Film ist. Musik
Loewenhertz 009

MARTIN ARCHER English commonflowers
Discus 15CD

A soundtrack anxious to stand on its own as program music, and mix’n’match program music lacking only visual images to become a soundtrack characterize these two European CDs. More impressively, British keyboardist/saxophonist/electronics composer Martin Archer and Austrian pianist/composer Hannes Loeschel have produced aurally descriptive discs that prove that genre definitions are a thing of the past.

While neither CD would exist without the foundation of jazz and free improvisation, influences from electronics, rock and post-rock, folk melodies, musique concrète, pure noise and both traditional and contemporary classical music slide into the sound as well. Those 1960s psychedelic bands that insisted their amateurish efforts were movies for the ears didn’t realize how accomplished composers like these could redefine that conceit decades later.

Gustav Deutsch’s found-footage-work Film ist. (1-6) is the initial inspiration for FILM IST. MUSIK (the CD). Just as the auteur modified sequences from scientific and educational films, so most of Loeschel’s soundscapes developed for the film can stand on their own. One difference between his and Archer’s work is that the Sheffield-based saxophonist brings technical mastery of recording studio voodoo to bear on his pieces. Despite output from devices, sampling and synthesizers, the Viennese pianist works in real time.

Divided into 15 tracks of varying, mostly very-short, length, probably to reflect the rhythm of Deutsch’s film, the sounds on Loeschel’s CD mix his classical background, contemporary jazz trio excursions with bassist Peter Herbert and electronic investigations done in the company of synthesizer maneuverer Josef Novotny and guitar, lap steel and devices maven Martin Siewert, all of whom are represented here.

Thus “Riverso Vivo”, which could be to be a gentle piece of 18th century chamber music for Joanna Lewis’ violin and Loeschel’s piano. contains a middle section where the fiddle’s (possibly sampled) repeated motifs get faster and more frantic. Immediately following it is “Crashframe”, where the violin appears to be fully mechanized, splashing chords at supersonic speeds. It’s backed by rambling rock-style drumming from Martin Brandlmayr, buzzing No Wave guitar styling from Siewert and — probably courtesy of Novotny or Stefan Nemeth — epic fanfare samples that seem to be announcing a royal procession. When a percussion crash finally arrives, it vies for ear space with what is probably samples of fiddle playing from a scratchy 78.

Or take highly minimal “Telenovela Largo” (translation: slow-moving TV soap opera?), where low-frequency keyboard timbres operating on top of a subtle bed of percussion create an ambient Brian Eno-style intro for a main theme that never arrives. A few sampler-induces buzzes do interrupt the reverie at points though.

“Maschine” at 56 seconds is descriptive onomatopoeia of how many different ways a hammer can be sounded. Yet “Gong Song” suggest the pealing of a triangle or the ringing of a doorbell rather than any gong sound. Although mechanized pounding and this ringing continues intermittently throughout the piece, it shares space with splooches of unmistakable electronics, and some swelling arco cello and bass work from Michael Williams and Herbert, often fusing together for maximum sweetness.

Then there’s “Zug” — “train” in German — which literally sounds like a freight engine arriving at a level crossing and interrupting the proliferating sounds around it. These include mechanized buzzes — doubtlessly created by Siewert, Novotny or Nemeth — the thump of Herbert bass strings, guitar attachment effects — Siewert again? — heavy metal drumming — and some rhythmically compelling beeps and drones that reconstitute themselves into a melody. The coda is from undefined scratches probably from a moving turntable with a lathe-like motorized buzz as if a shop class had been captured on audio.

As you can see, plenty of images are suggested by the music. Even the pulsating screech of metal against metal, shrilling factory whistle and snatches of spoken German that appear on one track resolve themselves into absorbing music, in its broadest sense.

So too does Archer’s nine-track sound experiment, which was recorded in two different studios and remixed between January 2000 and March 2002. Like bassist Simon H. Fell, with whom he worked on two earlier CDs, Archer is a player who has turned more and more to composition in recent years. Unlike Fell, who often records roaring free jazz pieces as an instrumentalist, Archer has mostly curtailed his sax playing for work with keyboards and electronics.

That’s why it’s particularly gratifying here to find two reed-driven tracks, featuring Archer’s alto saxophone and dedicate to the Art Ensemble’s Roscoe Mitchell. Most impressive is “Still life with absinthe and pomegranates”, as archetypical a BritImprov title as you can imagine. On display are classic vocalized reed squeaks and smears, not to mention tongue slaps, with multiphonics sometimes giving ‘way to pure colored noises blown through the saxophone body. Of course this wouldn’t be an Archer composition if what appears to be a sampled version of his earlier solo didn’t show up near the end. Throughout, there are also contributions from longtime Archer mate Charlie Collins, spewing out busy flute patterns, as well as overdubbed bass clarinet lines and some keyboard counterpoint.

If these tunes reflect BritImprov, then a couple of others pay homage to subspecies of BritRock. Lead off track, “I’m yr huckleberry”, is described as a tribute to 1970s jazz/rockers The Soft Machine. Featuring shimmering electronic keyboard washes and fuzz-tone bass guitar — both played by Archer — soundtrack potential is definitely there, especially when the fuzztones keep recurring as if the studio was beneath an RAF jet flyover. Combined, the horn section of flugelhornist Neil Stanniland, trombonist Julie Helliwell, tenor saxophonist Vic Middleton and Archer on alto saxophones give this piece more of jazz feel than the Soft Machine exhibited in its most instrumentally free phase.

Elements from depressive singer/songwriter Nick Drake’s “Black Dog” appear on “Know”, another Archer solo piece. This time, though, it appears as if the sizzling keyboard sounds are amplified filigree on top of the likely sampled guitar drone and repetitive drumbeats.

Archer isn’t above using the sort of studio legerdemain Fell employed on his COMPOSITION NO. 30 on “Trash white tonal”. On this textural piece, the duet between Simon Pugsley’s hearty, boppish trombone and Jenni Molloy’s sepulchral bass was initially recorded against a completely different electronic track. The droning guitar work and reverberating electronics — again created by Archer — were substituted at a later date.

Even more visually oriented are the title track and “Mall bunnies”. On the former actualities from a Liverpool street, complete with a bus’s air brake noises, are melded with instrumental sounds, including Archer’s promulgated echoing and arching keyboard/electronic tones that add up to an admixture of what was created by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and synth-driven New Romantic bands. As crowd noise and children’s voices filter in and out of the beat-driven music, Pugsley’s open horn trombone makes its presence felt as does the near folk-rock of Tim Cole on acoustic guitar and John Jasnoch on lap steel.

At more than 17½-minutes, “Mall bunnies” perhaps wins a prize as the most superior work of music with the silliest title. Influenced, as its composer states, by Morton Feldman, Olivier Messiaen, the organ sound on Miles Davis’s later LPs, death metal and Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, it isn’t so much a mish mash as an epic-proportion cinemascopic homage to his many icons.

Featuring Collins on flute, bassist Molloy and Benjamin Bartholomew on electric guitar, much of the piece revolves around Archer’s work on vibes and glockenspiel, which seem to be in appropriate Sun Ra, outer space tuning. Including another Soft Machine-influenced organ-stop keyboard undercurrent, the flutist brings a breathy Carnatic tone to his solos while Bartholomew operates in proper Metallica mode throughout. Also included are what seem to be warbling birdcalls that come upfront whenever the hard rock guitar or restrained dynamic piano touches aren’t there. Standout may be the brawny yet restrained, booming Mingusian bass solo. Trickster that he is, though, Archer slid this solo, recorded in a different context and different session into the track’s mix.

Tired of Hollywood blockbusters that seem to be nothing more than special effects and product placements and TV shows that are aimed at the lowest common denominator? Here are a couple of moving pictures for the mind that should give you more pleasure and more things to think about than anything attached to sprockets.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Film: 1. Testviertelton 2. Beep Song 3. Vario 4. Im Freien 5.Beep Song Reprise 6. Hund 7. Vogel 8. Noise Loop 9.Riverso Vivo 10.Crashframe 11.Zug 12.Maschine 13. Gong Song 14. Projektor 15. Telenovela Largo

Personnel: Film: Joanna Lewis (violin); Hannes Loeschel (piano); Martin Siewert (guitar, lap steel guitar, devices); Michael Williams (cello); Peter Herbert (bass); Josef Novotny and Stefan Nemeth (synthesizers, sampling); Martin Brandlmayr (drums); Gustav Deutsch (soundtrack)

Track Listing: English: 1. I’m yr huckleberry 2. Fantastic individual 3. English commonflowers 4. Know (by Nick Drake) 5. Water grid 6. Mall bunnies 7. Down the road 8. Still life with absinthe and pomegranates 9. Trash white tonal

Personnel: English: Neil Stanniland (flugelhorn); Julie Helliwell or Simon Pugsley (trombone); Charlie Collins (flute, bass clarinet); Vic Middleton (tenor saxophone); Martin Archer (keyboards and electronics, sopranino and alto saxophones, clarinet, recorder, violin, bass guitar, harmonica, vibraphone, glockenspiel); Tim Cole (acoustic guitar); Benjamin Bartholomew (electric guitar); John Jasnoch (lap steel guitar); Jenni Molloy (bass); Chris Meloche (field recording)