Németh: Film

Jennifer Kelly
Photo: Gerald Zahn

The first solo album from Stefan Németh echoes Radian's uneasy blurring of the lines between organic and electronic sound.



Contributors: Stefan Németh
Label: Thrill Jockey
US Release Date: 2008-01-29
UK Release Date: Available as import

As a founding member of Radian and Lokai and the head of Vienna's Mosz Records, Stefan Németh has long been concerned with the interplay of ambient sound and music, organic instrumentation and electronic precision. His work with experimental film and video has led him to consider the roles of rhythm, mood and musical imagery as they support, but do not overwhelm, visual narratives. Here, in his first solo album, Németh revisits a series of pieces composed for film, reworking their liquid, lovely textures and tense driving cadences. The result, drawn from several different film projects, is remarkably cohesive and absorbing. These compositions are not "songs" in any conventional sense, but nonetheless work convincingly as freestanding musical experiences.

As he was preparing this album, Németh apparently found that some pieces needed more rethinking than others. "Luukkaangkangas", the disc's most extended cut at just under eight minutes, was pulled more or less intact from the film of the same name. It is serene and expansive, full of sustained washes of synthesized sound, clear underneath, but pitted with staticky bursts of distortion. In "Luukaangkangas", as on many of these cuts, the listener intermittently recognizes sounds: a phone, piano notes, a series of faintly familiar beeps. Yet the overall texture is mysterious, unfolding gradually to reveal slow-moving soundscapes. In an interview in Wire, Németh explained that the film "Luukaangkangas" was constructed out of webcam images of the major roads of Finland. The musical piece echoes this, with a traveller's sense of endless space and long horizons.

"Soprus" is, perhaps, the lightest, most playful composition on this disc, its high piano notes cavorting over a shimmering wash of sound. Interestingly, the warmth in this piece comes from its electronic underpinnings. The main organic sound here, the piano, is glassy, shivery, almost an abstraction.

Originating as they do, from film, these pieces give very little clue of their subject matter. You hear distant fragments of dialog (in Spanish) only once, and the sound of car engines approaching and fading in "Via L-4 Norte" is about as much sense of place as these compositions are willing to impart. What they do convey, however, is a sense of mood, coiled and tense in "Via L-4 Norte", playful in "Soprus", hushed and awe-stricken in "Luukaangkangas". "Transitions", with its abrasive metallic grinding, shaped by syncopation and repetition into a precise beat, has a pulse of adrenalized energy in it. If you were at the movies and this came on, you would know that the clock was running and something was about to happen soon.

And yet, while there are many possible narratives here, Németh takes pains not to tie listeners too closely into any single story. The cuts on Film are abstract and open-ended, delicately shaded but never colored in. You can make up your own movie here, or turn your back on linear, what-happens-next calculations entirely. The beauty of Film is that it works, perfectly well, without film.

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