Polwechsel 3
Durian 016-2

Sound produced by the Austrian/British band Polwechsel has been described as being not about tunes but textures, and with finding instruments’ extreme tonal states as they interact in a very narrow dynamic range.

True enough, but as a New music group that plays partially composed creations, the band is also about the anonymity of musicians. Even though the tones devised on this thought-provoking CD are unique, the idea seems to be that they could come from any group playing these instruments. That may be the band’s philosophy, but when one group member is British saxophonist John Butcher, who possess one of improv’s most distinctive voices, the supposition is rather odd, if not self-defeating.

Fortunately, the philosophy seems to be honored more in theory than practice. Take “Schlieren”, for instance, the disc’s shortest track, and the only one in which Werner Dafeldecker is purported to be playing bass guitar rather than electronics. You can hear the shape of the saxophonist’s distinctive note and tone selection and be certain that the vibrations come from metal, keys and a reed. Around them though, are electronic sounds existing at higher and lower frequencies, with the lower ones probably originating in the bass guitar and the higher ones in its six-string cousin.

There’s also “Mendota Stoppages”, written by cellist Michael Moser. Although it seems most concerned with different methods of expressing slow motion creations, almost at the piece’s conclusion there’s an odd, romantic-sounding interlude courtesy of the saxophonist. Still it’s brutally truncated by what sounds like a tape reeling running out. Was this planned or were the other musicians, who walk the fine line between composed and improv music with such ensembles as Klangforum Wien and Ton.Art, fearful of indulging that emotion? Surrounding this passage, after all, is a concerto of miniscule guitar strums, extended cello scratches and reverberating metal-tinged breaths from the sax. Electronics throb first quietly in the background, then loudly in the foreground, then vice versa.

Stasis also appears to characterize the Dafeldecker-composed, more-than-16-minute first track. Beginning with whooshes of pure electronic static, which reappear throughout, you begin to wonder which unsetting, often unattached sonic relates to which instrument. Almost soundless in certain sections, thwacks, crackles and squeaks probably result from string and neck finger placement, while expansive air currents, sporadically resembling attempts to contact space satellites, are likely from the saxophone.

If you’re willing to turn your sound system up and suspend a demand for melody and rhythm, the disc can be particularly fascinating. Your points of resemblance may be awfully limited, though.

Polwechsel’s self-conscious demand to be accepted on its own terms extends to the packaging. In the past, Durian has limited its product to minimal notes, typeface and designs on its CD sleeves. Now, however, its newest discs arrive in see-through plastic receptacles, the exact shape of a CD, with song titles and composer credits printed on the disc. Any additional information must be found on the label’s Web site. It’s probably more economical to do things this way, but it’s still one more impediment between the music and its potential audience.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Government 2. Not Forgetting the Forgetting 3. Mendota Stoppages^ 4. Schlieren* 5. Floater

Personnel: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); Werner Dafeldecker (bass, guitar*, electronics^ ) Michael Moser (cello); Burkhard Stangl (guitars)