Tibor Szemo,
Invisible Story
(Leo, 2000)

Tibor Szemo is one of the few composers exploring the fertile communion of music with the spoken word. Here he narrates the writings of compatriot Bela Hamvas, accompanied by his own music realised, in a manner similar to that used on the lovely The Other Shore, by a combination of his own synthesiser arrangements and the Gordian Knot Company.

Listeners expecting something similar to the meditative works on that CD, however, will be in for a few surprises here. The Gordian Knot Company appears to have transformed itself into a rock band, and the sound-world is often much closer to prog than the new-agey washes of The Other Shore or Snapshot from the Island. Sometimes this is a little forced; the up-tempo track "Idols and Fetishes" sounds at best like Laurie Anderson but at worst like some hideous West-Coast '80s fusion offering, all poxy drum machines and squealing, union-rates guitar sounds.

Much of this music is, thankfully, of the quiet, sparse kind that Szemo does so well. The synths imitate mournful flutes and violins, and rhythms, although somewhat clockwork in their regularity, are ticked out rather minimally, with heavier accents falling at large intervals, so that the group gives the impression of floating above their own music. To repeat, when Szemo tries to get macho it doesn't work -- "Danger" is marred by over-heavy accented beats and an awful mechanical rhythm -- but in the majority of cases the powerful instrumental force is marshalled for more peaceful purposes. Even a risky funky organ riff by the composer on the final track doesn't spoil things, because it simply reinforces by contrast the overall atmosphere of enervation and repose.

The words are, of course, in Hungarian, so unless one speaks the language they can be simply treated as melodic and sonorous material, although in fact they're fascinating fragments from the kind of Romantic maverick for which Eastern Europe seems to have been a glasshouse in the first half of the 20th century. In any event, Szemo's voice is gorgeously rich and vibrant, speaking in a mellow half-whisper, making the lead instrument something well-suited to soothing the savage beast within.

The music here is ambitious and doesn't always make its mark. One would have preferred longer versions of pieces like "Sirius Beta" and "Mysterium" and less of the rocky stuff, but that material is where Szemo is challenging himself and it seems he feels the need to try it. Something great may come of it, but for now it renders this a bit of a curate's egg. The parts which are good are, however, lovely.

- Rambles
written by Richard Cochrane
published 26 July 2003

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