Markus Reuter, Michael Manring, Japanese Garden

Markus Reuter, Michael Manring, Japanese Garden

Aug 22, 2020 0 By Marcello Nardi

 Markus Reuter Oculus – Nothing is Sacred (MoonJune, 2020)

When in 1959 at Darmstadt, a name that conjoures the most important place for the avant garde music after second World War, a course was held in ‘music and graphics’, it was then clear that the relationship between the score and the audible element had definitively departed to unkown territories. John Cage had held an exhibition of his scores -e.g. tools for composing- the year before and during the course Karlheinz Stockhausen clearly made it clear that ‘music for reading’ meant that the graphic was emancipated from the acoustic element. But no clue like this is more deceiving for investigating -and the verb has manifold meanings in this case- latest work by Markus Reuter, dubbed as Oculus: Nothing is Sacred, despite this music is based on improvisation guided by the graphic element, yet it departs to very different territories.

Touch guitarist, composer, improviser, composer + improviser, explorer of composing tools, Markus Reuter is relentlessly navigating the depths of uncharted territories, experimenting beneath the surface of the shapes of music. Over the same surface, he might be labelled as a musician affiliated with soundscapes, progressive rock, avant garde classical and improvisation.

Oculus is yet another piece in the puzzle of a kaleidoscopic musician. The graphic element, as previsouly said, plays a pivotal role. Everything starts when MoonJune producer Leonardo Pavkovic summoned four great musicians, King Crimson legendary violinist/keyboardist David Cross, drummer Asaf Sirkis and fretless bassist Fabio Trentini, in addition to Reuter, in the usual recording venue at La Casa Murada, near Barcelona. The German musician provided each a ‘music tool’ (e.g. a score called ‘Oculus’), containing sixteen different pitches to use in each track, and instructions how to use (Sirkis received a similar sheet arranged for the drumset). They had to use it like a gameboard, deciding which pitch to play, moving from the current to the next with adjacent moves, as indicated in the scoreboard. (Improvisation ruled by unconscious graphic decisions).

Yet there was another layer: during the post-production of this sonic mass, each musician was asked to provide additional playing at will, and two more where added to virtually interact with the intial free improvisation: guitarist Mark Wingfield and ambient producer Robert Rich. Recalling aleatoric practices in vogue during the aforementioned post-world war avantgarde, the band assembled by Reuter has the unmistakeable mark of MoonJune‘s free improvisation, with a deep touch of space psychedelia, raw electric energy, exhilarating emotionality and explosiveness, which all the musicians, often colliding one over the other, contribute.

The fast cymbal ride over a pearly soundscape opening Nothing is Sacred (Dice II) looks like a today’s rendition of Silver Bird is Heading for the Sun, the manifesto of Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal. Trentini moves sideways through halftone shifts, while Reuter and Wingfield‘s soaring theme are like cracks in the sky. There’s -expectedly- no tonal hook, and Reuter‘s Oculus tool has evidently forced musicians to think not only out of the box, but also out of any usual improvisation rule. Occasional synth layers are sparsed, until at the third minute mark they randomly collide with guitar’s higher pitches and cymbals. The whimpers get disconnected. When Trentini adds a funkier feel a minute later, Reuter answers with seething distorted chords. This is insane music -says Reuter. I used a compositional system that basically disallowed the musicians to play intuitively. They had to follow rules which served to create really strange melodies and harmonies. These constraints evidently elicited some of the most compelling moments of clarity in the record -take as an example when Reuter and Wingfield almost get on the same notes little before the eight minute mark.

This is music about stasis. (If this in any way hearkens back to John Cage, it is something to be investigated indeed). Even if The Occult (Dice I) starts with a funky feel driven by Trentini‘s syncopated notes and Sirkis‘s Brufordesque beat, soon everything moves to a magmatic and introverted mass that ushers the textures to slowly take the stage. Markus Reuter initially thought Oculus as an improvising big band project, that would easily recall Bitches Brew or progressive-rock explorative big band Centipede. A small snippet of keyboard playing around the eight minute mark, a tonal phrase that catches the listener completely unprepared, finds the outlet for a descending-into-hell section, with unbrindled soloing and unabashed free-improvisation. 

Starting from a completely different starting point than the previous trio recording with Sirkis and Trentini, TRUCE, Oculus seems to be the other side of a spiral that eventually ends on the same starting point. Markus Reuter has set up a display of hypnotic and magmatic arrays of sounds that convey an overwhelming abundance of emotional charge. 


Markus Reuter Oculus

Nothing is Sacred

1.Nothing is Sacred (Dice II) 12:32
2.The Occult (Dice I) 12:54
3.Bubble Bubble Bubble Bath (Wink) 12:52
4.Solve et Coagula (Ghost I) 10:46
5.Bubble Bubble Bubble Song (Sighs) 12:07

Markus Reuter (Touch Guitars® AU8, Soundscapes, Keyboards)
David Cross (Fender Rhodes, Electric Violin)
Fabio Trentini (Bass)
Asaf Sirkis (Drums, Percussion)
Mark Wingfield (Electric Guitar)
Robert Rich (Textures)
Recorded at La Casa Murada, Spain, on May 15 2019.
Written by Markus Reuter

Performed by Reuter/Trentini/Sirkis/Cross.
Overdubbed by Wingfield / Rich.
Recording Engineer: Jesus Rovira.
Mixed by Fabio Trentini and Markus Reuter.
Mastered by Lee Fletcher.
Produced by Markus Reuter and Fabio Trentini.
Executive Producer, Project Initiator and Facilitator: Leonardo Pavkovic.



Michael Manring – Small Moments (2020)

Having had the privilege to see Michael Manring, I will never forget a) the thrill of witenessing classics such as The Enormous Room b) meeting with such an humble person as Manring is. A small and intimate venue, what was once a convent in Italy, where the virtuoso bassist is well-known travelling in, was the ideal stage for a troubador-like performance: mesmerizing and empathic, like his music.

Small Moments is the perfect portrait for those who might inadvertedly not approached yet a musician who’s travelled since his days with guitarist Michael Hedges in territories that might be uncharted for others, but not for him. Manring has redefined the bass, not only the fretless bass and probably not only the bass. Take Sardonic Grin, a track that, through the use of slapping, harmonics and tapping techniques, almost lets the listener believe there’s an acoustic guitar playing, not a bass.

This solo recording is the ice on the cake for anyone who loves his playing and his poetry. It a reflection on the world of this century, opened and closed by two tracks bringing the names of two sentences by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The first of the two, The World is Everything That is the Case, exploits the use of pedals to create airy soundscapes and a singing, swelling phrase that almost recalls an Indian raga. There’s much to think about in the words pronounced by the bassist in the short documentary released alongside the album: high sounds are made of low sounds. Low sounds are incredibly rich in every sense of the word. The quote is a clear statement of his aestethic view: use of deep harmonics, a unique instrument tailored to produce incredible glissando -the Hyperbass-, tapping techniques, alternate tuninings. All that Michael Manring has done, he’s been humbly devoted to develop a unique sense of musicality at the point of intersection of ambient, minimalism and even progressive rock.

Small minimalistic loops recall Discipline era King Crimson‘s intertwined guitars, like in There’s Nothing the Wind Cannot Blow Away. Or huge chords, explorating the deep harmonics of the pitches like in Encirclements. Or a more developed and structured narration, moving through multiple evolving lines on the bass, that seem to simplify the mechanics of the instrument that every musician would find exhausting, like in Tetrahedron. 

Michael Manring cultivates his own music, like a small jester on stage, full of tricks, hypnotizing the listener who looks at him with a puzzled face. Whom he returns with a witty, sardonic grin.


Michael Manring
Small Moments

1.The World is Everything That is the Case 02:17
2.Tetrahedron 05:53
3.By Fives 02:24
4.Dance of the Pessimists 02:46
5.Night is Darkness Enough 04:51
6.There Is Nothing the Wind Cannot Blow Away 04:39
7.Encirclements 03:53
8.The Blue Moment 02:49
9.Sardonic Grin 04:30
10.23 Oktober 04:57
11.Open the Box 03:02
12.We Must Pass Over in Silence 01:31

Michael Manring – electric bass



Japanese Garden – Roji (WoW Records, 2019) 

In a constant search for removing instead of adding, the music of Italian trio Japanese Garden is a perfect example of minimal jazz that still conveys a deep and humble melodic intention. The young trio is led by guitarist Federico Carnevali with Giovanni Miatto at double bass and Carmine Casciello at drums, who also shares duties in Luca Sguera‘s AKA. After the three met at Siena jazz school in 2015, they refined a sound by sustraction, which eventually grew in their current three years later. In Roji they privilege developing the timbral nuances and removing any unnecessary addition, than anything which might be in the porfolio of usual jazz improvisation.

Carnevali‘s tone is clean, tinged with a bit of reverb, inspired by the understatement of Jim Hall. From the lingering intro to Lagom to the delicate counterpoint between bass and guitar in the same track, to the opening harmonics at the start of the Sardinian waltz A Diosa, everything in Roji unveils an uncelebrated beauty. Take the sparse improvisation leading to the theme of All Apologies, with the band showcasing a mature dedication to silence more than to an extroverted interplay. And what was an already simple theme, becomes the basis for few chordal leanings by the guitar than a true solo. The three slowly build up the piece and none of them really takes the lead to solo, until the chorus theme of the Nirvana‘s anthemic song arises at around the sixth minute mark. 

Going to the essential, the music by Japanese Garden is an intimate sonic journey through silences, minimal nuances and unadorned themes. 

Japanese Garden


1.Roji 05:49
2.A Diosa 05:40
3.Japanese Gerden – Lagom 06:14
4.All Apologies 07:49
5.Fjords 05:28
6.O Sacrum Convivium 08:40
7.Four Sticks 05:23

Federico Carnevali – guitars
Giovanni Miatto – bass
Carmine Casciello – drums