ASSEMBLAGE

Assemblage
Creative Sources CS 007

NMPERIGN _ GÜNTER MÜLLER
More gloom, more light
Rossbin RS 010

Auditory essays on the arrangement of microtonal resonance and noiselessness, these short CDs show how a redeployment of common instrumental sound plus a sprinkling of electronics can create unique soundscapes.

Divided into three sections, ASSEMBLAGE is a strings-driven exercise in pure improvisation by four Portuguese musicians: violinist and violist Ernesto Rodrigues, Manuel Mota on flat electric guitar, Guilherme Rodrigues on cello and pocket trumpet, and the versatile José Oliveira on percussion, prepared acoustic guitar and the insides of the piano.

MORE GLOOM, MORE LIGHT, on the other hand is an international summit meeting between Swiss percussionist Günter Müller and the Boston-based members of nmperign, trumpeter Greg Kelley and soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey.

Müller, who has worked with sonic explorers ranging from French saxophonist Michel Doneda to Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto, has one CD track to himself and his electronically modulated percussion. Kelley and Rainey, who occasionally also play Free Jazz or in electroacoustc ensembles, are alone on one cut as well. But the most instructive tunes are the two trio collaborations.

On “more gloom”, for instance, Kelley sounds as if he’s straining his trumpet tone through aluminum foil, while Rainey concentrates on a single, trilled tone that resembles that from a melodica. As the sounds from both hornmen seep out, timbres are amplified by angling the instruments’ bells close to the mic. Meanwhile Müller stays in the background with some scraping percussion asides. Following a exhibition of growls and spit tones, the trumpeter turns to onomatopoeia, loudly disclaiming syllables through his mouthpiece. Exercising his reed, Rainey widens his overblowing to include key pops, tongue slaps, honks and what could be the sound of a balloon inflating. Throughout tranquil whistles from the electronic set-up create sound pockets around which the others improvise.

“More light” is more of the same but expanded to nearly 16 minutes. Although initially the droning electronic output mixed with unascribed scrapes and scratches makes the result appear more machine-like than human, individual tones gradually take shape. Before upsetting the proceedings with an unexpected shout through his body tube, Rainey quacks loudly then seems to be blowing bubbles. In response, Kelley creates chromatic bird cries, mouthpiece French kisses and plunger tones. Soon Müller’s percussive clip-clops give way to a conveyer belt of treatments mixed with the odd percussion shudder. Yet the aural picture darkens after the two hornmen blow out streams of pure air. Threatening thunder sounds are implied by Müller’s electronics, and these get progressively louder and less stable. Soon Kelley’s shaking, distorted tone and Rainey’s reed chirps suggest the sounds of birds and small animals in the forest retreating from an oncoming storm.

Müller’s solo outing includes more thunderstorm and rain intimations until his repetitive, almost drum-machine-like patterns subside into more precise sine waves. As for nmperign’s duo, peeps, screams and horn deconstruction are displayed, not to mention some literal vocalizing by the two. Its coda however, seems to consist of Rainey ejaculating a single, unvarying pitch that’s so piercing that it become an irritating.

There’s no eardrum torture on tap with Assemblage, though the sounds do get louder as the session advances. Perhaps though, since violinist Rodrigues has experience playing Portuguese pop music as well as working in Free Jazz and post-serialist contexts, he makes sure the sounds never get that out of hand. Like the best free music, though, at times it’s nearly impossible to figure out which instrument is producing which tone.

“Assemblage II” is probably the track most indicative in understanding the quartet’s method. Surging cymbal sizzles meet choked half-valve trumpet effects, which are succeeded by staccatissimo arco work from one of three classical stringed instruments. Oliveira, who has been featured on all of the violist’s earlier discs, plucks the strings from inside the piano with such force that it appears as if he’s taking the body apart with his bare hands. Squalling slurs from Guilherme Rodrigues’ pocket trumpet meet string recoils from Motta or Oliveira’s guitar, then Ernesto Rodrigues outlines an entire arco viola chord. As his fingers and bow stroll up the string — backed by cello strokes — one of the guitarists scrapes his fret board for maximum resonance, a muffled ringing bell is heard, and drum strokes sound either from percussion, the wooden side of the piano or perhaps a mic itself. As Oliveira leans his entire forearm onto the keyboard for maximum effect, Motta sounds a strident guitar chord with an echoing amp buzz, as someone smites the cymbals, another player finger picks in the background, and the tune decelerates into a flurry of arco sweeps, screeches and whirs.

Elsewhere Motta, who has recorded his own solo session on Rossbin, seems to be able to switch between tones as dissimilar as full frontal guitar percussion and accentuated Lenny Breau-like chording when the occasion demands. The trumpet is used more for scene-setting blasts than accompaniment, and the most common string output is sandpaper-like abrasion rather than impressionistic glissandos. Stepping away from European atonalism, it also appears that any surface can be used as percussion from the back of the guitar, the front of the cello, or the side of the piano.

Even the more than 18-minute first track eventually accelerates from BritImprov-style silences and tone intimations that include cricket-like shimmers and aviary murmurs to the rumble and crash of cymbals, the scrape of metal on metal and strings that sometimes sound as if they’re being wiped with sandpaper. Although unconnected sounds will occasionally resemble ducks’ webbed feet swirling up pond water, the restraining sonic impulses of the strings prevent the four from moving into shrill nmperign territory.

Be that as it may, the seven musicians on these two discs have come up with equally valid solutions to meet the challenge of replicating staccato sounds. Neither CD can be confused with easy listening, but both are likely part of music’s future.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Assemblage: 1. Assemblage I 2. Assemblage II 3. Assemblage III

Personnel: Assemblage: Ernesto Rodrigues (violin, viola); Guilherme Rodrigues (cello, pocket trumpet); José Oliveira (percussion, prepared acoustic guitar and inside piano); Manuel Mota (flat electric guitar)

Track Listing: Gloom: 1. more light 2. and the gloom of that light 3. more gloom 4. and the light of that gloom

Personnel: Gloom: Greg Kelley (trumpet); Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone); Günter Müller (minidisc, electronics and programming and selected percussion)