Review: John Aulich – Suite 001: For Kazimierz

Suite 001 – For Kazimierz was inspired by the war stories of John Aulich’s late grandfather, and such a concept sparks two prominent, juxtaposing stereotypes in my mind. One is of the indulgently reminiscent grandpa, whose tales come dogged with alienating reference points and seemingly meaningless details, strung into an endless ribbon of rambling, mindlessly imposed on a young audience bored to the point of sleep. The other is of the masterful storyteller and king of suspense; a plotline worthy of Hollywood’s most expensive set décors and explosions, onto which its listeners cling with intense fervency. Listening to Suite 001, I feel that Kazimierz Aulich’s abilities fell into the latter camp; the release is thick with tension and colour, built from an absolute immersion in imaginary landscape and emotional response.

The distinction between “war stories” and “war experiences” is key here, as the listener’s mind is left guessing as to how Suite 001 conveys the grandfather as a medium – whether moments of great panic (cymbal wash arcing upward like tidal waves, dissonant strings flooding the stereo field like a swarm of bees) arise as much from the chaotic manner of their original spoken delivery as the harrowing nature of the scenario itself, or whether points of storytelling emphasis became rewarded with a greater prominence in the musical foreground. Would it have been beneficial to have access to the war stories on which Suite 001 finds its basis? Perhaps, although such a decision would break the mystery of what the music’s most climactic passages may represent (gruesome visions on the front line? Boredom-induced paranoia in the trenches?), as well as shattering the somewhat sacred bond of intimacy that renders John (and his potential siblings) as the secret-keepers; the exclusive heirs of such storytelling treasures.

There’s something eerily synthetic about Aulich’s sound choices – violins carry all the friction of bow on string but none of the performer expression, staggering between dissonant steps in the clumsy, haunted manner seen in the music of Philippe Petit. Atonal piano harmonies (which remind me of Morton Feldman) come in sudden and jagged impacts; held tones sitting dreadfully off-axis. Little clinks and scrapes add texture to the walls and objects, and while their narrative may be stowed away in the darkness of ambiguity, the emotion is vividly and uncompromisingly channelled: I am homesick, and untrusting of the new and turbulent landscape in which I find myself.