CD, The Eastern Front, 2006
Paracelsus was born Phillip von Hohenheim in Switzerland in 1493 and became renowned as a great physician of the early Renaissance period as well as an alchemist, astrologer and occultist. He travelled throughout the Middle East to bring advanced medical treatments to Europe, pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in curing disease and developed astrological talismans for various maladies. Stephan Friedman is an experimental musician from Israel clearly impressed by Paracelsus; operating under the name Silence & Strength he has here styled his latest work as a tribute to “the monarch, the prince, the legend”.
So how should a musician go about creating a piece of work dedicated to the memory and legacy of such a celebrated man of science? “Opus Paracelsum”, as a modestly proclaimed “humble attempt” is a curious album, which perhaps gives a feeling of the unusual subject matter rather than sounding like some kind of praise of the great man.
The opening track is maybe not the strongest, the absurd title “On Nymphs, Gnomes, Giants, Dwarfs, Incubi, Succubæ, Stars And Signs” already testing the patience as much as the collection of faintly ludicrous sampled voices over a very minimal backing. “Of Persons And Spirits Wandering The Earth” is a definite improvement, with deeper sounds bringing to mind some dangerous procedures in the alchemist’s laboratory, while “Of The Secrets Of Alchemy Discovered The Nature Of Planets” does manage to convey a vaguely cosmic feeling at the same time as adding movement with the inclusion of an almost bubbling rhythm low in the mix.
Enough of the excessive song titles; on the fourth track it all goes wrong, with what sounds like something between farts and Donald Duck impressions, but then maybe those are authentic sounds people made from various orifices when receiving Paracelsus’ innovative treatments. Track five sounds even sicker, practically electronic diarrhoea, with an acoustic guitar surprise midway through to try to clean up the mess. Track six starts well but then is slightly spoiled by 80’s vocal sample action, while the sinister dying breath quotations opening track seven lead into a pleasingly magical melody before being abused by a clumsy noise outburst. The album finishes on a high point; “With Death (Elegy)” features a minimal glitchy rhythm below warm synth pads and small bell-like sounds, although I fail to picture some aspect of Paracelsus’ life or works on hearing it.
Overall then this is an ambitious if occasionally flawed release, providing some interesting listening in the experimental ambient field, especially worth seeking out if you have an especially high tolerance for strange or slightly silly sounds. In places reminiscent of the alchemical masters Coil, but with much of their unique charm absent, it will certainly be intriguing to see where Silence & Strength heads in the future.
— Nathan Clemence