Third Site by Paul Schütze (Review)

Listening to Third Site has been an education on the meaning of “ambience.”
Third Site - Paul Schütze

This is the third in Schütze’s siteworks projects, which attempt to bring an architecturally interesting location to the senses of the listener through music and read texts. For his third site, the location is architect Peter Zumthor’s thermal baths in Switzerland, beautifully depicted by photographer Christian Lichtenberg in the booklet. From the first words uttered by Thomas Koner (“The central interior mass of water is contained in a depression formed by four submerged flights of steps and by walls which drop directly from the ceiling”) to his last (“In the morning the many pools blind and undisturbed waiting in their cells and terraces like hungry mirrors”), Schütze guides us through the ambience of the thermal baths, attempting to evoke within us our own imaginations. Here we are encouraged to be involved in a way not often possible with ambient music.

Interestingly for a composition by an English speaker, Koner reads the texts in German, so the listener guides themselves through the intricate descriptions. He starts reading beside us, but quickly moves elsewhere in space, and then submerges himself underwater: “Each step, further submerged paints more of this map of the skin.” Schütze’s music is precise and often shocking. Whilst the vibraphone and flutes (played by Schütze and Clive Bell) provide calm and serenity, the guitars (Raoul Bjorkenheim and Simon Hopkins) and electronics pierce the atmosphere as a knife might cut through water. On “The Head, The Soles of the Feet, an Arm,” for example, intensity ebbs and flows through (what sounds like) bowed guitars, the sound of water violently hitting the ground and a distant prepared piano. Fifteen minutes later we are returned to the serenity of the surroundings before being once more submerged.

For me, the listening to Third Site has been an education on the meaning of “ambience.” Although often used as a synonym for something that happens in the background, here it might represent an experience which could evoke a place, a time or a climate. Third Site is an example of how far music can take your imagination, if you choose to get involved.

This review originally appeared in Motion. Written by David Thorpe.

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