The press release for the debut Aukai album tells us “Aukai is a Hawaiian word meaning seafarer or traveller. It’s also used as a proper name, and people who are called “Aukai" tend to have a mystical, philosophical, introspective nature.” Aukai aka Markus Sieber lives up to the ideals of the name and takes us on an introspective, aural journey that allows your imagination to decide where you are going and why.
The very best instrumental music has a way of painting pictures despite the lack of lyrical content. Can you picture a clear blue sky? Is that a cool, clear stream running by? German composer Sieber delivers an acoustic soundscape that allows the listener to decide. While on another level, the quality of the production and the musicianship will keep the more technically minded on side.
The Markus Sieber story that brings us to Aukai is an interesting one, born in Germany, Sieber started out in the vibrate East German rock scene of the 90’s before trying his luck as an actor in Berlin and St. Petersburg. Music would not loosen its grip and the discovery of the local indigenous music of Mexico would be the start of a musical journey that has seen him travel around the globe often in the duo Mirabai Ceiba with his wife Angelika Baumbach (who adds harp and piano to this album).
On first listen it is obvious that this album has been recorded with a great deal of care, it sounds superb, the production by Sieber is crystal clear and all the instruments are perfectly placed within the soundstage. This feeling is reinforced as repeated playbacks continue to impress. Sieber started to sketch the songs at home, he now lives in Colorado, before he returned to Germany to record the basic tracks with engineer Martyn Heyne (Nils Frahm) in Berlin with additional recording sessions in the, USA, Mexico and Canada. Sieber and his fellow musicians used vintage analog gear to compliment the ronroco a stringed mandolin like instrument native to the Andean mountain region of South America which he discovered through the work of composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain).
Opening with the autumnal melancholia of ‘Last Day’ Sieber lays down a repeated guitar figure to anchor the tune to which he adds a light piano melody while the lovely swell of Anne Muller’s cello adds colour. The haunting ‘Colors Of Dawn’ showcases the use of the ronroco alongside the synth work of Jamshied Sharif (Laurie Anderson, Sting, Dream Theater) and perfectly demonstrates the marriage of the traditional acoustic approach and the modern (well nearly B3, Prophet 5, DX7, Wurlitzer) that Sieber was striving for. The more modern take on things is very evident on ‘Cachoeira’ which was the first track released to promote the album. Once again the ronroco is the prominent instrument but Sieber enlisted the help of his brother Alexander Nickmann to add synths and beats and it is this sound design that works so well. A feat the pair repeat on the short, sweet ‘First Of March’ which has an almost ‘Tubular Bells’ vibe.
Markus Sieber and his Aukai Ensemble have released a fine record where the cover art sits beautifully with the general autumnal feel of the music contained within. Not that they don’t occasionally step things up a little but they do so with restraint. If you are drawn to the work of ambient instrumental artists such as Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nils Frahm or enjoy a soundtrack / score then I’m sure you will find much to enjoy here.