Western Vinyl Presents: Rolf Julius Small Music Series, 'Music for the Ears' & 'Music for a Distance'

The German born sound and visual artist Rolf Julius died in January of this year. In his parting the world was left with an astonishing documented history of his work, in particular, his work with sound. Julius's installations and sound pieces often focused on what the artist came to realize as "small music," an apt title for the subtle, often insect-like electronic music he mastered over his life span. Julius came to realize his sonic vision through the likes of John Cage, Morton Feldman, and La Monte Young, adopting the central concepts of their ideologies to propel his own work at the start. Eventually, Julius's craft led him to explore the relationship between visual art, nature and small music, by way of elegantly understated environmental sound installations and spacial-focused sound works. Two of the artist's most recent publications have been made available by Western Vinyl: Music for the Ears & Music for a Distance.
Music for the Ears is the first in a series of small music releases that will eventually culminate into a boxed set of seminal albums by the German artist. The cover image depicts Julius's installation in a bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan, while the inlay and back image are taken from a performance in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (also in a forest).

It's unclear if these images directly correlate to the sounds on the disc but I've come to think of these works more as Music for a Forest, as one can easily imagine Julius's floating tones descending from tree branches and intermingling with the wind and sounds of the environment. These pieces, which are quite similar to one another in their hypnotic overlaying of quiet tones, are perhaps more interested in conveying an understanding of space and how the sounds interact within that space, rather than just sound for sound's sake. "Song from the Past" is composed (improvised?) in such a way that the "active" sounds appear in chunks throughout the work, interspersed with sections of near silence. In the context of an installation, the silent sections would allow the listener to reflect on the work's interaction with the environment and also the interaction with the individual's own ears (music for the ears!). These gaps would perhaps also allow for a noticeable differentiation in natural sounds and sounds brought specifically into the natural environment.

"Music on Two High Poles" on the other hand, is more in the steady stream realm, likely a performed piece and busier than the opener. It's equally as lovely, especially in way that the tones ring out over extended periods and then cluster together in bouts of bagpipe-like fluctuations. Superbly meditative.

Rolf Julius - Song From The Past (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast
What has impressed me the most about these discs and Rolf Julius's music all together is his blending of the minimal with the maximal, of the cacophonous and the silent. His music can feel very active while at the same time resemble a stasis. Music for a Distance is one of the better examples of this dichotomy.

The album's main piece, a nearly 40 minute trip, is a work that Julius had been refining over a 6 year period, beginning in 2003 where it was performed live at the Donaueschinger Musiktage in Germany. Careful listens reveal an entire world of muted rustlings, insectoid harmonies, decrepit tonalities, and all sorts of swirling, pulsating, and vibrating ephemera, amounting to nothing short of a mesmerizing piece that is one of the milestones of Julius's long career in sound. The 13 minute "Music for a Corner" merits its title as an excursion into the dark recesses of the mind; a haunting motorifik piece of isolationist music.

Two essential documents of the true enigmatic genius that was Rolf Julius. visit Rolf Julius at Western Vinyl.

Rolf Julius - Music for a Distance (excerpt) by ScrapyardForecast


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