Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger, Vienna Rhiz, 11 January 2012

My first concert of 2012 was a quintessentially Viennese experience, being a loud, lengthy and largely improvised set for keyboards and percussion by two of this city’s leading musicians, held at that hotbed of experimental music, the Rhiz. The performance had a slight edge over the last time I saw this duo play at Shelter, since this time Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger sensibly refrained from introducing any guest musicians and did all the playing themselves. What resulted was an insanely dense black hole of sound that couldn’t help but suck in everything around it. (It was noticeable, by the way, how well attended this concert was compared to that Shelter gig in the summer. It’s depressing to think that this was probably because last week’s gig was more actively pushed on Facebook, and also because it was at the übercool Rhiz rather than the unfashionable, out-of-the-way Shelter. I don’t find out about gigs on Facebook and I also don’t go to a gig just because it’s at a certain venue, but maybe that’s just me.)

Kern’s drumming becomes more miraculous every time I see him play, from the dizzy interlocking rhythms he creates to the precision with which he limns vast areas of space and silence. Quehenberger, for his part, came over like some permanently distracted machinist. Looming over his synthesizer, occasionally firing a caustic glance in the audience’s direction, his seeming nonchalance and the fag drooping from the corner of his mouth were belied by the endless flow of trancelike analogue tones. More than once I was reminded of the stupendous 70s records of Tangerine Dream with their crystalline vistas of sound. The forceful presence of the drummer, however, served to push Quehenberger’s rippling melodies well away from ambient territory and into a clattering, visionary set of impulses. A stunning performance and a great way to kick off what promises to be a busy few months of live music in Vienna.

Some excellent photos of the evening by David Murobi here.

Concerts of 2011

Here’s some kind of list of the concerts I enjoyed most in 2011, with links to the reviews I wrote at the time. In chronological order:

1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arena, Vienna
2. Frode Gjerstad Trio with Mats Gustafsson, Blue Tomato, Vienna
3. Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger, Shelter, Vienna
4. Home Service, Half Moon, London
5. The Thing with Ken Vandermark, Porgy & Bess, Vienna
6. Glen Hansard, Porgy & Bess, Vienna
7. Peterlicker, Waves Festival, Vienna
8. Death In June, Ottakringer Brauerei, Vienna
9. Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Stadttheater, Wels
10. Ken Vandermark/Mats Gustafsson/Massimo Pupillo/Kent Kessler/Hamid Drake/Paal Nilssen-Love, Alter Schlachthof, Wels

Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger, Vienna Shelter, 7 June 2011

Nice to catch a gig at Shelter again. I hadn’t been there for over two years, since checking it out for the Time Out guide, and was relieved to discover that nothing much has changed there in the meantime. Guinness and Strongbow are still on draught, the table football is still there and so is the pinball machine. Not that I was there to play retro games, since Kern and Quehenberger were lined up to make a holy, disciplined racket on drums and synths. And speaking of retro, it seems as though this duo have released their first album on cassette only in an edition of 99 copies which is already sold out. Spare copy, anyone? And maybe you could provide me with something to play it on at the same time. I still haven’t heard that Peter Rehberg cassette I bought a year or two ago.

This was the first time I had heard this duo. Quehenberger was new to me as well, although Kern was known to me from his work with Heaven And, Bulbul and Broken Heart Collector as well as his one-off appearance backing Jandek in 2009. On this occasion he dominated proceedings through an extraordinary barrage of polyrhythmic drumming. Switching with ease between forceful anchored rhythms and out-and-out free sections, Kern made the stage his own to such an extent that Quehenberger at times struggled to make his presence felt. The keyboardist kept things bubbling along nicely enough with attractive riffs and melodies, but Kern’s playing was so intensely fluid and total that there often seemed little room for a second instrument. On the other hand, the physicality of Quehenberger’s approach – playing as though hardwired to the keyboard, practically dancing to the insane reach of Kern’s percussive attack – came as a welcome antithesis to the stereotypical image of the immobile synth man prodding sullenly away.

For the encores the duo were joined by saxophonist Marco Eneidi, leader of the Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music, the weekly free jazz blowout at which both Kern and Quehenberger are regular guests. Eneidi’s astringent blasts brought a vivid extra dimension to the music and seemed to lead the keyboard player towards harder, heavier modes of activity. With the warm textures of Quehenberger’s analogue synthesizers melting blissfully into Kern’s infinite rhythms, the duo’s navigation of inner space was as mesmerising as it was heroic.