Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk: Passage (Azure Vista Records, 2017)
Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk have collaborated before to great effect on their album Epic released in 2010. Ulrich Schnauss is no stranger to the shoegaze crowd given his initial releases such as A Strangely Isolated Place in 2003. He also works inside the genres of electronic and ambient music. His many projects include Tangerine Dream, Engineers, Longview and others. He’s also well known for the many remixes he has done for other artists. Jonas Munk is a master at repetitive modes and phrases, taking what ought to be monotonous and making it entirely interesting and beautiful. He slides from electronic modes of instrumentation to beautiful psychedelic guitar pieces. Together, their collaboration brings a symbiosis to create beautifully constructed compositions. Passage leads the reader through a vast terrain of soundscapes, moving from “Amaris” to “Coastal Path”. It’s a journey full of beauty, wonder, and a little bit of caution. Schnauss and Munk are masters at sonic storytelling on their own, but, together, they bring further depth to their art and more tools to their trade.
Passage begins with “Amaris”, perhaps the Latin for “you are loved”. It begins with bright, reverb and delayed guitar swirling through the speakers. There is a slow build that includes whirling synths and soft keys. Drums come up into the mix and they bounce from speaker to speaker amid the flurry of drones and walls of sound. Schnauss and Munk brilliantly play with the right/left panning in the speakers, creating wonderful moments through the track as different sounds appear in either speaker, creating an immersive environment. At about 3:20, bass work becomes more prominent and brightly toned synths play melodies that are eventually answered by guitars. “Genau wie damals”, roughly “Exactly at that Time”, begins with a huge wall of synths with slight fuzz and dreamy, ethereal textures. Eventually, electronic percussion begins to give the track structure. Guitar melodies begin conversing with melodic keys, playing off one another. The guitars warble with almost half-notes creating a middle-eastern flavor.
“Anywhere but Here” is sparser and patient, playing with various tonal notes, swirling in a structured manner as they engage different versions of the melody. Fuzzy walls of sound swell in and out of the speakers while guitar plays a subtle, emotive melody. The almost percussive nature of certain synth patterns gives the song a slight structure. Further, the mood created seems to be one of longing. There is beautiful repetition here as lines are repeated over different walls of sound and are stretched out, becoming immense soundscapes. “Intervention: Sol” is a brief piece that has jangly guitar and spacey synths that create an almost ominous feel. There is an urgency here as Schnauss and Munk prepare the listener for the middle phase of the journey. The track ends with synth voices fading into silence.
“MST” bursts into the speakers with medium tempo, aggressive drums up front in the mix. The layers all sit under the snare and tom pattern. Guitars and synths create sparkling phrases underneath while almost metallic like textures fill spaces in this music-world. A rather intricate piano piece is also played over against the driving drums, answering the beat’s call. There is a feel of forward motion, bright hope, and, perhaps, continued progress in the light and airy synths that dance and play about throughout. “Ao Hinode” is the centerpiece of Passage and begins with sunken, undulating notes and bright dancing synth tones moving through the various depths and sides of the mix. A deep, rumbling drone provides a floor that swells, playing a long, drawn out sequence of underlying notes. Guitars are sparse and reverb heavy, accenting the playful aural scene. If I’m correct, the title of this track means “Sunrise” in Japanese and the build certainly depicts such as moment, as the synths swell and the drones overtake the brighter moments.
“Spellbreaker” has a very techno feel at the beginning. Once the bass-work begins, the track begins to feel like early New Order. This is driving and dance-worthy. The guitar work even feels like New Order until the patterns break at about 1:10 and then climbing synth lines and various other synth voices fill the speakers as the techno style drums keep moving the composition forward. At about 2:39, the song almost slides into a shoegaze feel with techno drums. It’s a fun track for sure and quite different from those that come before it on the album. “Intervention: Stjerner”, Norwegian for “Stars”, is the second intervention on the album. Perhaps the stars are supposed to guide one through the last part of the journey. Synth pulsates into the speaker and old-school synth voices begin to chime in alongside it. A melody is embedded in the lower tones as layers continue to be added. Schnauss and Munk give the listener so much to encounter in every track as small intricate pieces float around among the more obvious, central parts of the soundscape.
“Caffeine Blues” has deep toned synths that act as a floor to a strummed, bluesy guitar. Then, bright synths dazzle with layers of various voices and patterns. At about 1:45, there is this very cool mashup between bright, synth drones and lounge style, laid back composition. There is definitely the blues vibe here, but it is housed in an entirely different feel and genre and it’s brilliant. The percussion is very sparse, only giving the listener what is necessary for a little structure. At 3:54, the piece begins to open up and breath, with drones and layers of guitar and notes punctuating the soundscape. This leads into the last of the interventions with “Intervention: Måne”, which is Norwegian for “Moon”. The night is here and the end of the journey at hand. The feel of the composition is magical and otherworldly. Breathtaking swaths of rumbling tones flitter through the speakers and deep rumbles hum underneath. This is an ambient track and it is beautifully composed but very brief. “Coastal Path” is the finale to the journey and the longest on the album, clocking in at 7:35. A beat thumps while a fuzzy curtain of sound lay behind it. Melodies float on a sea of drones and guitar comes up in the mix to provide a beautifully composed melody. Robotic synths play a counterpoint to the guitars iridescent tones. Eventually, the walls fade, giving larger space to the guitar with only percussive sounds playing. Eventually, the melody repeats into a fade and the journey is complete.
The collaboration of Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk results in a gorgeous musical journey filled with rich and mature soundscapes and compositions. Their tonal and phrasing choices on Passage are elegant and complex, providing the listener with a deep, immersive listening experience. Schnauss and Munk are incredible composers in their own right but together there is a certain magic that their synergy creates. Passage is a journey one ought to take.
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