Cellist Valerie Kuehne has made a name for herself by constantly touring and gigging at the outer fringes of improvised and experimental music. She may not be throwing wrenches into the system, but she’s always throwing something. She can spin a gorgeously lyrical phrase one second and then shatter her bow with a murderous swipe of low-register murk the next. Her music can be assaultive, even tortured, but also wickedly satirical and unselfconsciously playful, like a cat reveling in batting a breadbag twisty around the floor. Her sensibility is often inchoate and messy, fueled by anger and alienation, but also a sobering awareness that evades an awful lot of people who call themselves artists. She has a show coming up on April 4 at 7:30 PM at Dixon Place Theatre at 161 Chrystie St. north of Delancey with her uneasy neoromantic project Naked Roots Conducive with violinist Natalia Steinbach, and probably a small army of special guests, which is typical of bills Kuehne plays on. This happens to be the release show for her new “performance opera” Sacred521, which ostensibly “explores the beauty and terror of personal disclosure and visceral catharsis in individual experience.” Advance tix are $12.
Kuehne’s latest release is her Suite for Solo Cello, a starkly acerbic, multitracked five-part work available as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. Played live, it would require at least a cello trio. It’s a good capsulization of what Kuehne is all about, in introspective mode, drawing on minimalism and spectral music as much as the avant garde, with abundant use of microtones and extended technique.
It rises out of a sideswiping tone poem of sorts to several crescendos which hint, almost agonizingly, at a resolution. But that never arrives. Slithery high harmonics introduce brooding, rain-drenched atmospherics; a staggering, sawing march hits an axe-murderer stomp and quickly subsides.
From an uneasily hazy atmosphere, she returns to a march, but with a slow, aching quality. From there Kuehne lets a broodingly suspenseful ambience linger and then abruptly flips the script, taking an eerily dissociative pizzicato stroll. And then it’s over, unless you count the drolly layered spoken-word passage at the end.
Kuehne is also on the shortlist of the world’s most entertaining and insightful music writers. Her album-a-day project awhile back is inspiring, to say the least, a challenge to anybody who’s ever spent the early morning hours in the dim light of a laptop trying to make sense of what they just heard.