielenden Intonationen der menschlichen Sprache spezielle Rhythmisierungen  des Klavierspiels mit auf den Weg gebracht. Dabei sind diese, von allerlei Geräusch angereicherten, sich gleichsam „angreifbar“ machenden, Pianoklänge von jeder epischen Ausschmückung befreit. Dennoch erzeugen all diese prägnanten Stücke, wundersam paradox, einen verblüffend eleganten, kohärenten Spielfluss. 


Discourses is Jon Balke‘s third solo piano album. With the second one, the wonderfully seductive Warp, sound processing & sound design enter the field – a subtile undermining of the piano‘s purity. The Norwegian composer (b. 1955)  is a member of the „ECM family“ since the early years, with his first appearance on Arild Andersen‘s album Clouds In My Head (1974). Let‘s skip his broad range of works as a leader since the days of Nonsentration (1991) and come to the here and now. When I first heard the new album, I immediately sensed that it was not Jon‘s idea to simply add more colours to the sensual palette of Warp. I felt urgency, anger, ruptures. There is something faithful though, a sense of mystery wrapped around melodic figures. Discourses is a very special record.



Do you agree when I say, Discourses is the „dark sister“ of Warp? It is a very dense work.


I sincerely don´t want to direct how people hear this album, and I am happy to hear totally different and opposite interpretations of the music. But, yes, it is connected to Warp and also to Book of Velocitites (2007) in the sense that it explores the same situation, which is the solo artist and the surroundings (Book of V playing to an empty room, Warp playing to a world that starts to respond). And then I have tried to make Discourses a more focused album than the previous two, in the sense that it explores a smaller field of dynamics and tonal concepts. More focus on micro-details. So a detour into a smaller space, in a way.


Of course in these days new albums are often linked with Covid 19. Thus, nearly automatically, when looking at the cover, I imagined some early social distancing exercise. When listening to the album I had the impression of a kind of fight going on between uncompromised self-expression and a threatening counter-force of some kind. Am I wrong?


No, you are right, absolutely. I am concerned with society and political developments, and do not make music in a vacuum. And, since this music had language and rhetoric as direct inspiration, the music is a reaction to the deterioration of language in political discourse. In a way the Covid crisis highlights this even more, with the desperate press conferences we see too often by leaders who have made catastrophical choices all the way into this disaster. I took the cover photo on a morning square in Malmo, Sweden, and made a series of the same theme that I the crossfaded with each other into a slow-mo movie, because the light was good and the people moving isolated in their own world.


The new album is somehow inspired by language, but words themselves are absent.


I am attracted to the music of language in rhetoric, and dayly speech: how we use tonality and flexible, non-metric rhythm to express as precisely as possible what we want to say. We pause, we rush, we punctuate, we climb in pitch. Also how we make a statement, debates it, argue for it, return to it, conclude. The solo speech is a good school for solo piano playing.

Discourses will be released tomorrow. How do all these strange sounds care for additional suspense without interrupting the flow of listening? What has been the role of producer Manfred Eicher in the final mix? How come this „smaller space“ is opening up again and again? You can hear other parts of my interview with Jon Balke during the radio night of „Klanghorizonte“ on June 20, and as part of the „Jazz Facts“ on July 5 (Deutschlandfunk).


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