Animated with sonic jump-cuts and unexpected timbral juxtapositions, these compositions—described as two audio films—by Austrian Olga Neuwirth, demonstrate that she is young enough to be influenced by John Zorn-styled musical pastiches, as well as by conventional music. That the results are congenial is a tribute both to her and to the versatility of the twelve-piece, Munich-based ICI Ensemble.
The first track contains fragments of Franz Kafka’s letters, and the second one has song lyrics by Frank Zappa, the texts being somewhat altered in both cases. A skein of melancholy clings to the Kafka excerpts, read at length in German, with the reader interjecting short verbal expressions of self-denunciation in English. Emotions are undercut and intercut with interludes of Dixieland-styled brass riffs, harmonized Romantic piano cadenzas, and a melodic theme appropriate to an espionage thriller. The final variant fades rock-guitar licks and electric-bass sluices under spinning drones created by the composer on her musical bicycle-machine.
Lyrics are sampled, extended, and altered with laptop programming on No More, with musicians serving at times as a vocal chorus. Declarations such as “Having Problems with Flying Pigs?” are left as is. Commentary is provided by the instrumental arrangement, which variously resembles cartoon soundtracks, symphonic overtures, pressured balloon rubbing, and one combination with a mournful cello line foreshadowing a recap of the Batman theme.
Eventually the stuttering, timbres coalesce, so that the Zappa permutations take on a crucial musicality beyond their jokiness. In the process, this demonstrates the transformative skill of Neuwirth and the ICI Ensemble.