"Insomnia" - Kai Schumacher

Kai Schumacher
  • artist:Kai Schumacher
  • featured artist:George Crumb, John Cage, Brian Belet, Bruce Stark, George Gershwin
  • release year:2015
  • style(s):20th Century, Contemporary
  • country:USA
  • formats:CD (Compact Disc)
  • record posted by:Schumacher, Kai
  • label:SWR Media Services GmbH
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Insomnia is the story of a nocturnal odyssey, soothing and disturbing at the same time, mystical and unpredictable. It is the flight from ourselves to the warmth and security of the night, which ultimately leads deeper into our inmost selves. Insomnia is the aimless tumble of a sleepless person through an inner and an outer world that remains hidden from a sound sleeper. It is a world poised between pure black and flickering neon, between melancholy and mania. Insomnia is the soft clinking of the last glasses before closing time, the deafening stillness of deserted streets in the ultimate protection of darkness - and the quiet bond felt when looking at the last lit-up window in the courtyard.

Insomnia is five hymns to the night, composed by five American composers over a period of almost 100 years. At first glance very different in style, in their dramatic conception and by virtue of their subtle musical references to each other the five works provide the perfect background for my personal trip through the night.

At the centre of this journey is A Little Midnight Music, George Crumb's adaptation of Thelonious Monk's jazz standard Round Midnight. In nine "ruminations", he leads listeners and performers from the neon signs outside the New York jazz clubs of the 1940s to the sometimes oppressive darkness of the piano avant-garde. Using various playing techniques on the "string piano", overtone effects and sometimes also knocking on the piano frame, Monk's melody develops into a manic scherzo ("Cobweb and Peaseblossom"), into a demonic conjuration ("Incantation") or into the gloomily fragile "Blues in the Night". In bizarre manner, Claude Debussy, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss are caricatured ("Golliwog Revisited") and the pianist is converted into a ghostly night watchman ("Cadenza with Tolling Bells"). "Midnight Transformation" ends the cycle, and the time of restlessness seems to be over - for the time being.

Crumb's work serves as the dramatic template for the concept of the album and as its axis of symmetry. Sleepless Night and Urban Nocturnes not only quote jazz, but also represent delicate, written-out jazz improvisations. In George Gershwin's short Prelude, one almost hears the chink of the last glasses before closing time and the hum of the flickering neon tubes. In order to match this mood, I have deliberately eschewed the perfection of the modern concert grand and recorded the piece on the charming old honky-tonk piano of a jazz club.

Urban Nocturnes by Bruce Stark acts as an epilogue to the album. It returns the listener from the ever more unreal, mystical daydreams of the night to urbane reality, to the bitter-sweet melancholy of the dawn: "Urban Nocturnes was composed in October of 2014 for a commission from the prodigiously talented and imaginative German pianist Kai Schumacher. The title is perhaps misleading; it is a one-movement piece inspired by the diverse qualities of an urban night, and unfolds with a series of brief scenes, each distinct in character." (Bruce Stark)

Dream and Summer phantoms: Nocturne are pivotal to the album and regard the night from a surreal perspective; they provide the soundtrack for the unconscious nightly escapism. John Cage conceived Dream in 1948 to accompany a piece of choreography by Merce Cunningham. Flowing tenderly and meditatively, the reduced sequences are allowed to die away in the resonance of the pedal and take bearing on the Impressionist writing of composers like Erik Satie and anticipate the musical minimalism of the likes of Philip Glass. Logically conceived repetitions of motifs make one seem captive in a time loop, lost in a dream, which develops ever more feverishly. The trusted surroundings of the keyboard are almost imperceptibly left behind, musical consciousness is expanded by noises from the grand piano that puts the listener into a virtually psychedelic state.

In Summer phantoms: Nocturne (2010/11) for piano and electronics by Brian Belet, the insomniac is completely carried away by his surroundings and loses himself in a ghostly daydream, lurching restlessly through a shadowy labyrinth of ideas. "The phantom as something apparent to the senses but with no substantial existence, as a representation of something abstract, ideal or incorporeal (...) the night and the night journey as the search for self" (Brian Belet). The pianist becomes a sort of dream keeper. Electronic textures derive exclusively from sounds inside the grand piano, but they are so alienated that the search for their physical origins is frequently a vain one.