Wednesday 27 May 2009

Another Timbre, Another Level

Is there anyone seriously interested in contemporary EAI who’s not acquainted with Simon Reynell’s ever-consistent Another Timbre imprint yet? Those who replied “yes” are not serious enough, they’re just posing. This is THE label to follow - together with Emanem & Psi, which stand at the opposite of the sound/silence scale - if you want to swim in the cold, but revitalizing waters of high-standard instant creativity informed by the most intense contrasts between frailty and heartiness. Here’s some scribbling about six recent AT releases.


Piano and alto saxophone, in turn processed by a computer over the course of two lengthy improvisations. As stated in the liners, “sometimes the origins of the sounds are transparent, but often they are ambiguous”: this pretty much sums up the specific aesthetic of this album, a straight-faced investigation of the scarcely visible connections linking the insides of instruments belonging to completely diverse families. The players expertly move across a shady setting, in which candle-lit images of reciprocal correlation get misshapen by distorting mirrors; the preparations utilized by Lexer transform the strings of the piano in rudimentary generators that magnify an unstructured awareness, the notes now murkily resounding in inexpressibly indefinite agglomerates, now appearing as percussive calls to attention, the artist always in search of the perfect spot to minimize the recognisability factor. Wright is a percussively detached analyzer of the saxophone’s viscera and (generally) unused parts; this does not detract from the absolute musicality of his irregular differentiations, where “musicality” is a definition that should delineate an organism fusing the human initiator with a sound-producing apparatus. The importance of silence in this context is fundamental: the couple appears in fact especially interested in the maintenance of a quiet environment despite the abruptness of certain solutions, apparently born and instantly dead. The music transcends typical definitions to represent the consecutive modifications in the different states of matter: an enthralling combination of gaseous and grainy, scraping and popping emissions enriched by a reverberating uncertainty, the whole signifying an anomalous kind of seclusion. But it’s the Spartan intransience of this probing record that matters most, constituting its major point of attraction.

TOOT – Two

Axel Dörner (trumpet), Thomas Lehn (analogue synthesizer) and Phil Minton (voice) are Toot, a trio of musicians whose attitude towards the reduction of expressive means does not prevent the music from sounding dangerously invasive. This notwithstanding, their improvisational methods elicit considerations about an asceticism of sorts, such is the extreme degree of excruciating concentration needed to perform at these levels of creative continuity and, especially, virtuosity. The two comprised sets, recorded in 2005 and 2008 in Austria and Germany respectively, are informed by a poetry of immaculate outrageousness which finds its best expression in Minton’s celebrated tendency to disintegrate whatever concept of vocalism one can have in mind with the same ease of a kid who builds a crystal sculpture with the shards of a precious object that he’s just shattered. Dörner and Lehn are spectacularly on the ball, providing counterattacks, resolute answers and intuitions of their own, the whole represented by segments of absolute mayhem where the sonic contamination is nothing short of sublime. The juxtaposition of flexibility and rigidity characterizing certain parts is among the most substantial traits of the concoction; the same goes for the physically strenuous extension of quieter episodes where whispers, wet hissing and subdued hums gradually grow into an incandescent promiscuity sparkled by an inexhaustible vivacity, brash emissions and fluid unobtrusiveness pawns in a game of draining contrasts and immediate regenerations. In a way, these complementary forces constitute the overall elemental temperament of the CD which - in case this was not clear enough - is essential.

EKG – Electricals

Performed by Kyle Bruckmann (oboe, English horn) and Ernst Karel (trumpet), both artists also making use of analogue electronics. Initial adherence to a logic of quasi-static restriction, prevalently symbolized by the gradual morphing of an unstable immobility which, little by little, gives room to a series of slightly conflicting occurrences, never trespassing its peripheral limits. Not exactly good-natured, the music fertilizes the field of concentration by tempting the listener with spacious transmutations and instantaneous openings, revealing in turn threatening obscurities and enticing discrepancies. The program changes a bit with the introduction of additional contrasts in timbres and dynamics, thus enhancing the proportion between economy of means and stimulation of the perceptive systems. Should you have any doubt, the original character of the instruments is more or less decomposed, a thorough mutation which lets us forget about the concept of “pitch”, replacing it with something nearer to “nuclear degradation”. The concluding piece “Interval” offers tasty food to drone lovers too, surrounding them with potent lows blemished by scathing dispersals of power and paralyzing glissandos dipped in feedback and electricity. Splendid finale for a inexplicably excellent work, one that needs to be listened attentively rather than described by (as always) futile words. Its mystifying impenetrability, highlighted by a coherent sturdiness, speaks for itself.


Eastley’s sound sculptures & arc (practically an electro-acoustic monochord) and Davis’ electric harp mesh like the rain and the night in November, depicting chiaroscuro atmospheres with preference for the “scuro” half. Strings put in continuous vibration by a knowledgeable use of the eBow produce echoes of painful reminiscence at the beginning, redirecting the listener’s attention towards that area of the psyche where misanthropist illuminations push the most sensitive ones away from Facebook-fuelled desperation. Apparently comatose dynamics turn into wobbly apparitions of mind-generated birds of uncertainty that we believed extinguished forever amidst firecrackers (real firecrackers, involuntarily trapped in the recording during a nearby celebration) whose distant lights help revealing corroded signs pointing to inevitability. The mixture of metals and flute-ish frequencies halfway through the piece provides a digression of sorts by establishing a mood of concreteness, pragmatism replacing preoccupation, but the humming order is soon restored, our membranes decoding customary hints of infinite purr underscored by glittering tinkling and cracking wood. Basically the essence of the whole is ritualistic, an improvisation attempting to evoke spirits of who-knows-what; the musicians do listen to each other carefully, avoiding gratuitous convolutions yet never really clear-minded, the result an intoxicating scenario with different metamorphoses and alterations with us acting as clandestine observers, a one-off expression rather than an instant composition for the ages.


Guitar, objects, mixing board, tape (Krebs), electric harp and electronics (Davies). Certain records have the word “masterpiece” embossed on their icon as soon as one starts the first listening session, and this CD belongs to that category. Everything is impressive: the composition’s freshness, the surprising qualities of every incident, the fantastic control applied by the artists on the dynamics of the interaction, the way in which the music mixes with the surrounding environment. Each gesture appears, for lack of a better adjective, definitive. Krebs and Davies threw all their experiences in a pot whose boiling liquid emits exhalations of architectural sharpness under the guise of perfectly deployed events. The occasional quiet intervals separating the sonic outbursts-cum-bizarre vocal intrusions are in turn occupied by our imagination devising strategies for a further comprehension of the relations between expectancy and shock, or by the interference of extraneous elements from the outside: in this very moment, echoes of a festive ceremony from the nearby town are blending fabulously with the combination of radio and coarse droning generated by the duo. The final two minutes juxtapose frequencies so low that my thorax quivered and so high that the ears rang for a while after the end, until two ever-present and rather indispensable components of my domestic acoustic background - the far-off sounds of engines and the even more remote tolling of the bell tower from the neighbouring hill - brought your reviewer back to reality. This is an extremely demanding, conspicuously rewarding piece of work; one of those flawless examples of music that excites and elicits reflection at once. It threw yours truly in a state of extreme concentration and somewhat dolorous awareness of the essence of being in a Sunday morning that had started normally, planting seeds of inward-looking regularity which, in the right circumstance, indicate the direction to follow in order to accomplish the difficult aspiration admirably synthesized by Richard Pinnell’s erstwhile blog title: “learning to listen”. The most essential lesson this side of silence.

OCTANTE – Lúnula

Octante is the quartet of Ruth Barberán (trumpet, speaker, microphones), Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion and objects), Ferran Fages (oscillators and pick ups) and Margarida Garcia (electric double bass). Sophistication is not an option with these people, who have grown us used to a dispassionate deflowering of timbral certainties over the (y)ears, either in group or individually. At once cluttered with calmly delivered invectives and allowing lots of elbow-room for individual affirmation, this music copulates with the demons of an unlikely efficiency which transits across the most disgustingly exciting, remarkably abominable clash of instrumental deformations, projecting the collective result against a white wall that emphasizes the raw allure of the machination. Splintered capsules of drooling whispers get rebuilt and reutilized with a little help from undulating electronic discharges; percussive realism and painstaking dismemberment of drowsiness fit together perfectly, contributing to a cynic rationalism whose pale skin is entirely compatible with the concept of impartiality. Still, there are moments in which this soulless combination of parallel nihilisms reaches an ideal balance between mild perturbation and bad intention, and it’s exactly in those occasions that the whole sounds terrific in its total absence of useless frills. Divergence becomes harmonic comprehension, peril turns into temptation, inner animalism brings a weird clarification. The discerning aural sensibility of the musicians determines the exact moment where the experiment might become a hymn to vulgarity, always curbing the desire of going beyond that limit at a precisely right time. And when droning terror kicks in, a peculiar sense of ever-suspicious satisfaction puts a grip on the mind and does not let it go. If you need caresses and kisses this is anathema, but the cognoscenti who haven’t added this CD to their collection yet should act fast. Unquestionably great stuff.