Layers of Poetry, Piano, and Silence Resonate with the Latest from Composer Maike Zazie

Stillness and language resonate with a beautiful message on Fragmente, a fantastic new release from the Berlin-centric composer Maike Zazie.

Maike Zazie


29 June 2018

Berlin-based composer Maike Zazie values the interplay between text and music. Her background in literature and propensity to see "music as language" and "language as music" gives her a poetic edge above other musicians in the ambient/classical scene. Fragmente, her latest release on 7K!, explores the intersections between spoken and sung text, keyboard layering, and the essential use of space a compositional tool.

"für t" starts with an economic bass line, three alternating notes amidst a blanket of silence that rings like bells in the night. Simple melodies start to appear in the higher register, single notes at first followed by shining chords, all delivered at a pace that still allows the music to breathe. Unconcerned with building a wall of sound, "für t" sounds like Erik Satie if the absurdist Frenchman started to improvise, yet by no means is the track derivative. Considering the title sounds like a dedication, it's interesting to contemplate the dedicatee of the work. The work is technically uncomplicated and could suitably be an etude composed for an emerging student, yet the composition's undeniable poeticism makes it a beautiful opening track.

One hindrance with the ambient/classical community is the over-reliance on a single aesthetic, typically a freeform glacially paced sound that floats and hints more than it makes statements. Thankfully, "mädchen vom anderen stern" shows Zazie's propensity for variety. There are more drive and intent here, a complex interweaving of piano, static and white noise, and spoken/sung/belted vocals. The work has structure, yet nothing of the typical verse/chorus variety. Energy ebbs and flows, giving a sense of flexibility and fluidity without descending into dream logic, "anything goes" prattle.

"jeden tag" opens with a beautiful pairing of keyboards. Their difference is subtle; one dry and declaratory in tone, the other effusing a warmer tone for a nuanced yet lovely pairing. It's a pensive track, simple in compositing yet striking in execution."schweigen & tanzen" displays more of Zazie's ear for color and balance. Slightly offset arpeggios layered on top of one another give the impression of raindrops, a melancholy mood aided by the sophisticated use of white noise hiding in the background. Both works meet the fine line between sounding intimate and personal while still conveying grand moods and impressionistic sights.

"was dennoch fehlt" bears the influence of Laurie Anderson through its manipulation of spoken texts, processed as a poetry reading in stereo. There's a lyrical quality to the text; the way each word hits the year, every gliding and percussive syllable, is a beautiful aural effect in itself, one that doesn't require the listener to understand Zazie's native German tongue. Unfortunately, the music backing her voice doesn't match the poetry of her vocal delivery. Piano melodies and looped chords can construct a powerful soundscape, but here the effect feels too restricted when compared to the power of the previous tracks.

"komm," likewise, feels less effective following the poetry of the previous tracks. There's some interesting expansion into new textures, namely the ghostly, reverb-drenched accompanying vocals, but overall the work feels more like an experiment than a confident composition. Closing track "von drei katzen und der eule" is a piano and voice number that builds to perhaps the most striking emotional highs on the album. Zazie's speaks throughout the track, something that could conjure a cold distance to the music, yet her voice retains a tenderness that invites more than it scorns. Likewise, her piano playing here is likely the best throughout Fragmente. Loaded yet straightforward with beautiful harmonies and intriguing chromatic twists, it's an impressive performance amidst a record of subtlety and space.

Fragmente succeeds when it pushes beyond the cliches of spoken words against stark piano accompaniment. It's one thing to merely develop a musical background behind a straight reading of a poem; it's something far more beautiful to find how the two can exploit each other's inherent musicality.

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