Tomáš Niesner


Tomáš Niesner sets out to heal a poisoned river with the power of fingerpicked guitar and ambient electronics

Whenever Werner Herzog felt like fighting with powers much higher than a human, he set out on a long walk. In November 1974, he received a letter from a friend informing him that his mentor, German-French film critic Lotte H. Eisner is seriously ill and on her deathbed. Immediately, the already celebrated German director packed a small backpack and a compass and set out on a journey from München to Paris, documented in his 1978 travelogue Of Walking in Ice. Herzog sought solace and believed a few hundred kilometres walk would save his friend. 

Herzog’s book inspired Czech guitarist Tomáš Niesner, who carried out a similar journey to heal the toxically poisoned river Bečva. Field recordings of hissing water, timid herons, and other birdsongs he gathered on the way became a core structure for his record Bečvou. Niesner combines acoustic guitar or zither with a buzzing modular synthesiser. One song pours into the other, and the album meanders with the river he followed: between droney dark ambient and Americana fingerpicking, ominous and soothing tones. 

In 2020, the Moravian river Bečva in the Eastern part of Czechia was contaminated and polluted with cyanide, allegedly from one of the industrial complexes nearby. The enormous disaster damaged the natural population of over forty kilometres of Bečva’s waterway, and it may take ten to fifteen years to return it. Niesner walked over one hundred kilometres in five days, passing by deadened parts of the river and industrial zones, which appear on the album as corrupted ambient pieces like ‘Fragment’, a track that sounds close to the frozen soundscapes of Celestiteby Wolves in the Throne Room. Elsewhere, Niesner sets a deeply sentimental guitar as in ‘K Břehům’. 

Niesner, as someone with a background in noise-rock bands like Unna or Vlněna, can distil heavy emotions. Playing at high volume took its toll and damaged his ears, so, a few years ago, he turned to acoustic guitar. First as a duo Šimanský Niesner, with Unna’s drummer Jakub Šimanský, they released their 2019’s debut Tance neznámé. Niesner then devoted himself to experiments with open-tunings and improvisation on his solo debut Aurora in 2020. 

While Nienser’s previous record was marked by sublime drones as if created only by hitting the fretboard or by vibrating strings; on Bečvou the drones sounds more intentionally composed. Vaguely echoing the composers associated with Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion, like Maria W Horn, and matching the tender aesthetics of Warm Winter Ltd. – especially the drone-oriented stuff like Simulacra by German-Icelandic trio Minua, among whom Niesner finds a home for his second solo album. 

He crafts music, which is exploratory and eternally moving like in ‘Chladná voda’ opened by sounds of trickling water, layered with gently ecstatic organ chord which evolves into immersive guitar melody, and they conflate into one. Or ‘Soutok’, with reverberated melodies and metallic soundscapes, even reminds me of Tim Hecker’s power ambient material. On the album, Niesner naturally blends both of his faces for the first time, fingerpicking guitar minimalism with an interest in electronic music, to results which feel innovative. Whether you listen to Bečvou as a sonic travelogue or as a document of environmental grief, Niesner will guide you through paths that yield emotional payoffs.

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