all music guide review

20 08 2000
François Couture

Guitarist Burkhard Stangl is a member of the improv quartet Polwechsel. Christof Kurzmann is co-leader of Orchester 33 1/3. Both hail from the Vienna improv scene, where they have been active since the late 1980s, but they played together for the first time in September 1999 when Kurzmann sat in with Polwechsel for a show in New York City. The two decided to book a studio session shortly thereafter, on December 12, 1999. Schnee presents the complete unedited recording. Kurzmann's computer lays down low soundscapes, drones polluted with dust particles. Stangl adds sparse notes, plucked on acoustic and electric guitars. The recipe works best on "Sans Soleil", a magnificent cold piece where Kurzmann integrates ethereal piano samples to his textures. The last of these four lengthy improvs, "In Einem Jahr Mit 13 Monden" is a lot less convincing. Both musicians try to establish a dialogue, but it seems Stangl cannot relate to the frenetic electronic montages Kurzmann throws at him. When he tries to establish a mood on prepared guitar, the electronics become intrusive. The piece really takes off only when Kurzmann settles down on an drone 13 minutes into the song. The attempt at diversifying the sound palette was welcomed, but the magic simply didn't operate. Nonetheless, the first 50 minutes of Schnee have their share of memorable moments and remain a fine example of Austrian improv aesthetics at the turn of the century.