- Gunnar Geisse: The Wannsee Recordings
Two compact discs, 2017, available from NEOS Music GmbH, München, Germany; email@example.com/.
Gunnar Geisse’s The Wannsee Recordings offers listeners several formal approaches to managing instrumental source sounds and their processed counterparts, suggesting a studio-based approach. Geisse has developed a soloistic approach, balancing issues of orchestration and sound design, resulting in a fluid sense of improvisation. He performs his compositions with his custom-built laptop guitar, without ever overdubbing. In his accompanying booklet to The Wannsee Recordings, Geisse describes his instrument as a “hardware/software set-up . . . consisting of an electric guitar, a laptop, a midi controller, and software which converts audio signals to MIDI messages in realtime for the purpose of operating and controlling any virtual instrument, and in fact a lot of them at the same time, with a non-virtual electric guitar.” Geisse’s ability to manage many instrumental layers in real time stems from his previous approach to controlling his sound layers, in which he used Ableton and a combined use of a joystick, faders, and buttons, along with his electric guitar.
All the track titles on this double CD set refer to the recording session data and track number. The binary, [End Page 84] hexadecimal, and *decimal numbers are in brackets. For example, track 1 of CD 1 is labeled II.2 [100000 20 *32]; track 2 of CD 1 is labeled VI.5 [1111100 7C *124]. After the track title, Geisse then lists the virtual instrument line-up. For some of the tracks he also lists his own non-virtual electric guitar playing. For this discussion, I will simplify the track titles, and refer to their order on each CD.
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In the very first track, I hear a timbral organizational strategy involving a distorted guitar, vibraphone, piano, brass, woodwinds, electronic bass, and electronic drums split into three prevalent sound streams. This opening track serves as a prelude, as it maps a way into Geisse’s approach to timbre and form. In track 2, Geisse adjusts his orchestration in order to demonstrate an antiphonal relationship between his own electric guitar playing and the virtual electric guitar.
The use of a virtual drum set on track 3 is quite distinct from its use in the first two tracks. The drum set is used similarly in Geisse’s previous work with electric guitarist Marc Ducret, wherein he provided musical support, resulting in the formation of a hierarchical sense of interplay.
In track 4, Geisse introduces the listener to a hybrid sonority stemming from the combination of the electric guitar and piano. During this timbral collision, the music moves at a frenetic pace. There is an “unplayable” aspect to the resulting music, similar to what one might hear in some of György Ligeti’s piano études that were later made for the player piano. Track 5 uses the same instrumentation as track 4, highlighting melodic and harmonic moments in a very short span of time.
In track 6, Geisse distinctively colors his melodic lines and phrases, drawing from a virtual instrumentation of distorted guitar, choir, orchestra, percussion, timpani, vibraphone, celesta, and piano. These robust orchestration techniques are further expanded in a formal manner in track 7. In this track, an introductory piano motive is followed by its musical variation in a string ensemble, which the composer triggers with his laptop guitar. The result resembles a miniature piano concerto.
At this point, I noticed the music’s ability to play with my sense of causality. I attribute this to Geisse’s approach to working with the sampled instruments, whereby he blurs their instrumental identities. Ultimately, I became aware of an increasingly wider sonic range, involving varying mixtures of conventional instrumental timbres and processed, or noise-infused, material.
Track 8 reveals this range as well. Here, the form is improvised, demonstrating a contrast between the more noticeably electronic sounds and the virtual instruments. In this track, Geisse also starts exploring texture, building large sound masses and creating varying densities with the use of noise.
Geisse’s interest in noise apparently stems from...