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"With Self Referentials Volume 1 & 2, Alexander Berne and his “Abandoned Orchestra” return with their third multi-CD set in as many years. Following "Composed and Performed by Alexander Berne" and "Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes," Berne’s latest finds him further refining and deepening a tonal vocabulary that has garnered him spots on critics’ “Best of” lists and found him compared to striking artists from across multiple genres, including Kubrick, Cage, Schoenberg and Joyce. In Berne’s words, “Self Referentials Volume 1 & 2 is the latest recording from the ‘Abandoned Orchestra’, my ongoing solitary attempt to present a refined aural (+visual) artistic statement (free of synthesizers and samples) as composer, performer, instrument maker, engineer, visual artist, and producer.” The innova double CD is a limited edition of 800 units and includes an original painting with each package, plus liner notes by Maxwell Chandler, who writes, “Like daydreams or memories, good works of art regardless of medium offer an inner landscape for the audience to traverse, the work serving as the terra firma. The more compelling works allow one to revisit them, discovering previously unnoticed aspects of the work or for the general colorations of the piece to appeal and reflect the new you that has developed since last visiting the piece. Alexander’s Self Referentials Volumes 1 & 2 is indicative of the type of work which facilitates a compulsion to take such an inner journey again and again. In the tradition of the best headphone music, the work doubles as both the landscape to be explored and the Sherpa that accompanies you on the journey. The whole work represents an extended suite: Everything is interconnected not necessarily in the way we conceptualize in the (musical) Western classical tradition but there is an inherent logic once one recognizes that this is the parlance of dreams whose every sentence is punctuated by déjà vu and reveries. This work embodies a trip to be made for the mere act of pressing play and opening oneself up to the experience. In many ways no better thing can be offered up by a work of art.”
While some artists labour for any number of years over a single-disc collection, others issue copious amounts, almost as if they can't stop the music from flowing out of them. One such artist is Alexander Berne, who has just issued his third multi-disc collection in three years. In 2010 he released the bravura three-disc opus, Composed And Performed By Alexander Berne, which was followed by the double-disc affair, Flickers Of Mime / Death Of Memes, a year later; both were credited to Alexander Berne and The Abandoned Orchestra, despite the fact that the so-called orchestra is actually Berne alone. His latest outing, Self Referentials Vols. 1 & 2, is another two-disc set, and once again it's an exceptional collection. The superb musical content is complemented on visual grounds, too, as every one of its 800 units is graced by an original abstract cover painting by Berne. As a composer, creator, painter, and multi-instrumentalist, he's a rare modern-day example of the Renaissance figure.
The music's world character comes to the fore immediately when “Far Afield Recording” opens the collection with the kind of exotic dance rhythms and woodwind melodies one might hear at the center of a busy Middle Eastern bazaar. A vast array of influences and styles are refracted though Berne's unique sensibility over the course of the album. A collision between Reich-styled classical minimalism and Eastern trance music seems to take place during the alternating sequences of piano splashes, pulsating percussion patterns, and undulating string swirls in “Pulsationism (The Long Tick),” for example. Recorded in Florida, the collection also serves as a fantastic showcase for Berne's instrumental proficiency, with the musician acting convincingly as a global mini-orchestra of woodwinds (saxophones, wooden flutes), dulcimer, percussion (hand drums, kalimba, bells, cymbals, mallet instruments), strings, and piano (as on his previous releases, Berne eschewed synthesizers and samples in the making of the album material).
His music is arguably at its most powerful during its quieter moments, such as when the saxophone purrs sinuously during “Sonum Onscurum, Headphonic Apparitions Pt. I.” In keeping with that principle, the album's second volume, which Berne characterizes as “An Unnamed Diary of Places I Went Alone,” is the more potent of the two, as its seventeen pieces (titled by roman numerals only) surreptitiously seduce the listener throughout the disc's mysterious and enigmatic journey. A dazed voiceover by Jaik Miller (1970-2012) deepens the mystery of “IV,” while “V” bolsters its enchantment with wordless singing (vocal contributions by Christo and Flora Nicholoudis and Karolien Soete repeatedly enrich the second volume's soundworlds). Most are short pieces, though no less evocative for being so, especially when their stripped-down arrangements enable the instruments' individuating qualities to more clearly assert themselves. Snapshots rich in atmosphere and detail, they're as transporting as the dozen settings on disc one.Though Self Referentials Vols. 1 & 2 oscillates between Western and Eastern musical forms (sometimes merging them within single settings), it somehow manages to retain a cohesiveness due to Berne's sensibility as a composer. As an example, “Of Fugal Melancholia” might, on paper, be a solo piano piece, but in its compositional form it's a meditation of trance-like design rather than something emblematic of the Western classical tradition. His music is also entrancing, especially during those moments when its Eastern dimension is emphasized, as occurs during “Four Instantiations” when its saxophones assemble into hypnotic, pitch-shifting masses. Like elements swimming within a liquid mass, musical patterns often flow in and out of each other, adding to the music's free-flowing character. Less straight-laced Western composer than global shaman, Berne's incantations and lamentations seep into one's innermost self and alter it as dramatically as a peyote-influenced dreamstate.- www.textura.org/
Alexander Berne is a composer, visual artist, and virtuoso musician of the highest order. Born in New York, he cut his teeth on the jazz scene—after studies with Tim Ries, John Purcell, and Eddie Daniels he began working with such luminaries as Billy Hart, Victor Lewis, Mark Johnson, Ethan Iverson, Cecil Taylor, Ben Monder, John Hollenbeck, Kevin Hays, Jeff Ballard, Larry Grenadier, Albert “Tootie” Heath and many others. During that period he taught at the prestigious Stanford University Jazz Workshop alongside Joe Henderson and Stan Getz.
Berne then moved to Belgium where he devoted himself to solo saxophone performances, to highest acclaim at Logos and elsewhere for using technical innovation to sonically transport listeners.
Returning to America, Berne became involved in film production, working on and producing independent documentaries and features for his company, Harbor Productions, including work with Nicholas Hytner and Jim Broadbent at the Royal National in London, Brian DePalma, Edward Pressman, Paul Williams, and Armondo Linus Acosta. This was accompanied by a phase of creative activity in the visual arts, where he invented a new form of painting involving the abstracts play of photo emulsion and acrylics on paper.
Berne is an innovator in the woodwind realm, specializing in alto, soprano, and sopranino saxophones. He was involved in the creation and production of a new kind of mouthpiece, in collaboration with David Sanborn. In addition, he created his own instrument, collaborating with famous instrument maker Michael Hubbard. Called the ‘saduk’, it is a cross between a saxophone and the Armenian duduk, and has a warm, woody tone unlike any ever heard before.
A musician with serious interest in the music of other cultures, Berne dedicated years of his life to the study of the tabla and Indian Classical Music, studying with Misha Masud and others. During this phase he developed relationships with Debashish Bhattacharya, Krishna Bhatt and other world instrumentalists such as Lu Fang and Glenn Velez.- www.ariumcafe.com/
Alexander Berne and the Abandoned Orchestra, Flickers of Mime - Death of Memes (Coincidental Music For an Unwritten Show (of the Mind)
"Alexander Berne's triple-CD collection Composed And Performed By Alexander Berne lodged itself firmly within textura's 2010 top ten list, and his entrancing two-CD follow-up Flickers of Mime / Death of Memes finds the multi-instrumentalist and composer poised to do much the same a year later. On the new material, Berne and his so-called Abandoned Orchestra create mesmerizing sound-paintings by augmenting his saxophone (tenor, alto, and soprano) and saduk (a self-created instrument that combines a flute and reed instrument) with piano, lap steel guitar, ocarina, Chinese bamboo flute, recorder, Irish whistle, conch shells, and guttural vocal effects (his other invented instruments include the tridoulaphone—another flute-reed hybrid—and the shakuhachophone, a shakuhachi-saxophone creation). There's a strong Eastern quality to his sound, to some degree because of the saduk and its inherently exotic timbre, not to mention a fundamentally natural character (Berne generally eschews synthesizers and samples, though drum loops were used on two of the first disc's tracks). Technically, one could call Berne a virtuoso but that would miss the point: instead, his energies are directed towards alchemizing sound into ravishing settings that often suggest states of feverish possession.
In opening with ominous chords and a rising snare roll, Flickers of Mime /Death of Memes begins with what seems to be either an overt or perhaps purely coincidental reference to Bernard Herrmann's Taxi Driver soundtrack. The moment is perhaps more interesting, however, for being perhaps the sole moment on the release when Berne's music, so thoroughly imprinted with his sensibility, calls to mind the voice of another's. He might at one time have been associated with the jazz scene, but the music he's making now is leagues removed from any straightforward categorization or reference.
For the first disc, Berne visualized a mime who uses his hands and flame to create flickering shadows to induce images and evoke memories in the people around him, an idea that for those familiar with Plato will, of course, remind them of the Myth of the Cave. The music exudes an ancient and primal quality, feeling as it does like material not of any one place or time. Often veiled in darkness and mystery, Flickers of Mime is nachtmusik, a shamanistic travelogue through deep psychic pathways and with a powerfully seductive undertow. Like a snake slithering through dense underbrush, Berne's woodwind melodies travel sinuously through droning and rhythm-based (“Flicker VIII”) landscapes, at times bringing echoes of classical formality into the fold (“Flicker VI”) but more often than not transmuting his pieces into haunting dreamscapes (attested to by the pealing melodies in “Flicker VII,” for example).
The two halves of the recording are dramatically different in tone. Intimating that the second disc will be considerably more disturbing, “Meme I” plunges us into a zone darker than anything on the first, after which woodwind ululations in “Meme II” conjure the image of the bereaved wailing at a burial site. An entropic quality pervades the music in such moments, evoking as it does the image of things breaking down, a civilization or culture on the verge of collapse. In keeping with that idea, tempos slow and activity levels grow subdued as the disc develops. The restrained piano-centered ruminations of “Meme III” feel like the dying embers of said civilization being scanned for signs of life, while the soprano saxophone's coiling melodies rise from the ashes in “Meme V” like plumes of cigarette smoke. Near disc's end, howls of anguish blacken the droning sixth section, and tribal percussion patterns give the eighth the feel of a funereal procession.
A few of Berne's own words about the recording prove illuminating. His choice of the word synaesthetic to describe his music, for one, begins to suggest how powerfully evocative it is, and his suggested sub-title for the recording, Coincidental Music For an Unwritten Show (of the Mind), likewise captures the sense in which his music feels like material welling up from the unconscious. Packaged in a deluxe and autographed edition, the release is as striking on visual grounds as it is aural."- Textura
Something about the album’s first disc – Flickers of Mime – feels deceptive. It toys with listener expectation as turns in the narrative emerge and collapse within seconds. It meddles with recollection as new textures fade into nothing quickly enough to feel as though they might just be figments of the imagination; momentary lapses in common sense that sneak false memories into listener retrospect: drumbeats that squelch into life then fade instantly, or clarinet sirens that whirr faintly round the edges and evaporate. Everything feels in flux – mercurial and difficult to trust – as each “Flicker” sends an eclectic assortment of sounds flying out of the fog, toward a listener naïve to every next turn.
Death of Memes feels decidedly more sedated in comparison. Groans of woodwind settle into drones, long enough for images of sweltering Arabian plains to shift into focus, as the music collapses into its landscape and merges with it instead of actively manipulating it as in the previous disc. There’s still a sense of mystique, but it’s less explicit – it lurks within the blankets of sound as a supernatural haunt, present in atmosphere rather than in the sound itself. Arguably it’s the less engaging of the two halves, lacking the dizzying bewilderment that cuts the listener off from his of her comfort zones.
The same eclectic array of components (woodwind, brass, percussion, electronics, guitars, vocals, noises, plenty more) remains a constant, and acts as the primary cohesion point between both parts. But something happens between parts A and B that makes the music switch focus from sharper, more personifiable movements into the slower sways and drifts of nature. Mime’s crisp, detailed portraits blur and stretch into expanses of landscape consisting of bigger, weightier gloops of colour once Memes settles in, and while the cause of this change exists only in the void of silence that is the disc transition, its impact sees the Abandoned Orchestra suddenly enlightened to the gravity that burdens their every movement, as each note slurs and wheezes in exasperation. - Jack Chuter
What do you get when you combine Kubrick moods, outer space, Middle Eastern vibes, clouds of metal timbre, and a lot of talent in mixing those ingredients? Something similar to a disc by Alexander Berne. How about combining the primeval, the creepily serene, and the sense of slow motion. You’ll get the same thing.
Now, coalesce both of those, and you’ll get an illustration of the arc of human nature woven into an ambient collection. Or, more accurately, you’ll get Alexander Berne’s new album Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes.
Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes is the third collection of works by Berne and his Abandoned Orchestra. Berne is a composer from New York who has primarily immersed himself in the jazz scenes of America and Belgium. He is a saxophonist and has also invented a new wind instrument, one he calls the “saduk,” a mixture between a saxophone and a duduk.
Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes is an album divided into two discs. The first, Flickers of Mime, is meant to symbolize what a mime might create using its bare movements. Many of the tracks off this disc include very 80s-space sounding, sustained notes, such as “Flicker I” and “Flicker VII,” while many others include eastern scales and timbres. However, these tracks are not obviously themed. Each is soon invaded with other ambient sounds that help the disc do what it was meant to do; through each of the “flickers” on the first disc, a different world, structure, or mood is built. Despite some of the celestial sounds, Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes does not use any synthesizers or the like. “Flicker VIII” sounds like calm, Middle Eastern-sounding club music, and can be compared to songs by Mocean Worker with its sassy wind motifs paired with loose piano phrases. “Flicker X” is a whirlwind of sounds that the listener arrives at in linear ways, like passing each one in a car. While each track is one train of thought without much individual development, the way the flickers are lined up in the album creates one leg of the arch that is Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes. “Flicker XI,” the last track on the disc, is eerily similar to “Flicker II,” but with faded glances back at previous flickers.
The second disc, Death of Memes, is meant to be the second leg of the arch—the one that recedes back to the ground. One would more literal apocalyptic sounds on a disc that illustrates the downfall of a society. But the pieces on the disc are mostly loosely primitive, like the aftermath of said apocalypse. While Berne’s album’s first disc focuses on the construction of aural formations, the second one is the destruction of those. The perspective is also different on the two discs. Flickers of Mime is, hypothetically, meant to come from the hands of one man. Death of Memes describes the downfall of a large mass, like a city. Many of the tracks on the disc are much more subtle, such as “Meme III,” a piece of unfettered yet serene piano accompanied by ambient drones. “Meme I” is one of the only tracks that moves slightly in the realm of more aggressive dystopia, with subdued timpani and other percussion.
Alexander Berne’s Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes is an album that doesn’t fall into the whirlpool that ambient music, or music of the sort, sometimes can—monotony. Because of the well thought-out relationships between the two discs, Berne has constructed a body of work that works together in ways not only aurally, but conceptually. It offers a new way of looking at the arch of humanity; the arch that we ourselves, as humans, might never understand. - Elena Saavedra Buckley
- Alexander Berne about The Soprano Saxophone Choir:
"The genesis of the first CD “The Soprano Saxophone Choir” came years ago as an exercise to improve my tone. I found that by creating (in studio) an accompaniment of various layered tones and phrases, in different registers and with different timbres, I could awaken hidden qualities in my sound. Vibrations are powerful, and we sometimes forget that there are actual physical changes taking place in the instrument which have corresponding aesthetic effects on the practitioner and hopefully the listener as well. There seems to be a special, even mystical quality when an instrument or voice is multiplied by itself…a choir. This first CD is an exploration of that choir phenomenon: many soprano saxophones living together, magnifying the ‘overtonal’, textural, harmonic, vibratory, ‘soundistic’ experience."
- Alexander Berne about The Saduk:
"CD two, “The Saduk” - What do nearly all instrumental virtuoso do? Running headlong into limitations, they make significant changes to their instruments or in some cases make a new one entirely. I love the saxophone deeply, but it has some inherent constraints. It is a ‘heavy’ instrument, laden down with many large keys; you need a lot of breath to vibrate its elongated conical metal tube.
Often longing for a more tender palette of expression than the saxophone would allow, – I developed flute envy.
My solution was to create the saduk, the simple open-holed flute/reed hybrid featured on these tracks. Inspired in equal measure by an inner sound – one that I have ‘felt’ as much as ‘heard’ throughout my life – and the primal, tender wind instruments found in most world traditions, this recording marries a prenatally familiar wind expression with voice, percussion, saxophone and other acoustic sounds".
- Alexander Berne about The Abandoned Orchestra:
"For the third CD, “The Abandoned Orchestra”, I did not throw in everything but the kitchen sink; I did, however, use enough plumbing materials – making new wind instruments – to fix that sink quite a few times over. Along with the saxophone and saduk I created the sadukini (a conically functioning saduk, similar to ‘world oboes’ like the nadaswaram, shenai, or zurna), the tridoulaphone (another flute/reed hybrid heard here in soprano, alto, and tenor registers), and a reeded slide trumpet.
“The Abandoned Orchestra” continues with my solitary, unassisted practice of composing, performing and recording. I have been contemplating the two senses of abandonment: to be abandoned is to be either forsaken or unrestrained – but isolation and desertion may lead to autonomy and liberty. In this self-layered orchestra, I have explored my own diverse pre- and post-ethnic sound world..."
- More words from Alexander Berne and reviews @ Innova Recordings