The Upshot: Sinuous, foreboding grooves as precise as an equation but imbued with restless, mysterious energy.
By Jennifer Kelly
SONAR — that’s short for SONic Architecture — plays sinuous, foreboding grooves as precise as an equation but imbued with restless, mysterious energy. This project from guitarists Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner, bass player Christian Kuntner and percussionist Manuel Pasquinelli is now on its third album, spinning elegant high tensile strength sonic structures that are no more rock than they are jazz than they are classical or experimental.
A set of rules guide composition and performance. Guitars and basses are all tuned to tritones, the so-called “devil’s interval” that jolts and disturbs even at relatively sedate tempos and volume levels. Rhythms, too, are non-standard and unexpected, shocked through with accented off-beats and incorporating multiple time signatures, with parts that mesh like mismatched gears at unpredictable parts of the measure. The sound, overall, is clean and full of space. Notes either tersely bitten off in syncopated patterns or allowed to linger lyrically, but there are not so many notes. This is minimalist prog if it is prog at all: no shredding.
All that might make SONAR sound a bit dull and precious, a mathematical exercise with no claim on the heart or gut, and yet this music is oddly, uncomfortably moving. “Orbit 5, 7” picks its way through chilled conundrums that open like pop-up books into three-dimensional space. “Angular Momentum” rides an anxious cinematic pulse through thickets of guitar and bass interplay; it’s the music for a long tense interval in a movie, where, perhaps, a team of spies navigates shadowy dangers. “String Geometry” is almost funk, by which I mean you could almost dance to it, though it might be easier with an irregular number of legs and arms. It’s way more fun and emotionally charged than you would expect from a lab experiment — a test tube music that creates life out of abstract principles.
DOWNLOAD: “Orbit 5, 7”