The Magic Flute The music of Andreas Stahel oscillates between repetitive trance and multicoloured tapestries of sound.

The debut CD of the classically-trained flautist Andreas Stahel is at once compact and fascinatingly multi-layered, a work which defies categorisation.    Inspired by minimal music and evidently also by folkloric music, Stahel (born 1967) has found a musical language which draws its drive from repetitive patterns and captivates through multicoloured tonality: sometimes it's difficult to believe that this sound-cosmos emanates from a single person. Stahel… doesn't resort to electronic tricks, but has accumulated a number of special techniques by trial and error.
These include rhythmical circular breathing, multiple overblows, the intentional use of key noise and the combination of singing with flute playing. Overtone singing, used widely in Buddhism, and the scenic performance elements lend Stahel's performance a ritual, ceremonial element. He himself is also interested in the meditative influence of music… though Stahel doesn't seem esoteric either on- or offstage, rather an artist with a clear sense of direction, driven by curiousity and sincerity.

Tom Gsteiger, St.Galler Tagblatt, 22. January 2004


Creative Breath

Flautist Andreas Stahel releases his second solo work: "Circular Hocket" is a fascinating sound journey with hypnotic patterns and unusual ambient sounds.

 Four years ago, flautist Andreas Stahel (born 1967) created a stir with his debut CD "Helix Felix". Completely alone and without any electronic assistance, he achieved the feat of warping the sound of his instruments so rudimentally through use of voice, that you can't trust your own ears for long passages. In Stahel's hands, a flute becomes a small orchestra - or you could say, a magic flute.

Now follows "Circular Hocket", Stahel's second escapade, released once more on Tonus Music Records, the label of the Bernese new-minimal pioneer Don Li. Stahel shares Li's vehement passion for the hypnotic potential of repetitive patterns and for reduction to the essential. Thus he employs one single scale on the new CD - and concentrates entirely on the sonic possibilities of bass and contrabass flutes, augmented by the use of his voice.

Stahel has further developed special playing techniques or discovered his own, which allow him to create an unbelievably broad palette of sounds. Sometimes on the new CD, you have the feeling that a percussionist from the Brazilian rainforest is joining in, or are reminded of bizarre electronic ambient loops. What Albert Mangeldorff did for the trombone and Evan Parker did for the soprano saxophone, Andreas Stahel has done for the flute: an astounding expansion of the polyphonic. In contrast to Mangelsdorff and Parker, on the other hand, he has no obligation to jazz or freely improvised music; his points of reference are rather American minimal music on the one hand and folklore on the other (most evidently to be heard in the opener "Steaming Shapes")

The overtone singing, which is widespread in Buddhism, and the scenic performance elements lend Stahel's performances the form of a ritual ceremony. He himself is also interested in the deep meditative effect of music, and accords himself a flair for the spiritual, only to add in the same breath: "But that's not so important"

Actually, Stahel doesn't come over as an airy mystic either on or off stage, rather as an artist with a clear vision, driven by curiousity and sincerity, imperturbable, with great creative staying power.

Tom Gsteiger, der Landbote, 4. Juni 2008, St. Galler Tagblatt, 5. Juni  2008

A solo flute CD? Can you do that? Yes, you can. You should even, especially if you happen to be called Andreas Stahel. A music of the highest intensity is woven by various flutes, voice, blowing, clapping and breath sounds, overtone singing and even dance steps. Broad soundscapes stand in contrast to ostinati grooves, with styles including minimal music, ambient, ethno and contemporary music. The combination of stupendous technique, many years of experience in compostion and good taste enable Stahel to create an unusually beautiful soundscape. The avoidance of any type of overdubs and electronic effects only makes the listening experience even more organic. Highly impressive!

Rainer Fröhlich, Jazz’n’more, May/June 2004

To be alone is to be in good company - that's something that might come to mind when you hear "Circular Hocket", the second solo CD from flautist Andreas Stahel. He plays his bass and contrabass flutes so masterfully through just short of 60 minutes that you don't wish for a minute that another musician would accompany him in the ten pieces. These are sounds that really have to be played solo, and it's precisely because the virtuosity isn't an end in itself that makes it so astonishing.

As with his first solo CD "Helix Felix", Stahel immerses you in minimalistic sounds, patterns and grooves, into a realm of almost unmoving soundscapes. In Circular Hocket I", the flautist reveals a motif, changes its microstructure, densifies it and creates additional sounds with his vocals, thus builds rotating minimalisms from flute and voice. In the intoxicating "Wheel Trance I", he runs through a 12/8 motiv and alters the nuances, just like the old minimal master Steve Reich in the famous "Piano Phase". He simulates drum rhythms with breath noises and accentuates tones. This is all constructed very strictly, dominated by accuracy and the greatest control. These are studies by a precision mechanic...

The ultra-low, almost bottomless contrabass flute has something elementary. The sound of Stahel drawing a deep breath is to be heard frequently, which is surely intentional. Breath belongs to this music like the sound of rushing air belongs to the wind. This is music from before the dominance of machine and technology - breath and sound are the same.

Christoph Merki, Tages Anzeiger, August 9th, 2008

Of the Power of Breath

If you take "Wheel Trance II" as a representative track of "Circular Hocket", Andreas Stahel's second Tonus Music album, play it to a test audience, and pose the apparently banal question how many musicians are creating the sound, most of them will probably say three. Wrong! What is emerging from the loudspeakers is a solo performance which, and this is true for almost all the tracks on the CD, is acoustic and recorded without the aid of electronics or overdubs. The man who achieves this tour de force is Andreas Stahel, born in 1967 in St. Gallen, resident in Winterthur, who is almost unparalleled in the way he incorporates the maxim of a wind instrument as an amplification of breath, with body and soul.

Stahel’s music functions at exactly this fundamental level, where the art lies in the spectacular densification of breath. Making use of bass and contrabass flutes and his own vocal chords, the flautist conjures up different soundscapes, the complexity of which seems to belie that they stem from Stahel alone.

Whether with hallucinogenic loop patterns, archaic-seeming incantations (as perceived by the author) or delicate, gravity-defying celestial sounds, this new album demonstrates the full potency and potential breadth of expression which is inherent in human breath.

Georg Modestin, Der Bund, May 15th, 2008

Singing is audible breath, and playing a wind instrument like singing in another medium. Singing and flute sounds are like relatives, and with the Swiss Andreas Stahel, they become one. When Stahel puts one of his oversized bass flutes to his lips and breathes, blows, intersperses song and makes sounds when breathing in, everything combines into an endless chain of sounds. The title Circular Hocket refers to the hocket, a mediaeval device of alternating between parts or groups of notes in polyphonic music. With Andreas Stahel, it seems to be a sort of musical hyperventilation. He sings and blows himself into a trance. One almost has the feeling that he’s pushing inhalation and expiration to the limits of the humanly possible. Stahel himself says on the contrary, afterwards he’s completely relaxed and wide awake.

Rainer Schlenz, SWR2 Trommelfell, August 14th, 2009


 It was around the end of the year 2002, as the flautist and soundsmith Andreas Stahel stood in the footlights of the Theater am Gleis in Winterthur for the “Musica Aperta” concert series. The audience were spellbound by the various possibilities of maltreating alto, bass and contrabass flutes.

Stahel (born 1967) had, after years of playing in ensembles and a well-grounded analysis of the musical trends of the recent past, created his own musical style, which has remained unmistakable to this day. The minimalistic is an essential part of his sonic concept. The rapid repetitive sound sequences develop a groove which places this music in a no-man’s-land between advanced serious music and sophisticated entertainment. Although electronics sometimes appear to be lending a helping hand, the music is entirely unplugged. However, Andreas Stahel does let the sparks fly. Thanks to his mastery of circular breathing, he creates sounds, that can last minutes, which you would expect to come from a completely different source than a transverse flute. But the intrepid Stahel is not nearly satisfied with just atypical flute sounds: he garnishes his self-composed pieces with overtone singing and rhythmic foot movements and expands them into a firework of polyphony.  

Anja Bühnemann, Der Landbote, February 19th, 2004

Acoustic Ambient

With ears full of sound and a head full of bubbling ideas, Stahel can rely upon his technical virtuousity and musical flexibility.
Inspired by minimal music, he bases the nine compositions almost exclusively on patterns in which music is an experience in sound; acoustic ambient which transcends any specific style. There are nevertheless several pieces on “Helix Felix” which concentrate on individual effects or techniques from Stahel’s repertoire – one is repeatedly amazed by the circular breathing, the rhythmic drive of the clapping noises of the flute keys – or how masterfully he combines overtone singing and flute playing (without overdubbing or other electronic aids)…
The consummate ease with which Stahel expands the sound of the flute as a composer while maintaining an impressive element of suspense is on the one hand demonstrated in the rather dark closing number “Pax Multiplex”, but most aptly in the opener “Continuum”. Fascinating how the atmosphere colours: from airy tones, softened by breath, to biting metallic whirring. Convincing too the compositorial verve which lends an almost baroque architecture to the phased structure.

Ueli Bernays, NZZ, 9. Januay 2004


Journey to the Core of Sound

Dizzy heights in Winterthur – unthinkable for mountaineers, to be experienced nevertheless on Friday in the church of St. Arbogast.  "Höhenrausch" (dizzy heights) was the name of the concert, in which not the performers but the audience were breathless. A bizarre, floating sonic landscape, which repeatedly revealed itself anew over more than an hour.

Within the concept of Andreas Stahel, which comprises the composition and accordingly the exact notation of the musical sequence, four musicians were gathered in an unusual ensemble: alongside the soprano Franziska Welti, who as a concert singer has at her command all the nuances of a well-trained voice, and the yodler Arnold Alder from Appenzell, whose raw and earthy voice is rooted throughout the whole register in the folk music tradition of the country, stands Andreas Stahel, renowned for a vocal articulation beyond the previously imaginable. His treasury of overtone and undertone singing allows journeying into special soundscapes. He manages to dissect the sound into its various tonal qualities. Unfathomably deep undertones, the beauty of which is debatable, definitely make you sit up and take notice and the effect is peerless. Andreas Stahel also likes to move along the borderline with his flutes, his favourite instrument being a bass transverse flute. The extraordinary quartet is completed by Remo Signer on the lithophone, a marimba with stone keys.

It was a journey to the core of sounds, beginning with the repetition of a single tone on the lithophone and ending like a choir-like polyphony. Ever new acoustic patterns are formed like a kaleidoscope from variations in the motif. Some mediaeval styles of composition may have been an inspiration: the soprano lies like a cantus firmus over the whole, or the voices alternate with each other, in the style of the old hocket technique. Whether dizzy heights or uncharted depths, here one definitely encounters a sonic experience to challenge the senses. 

Anja Bühnemann, der Landbote, 19. Februar 2004


[…] This music is crammed with associations: one visualises clouds floating past, hears waves breaking on the beach, watches the gradual erosion of stones…  as the natural theatre of wind and waves unfolds the diversity of the unchanging, so sound the pieces on his new CD “Circular Hocket” […] 

Thomas Schacher, NZZ, August 12th, 2008