January 2019 CD of the Month: Aukai’s Reminiscence

Echoes January CD of the Month: Aukai's Reminiscence

by John Diliberto  January 6, 2019
There are some musicians who live in a world of quiet refinement. It’s a state of musical being where every emotion is trimmed, shaped, and polished on a pottery wheel of imagination. Artists that come to mind in this space are Ludovico Einaudi, Keith Jarrett, Harold Budd and Ólafur Arnalds.

This is also a place where Markus Sieber lives. The East German born musician crafts his music with an reverential, but joyful respect for stillness, making sure each note is deserving of its rupture of silence. I first fell in love with his music the self-titled debut album as Aukai, but he was already in this space with the duo, Mirabai Ceiba, with his partner, pianist, harpist and singer Angelika Baumbach. As Aukai, Sieber sheds the vocals for a sound that is folk music transformed through ambient space.

The central voice of Aukai’s new EP, Reminiscence, like his debut, is the ronroco, a relative to the charango, with a sweet, sharp sound. He plays it on all but one track of Reminiscence. On “Harvest,” he plucks it in cycles that draw you deeper and deeper into his pristine web.

With Aukai, Sieber orchestrates an idiosyncratic chamber group, much like the Penguin Café Orchestra, where instead of horns, guitars and drums you have ronroco, violin, accordion, harp, glockenspiel ocarina and harmonium. He’s accompanied on several tracks by cellist Anne Müller who has played with Agnes Obel, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. With this very spare instrumentation, Aukai can conjure up a cinematic crescendo on “La Joya” or a dark, menacing mood on “Reframe” with a minimal piano motif that references Arvo Pärt before surging drums lock into Sieber’s insistent ronroco pattern.

“Closed Eyes Flashback” is a sequel to “Closed Eyes” from his previous album, Branches of Sun. The original is light, airy and pastoral, but “Flashback” is darker and more ruminative with Baumbach’s harp standing in for Sieber’s ronroco.

Reminiscence is an album of perfect miniatures. There’s only one track that dips over the three-minute mark and the entire CD clocks in at 25-minutes. But it is a 25-minute gem, cut with intricate facets and almost antique moods, a refined work from an earlier time.

Because of its length, we’ve decided to add Aukai’s previous album, Branches of Sun, as a bonus to members of the CD of the Month Club. It’s an equally beautiful album and would have been a CD pick if it hadn’t been so close in time to his previous CD of the Month in 2016.