Whenever Werner Herzog felt like fighting with powers far beyond those of a human, he would set off on a long march. In November 1974, he received a letter from a friend informing him that his mentor, the Franco-German film critic Lotte H. Eisner was seriously ill and on his deathbed. Immediately, the already famous German director packed a small backpack and a compass and embarked on a trip from Munich to Paris, documented in his 1978 travel diary. To walk in the ice. Herzog sought comfort and believed that a few hundred miles on foot would save his friend.
Herzog’s book inspired Czech guitarist Tomáš Niesner, who made a similar journey to heal the toxic poisonous Bečva River. The field recordings of hissing water, shy herons and other birdsong he picked up along the way became a central structure for his record. Bečvou. Niesner combines an acoustic guitar or zither with a buzzing modular synthesizer. One song flows into the other, and the album meanders with the river it followed: between droney dark ambient and fingerpicking Americana, disturbing and soothing tones.
In 2020, the Moravian Bečva River in the eastern part of Czechia was contaminated and polluted with cyanide, allegedly by one of the nearby industrial complexes. The huge disaster damaged the natural population of more than forty kilometers of the Bečva waterway, and it may take ten to fifteen years to restore it. Niesner covered more than a hundred kilometers in five days, passing through sleepy parts of the river and industrial areas, which appear on the album as corrupted ambient tracks like “Fragment”, a track that sounds close to the soundscapes frozen from celestiteby the wolves in the throne room. Elsewhere, Niesner places deeply sentimental guitar as in ‘K Břehům’.
Niesner, as a person from noise-rock bands like Unna or Vlněna, can distill strong emotions. Playing at high volume took its toll and damaged his ears, so a few years ago he turned to the acoustic guitar. First as a duo Šimanský Niesner, with Unna drummer Jakub Šimanský, they released their debut album in 2019 Tance nosename. Niesner then devoted himself to experiments in open-tunings and improvisation during his solo debut. Dawn in 2020.
Whereas Nienser’s previous record was marked by sublime drones as if they had been created solely by striking the neck or vibrating the strings; to Bečvou drones sound more intentionally composed. Loosely echoing composers associated with Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion, such as Maria W Horn, and matching the tender aesthetic of Warm Winter Ltd. simulacrum of the German-Icelandic trio Minua, among whom Niesner found a home for his second solo album.
He creates exploratory and eternally moving music like in ‘Chladná voda’ opened by trickling water sounds, layered over a gently ecstatic organ chord that evolves into an immersive guitar melody, and they merge into one. Or ‘Soutok’, with reverberant melodies and metallic soundscapes, even reminds me of Tim Hecker’s powerful ambient material. On the album, Niesner naturally blends his two faces for the first time, fingerpicking guitar minimalism with an interest in electronic music, for results that feel innovative. that you listen to Bečvou as a sound travelogue or as a document of environmental mourning, Niesner will guide you through paths that bring back emotions.