Conversations is the latest in the Sonic Pieces series of handmade color-coded albums. We’re calling this the chocolate one. It’s the first Sonic Pieces release from violinist Christoph Berg, as well as the artist’s second release of the season, arriving on the heels of Bei. The album joins a myriad of other new works that respond to the world’s condition with music; as the press release states, the set “expresses … the urge to retreat from the sometimes overwhelming present times”. And for a while, it does offer a sad, sweet escape.
The problem with ideas of escape is that we take our problems with us, and they are usually as internal as they are external. No matter what the political climate, we still work and rest; we still love and lose; we still live and die. The titles and tone of Conversations imply the slow dissipation of a cherished relationship: “Conversations”, “Memories”, “Grief”, “Monologue”, “Dialogue”, “Farewell.” These are bracketed by a prologue and an epilogue, providing framework to the story. There’s little joy in the beginning; like a passion play, the opening already foreshadows the end. And after the strings settle, there’s little sense of closure. A temporal event has ended, as well as a period of reaction, but a sense of torpor remains. Yet in the middle, there’s such sweetness. Berg obviously feels deep love for someone or something, and offers dignity to his subject by such a tender reflection. It’s as if he is saying, “these conversations have ended, but they are worth remembering.”
The percussion of “Conversations” rattles about like its title, imitating a typewriter or tape ejection. Whenever the percussion stops, a fog-like drone settles onto the couch like a lethargic guest. While one might expect “Monologue” to be the work of a single instrument, the drums hang around for one final minute. They accompany the violin in its most foreboding moments and desert it in its time of sorrow. After that the loss sinks in, and wow does it get lonely. By the end, the Conversations are more with one’s self than with others: the voices in one’s head vying for dominance, a battle between grief and hope, between giving up and going on. We know that the book closes after the “Epilogue”; our fear is that the reader remains in his chair. The strings do rise up a bit in the finale, perhaps imitating the raising of one’s eyes to take in the rest of the world and to at least think about reengagement. The album ends up being a soundtrack to solitude, more empathy than encouragement. Still, there’s a place for realistic reflections, and to some, empathy is encouragement. (Richard Allen)