Chambermusic I
Durian 015-2

As different forms of Western music draw closer together, a hybrid form is beginning to emerge. Melding the instrumental virtuosity and extended techniques developed in jazz with the amplification of themes and purist experimentation of so-called serious music, it often faces derision from followers of both systems.

Neither fish nor fowl, its performance become even more jumbled, when elements of rock are introduced as well. Luckily, Austrian composer Clemens Gadenstaetter manages to resist the siren call of that third conception and has produced two slices of chamber work that could successfully take their places besides similar experiments from the improv side of the fence.

Born in 1966 and thus young enough to have avoided the protracted Third Stream battles of his infancy, Gadenstaetter helped found the Ensemble Neue Musik-Wien with the idea of bringing different arts in contact with one another. To this end he has worked with video artists, dancers, choreographers and authors, although the compositions here, except for some unison, repetitive vocal recitations in German on “Variationen und alte themen” are strictly musical.

By far the longer —more than 33 minutes — and more interesting of the pieces, “Variationen” sets off different tones, shapes and rests from Fuchsberger’s trombone against the three strings. Performed in a herky-jerky, stop-and-start fashion, the ‘bone’s natural slurs and emphasis are used to offset short plucked or bowed patterns from the guitar, cello and double bass, playing either singly or together. The instrumentalists are no genre-jumping novices either. Cellist Michael Moser is also a member of Polwechsel, while all the participants have some knowledge of, if not playing experience in, the cerebral European branch of jazz/improvised music.

While some may point to “classical” European antecedents, it’s fairly obvious too that the smears, shakes, lip trills and slides that characterize Fuchsberger part here wouldn’t have been possible without the work of such jazz trombonists as Roswell Rudd and George Lewis. Plus the powerful, reverberating string pulls of bassist Michael Seyfried and Moser also owe a lot to the obsessive bass experimentation of jazzers such as William Parker, Barry Guy and Charles Mingus. Using the large fiddles as percussive instruments is certainly more common in improvised than composed music.

This isn’t an attempt to claim the composition as a jazz piece, however, but merely to point out that the free music climate engendered by jazz contributed to this composition’s creation and the instrumental freedom the musicians have to play it.

Acceptable enough, the string trio, with a completely different cast, sounds more like modern classical music, if that designation still means anything. Rather pretentiously described as an “observation of the conditions under which tones are produced on string instruments”, it features the violinist, violist and cellist cycling through more than 22 minutes of diverse string experiments. Probably not as atonal as Gadenstaetter imagines, these variations of arco and pizzicato string strokes and pressure at varying speeds singularly or in counterpoint, demonstrate the performers’ technical abilities. Paradoxically, similar bridge, body and strand sounds have often been actualized by improv-oriented musicians extemporaneously. If there are any criticisms here it would seem to be the composer’s European tendency to pitch some passages pianissimo or even less audibly and an excess of false codas at the end.

In short Gadenstaetter has created a program of contemplative contemporary chamber music which indeed does refer to other music. One can only hope that he realizes that he’s not to first explorer to metaphorically set foot in that space.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Streichtrio II (Friktion) 2.Variationen und alte themen

Personnel: [track 1]: Sophie Schafleitner (violin); Dimitrios Polisoidis (viola); Andreas Lindenbaum (cello); [track 2]: Sebastian Fuchsberger (trombone); Christian Horvath (guitar); Michael Moser (cello); Michael Seyfried (bass)