Words by Simon Broughton
Hurdy-gurdy man places the instrument centre-stage
The hurdy-gurdy is an instrument that lurks slightly in the shadows. It appears in a few folk bands, like Blowzabella, and isn’t heard often as a solo instrument, although there’s a rich tradition in France and Hungary. But Austrian-born Matthias Loibner is surely the guy to put hurdy-gurdy playing on the map.
This is an entirely solo album of 12 original pieces showing the variety of things this instrument can do in the hands of an imaginative composer and skilful player. All the pieces are Loibner’s except one. With the instrument’s drones and buzzing effects, he creates brooding soundscapes, wistful melodies and, on ‘Kitchen Rain’, an entirely plucked texture. The opening ‘Eyesofsea’ has a lyrical Celtic flavour; ‘Glutsbrüder’ features spectral harmonic and rhythmic effects from the keys, while ‘Wings’ sounds like a piece of American minimalism. Other tracks are beautiful sound pictures: ‘Augenblick’ features a haunting melody over a simple plucked bass and ‘Sons de Carrilhoes’ (composed by João Pernambuco) also skilfully uses the mechanical noises of the keys.
This is a brilliant album with sounds so fascinating that you often wonder just how they’re produced. For that we need to see Matthias Loibner in concert, although even when you can see the instrument, it’s often hard to work out exactly how he weaves his magic.