Silent Surface
Unit UTR 4138

Much more than a duo session, the two Swiss-based musicians here use the properties available from electronics to absorb their playing within an ambient sound field so that the porous surface reflects more than mere instrumental tones.Unfolding slowly — and featuring elements of jazz, improv, New music, computer music and musique concrète — the 15 short selections exist in a reductionist mirror world where the most unpretentious resonance can have several possible zygotes.

Although credited to both musicians, the tracks — that run in length from a little less than 2½ to slightly over five minutes — could reasonably be more closely allied to the experiments of guitarist/composer Luigi Archetti. Born in Italy, but a resident of Switzerland for almost 40 years, he has performed live soundtracks for film and video, played with traditional Chinese and Iranian musicians and been commissioned to create avant-garde projects. Bassist Jan Schlegel has been a longtime collaborator, and both have worked in a group with unconventional American vocalist Ellen Christ.

There is no vocalization on SILENT SURFACES, but inflections from the human throat are just about the only resonance not on show. Throughout the different tracks you may be able to hear timbres that remind you of ratcheting frogs in stagnant water, cicadas running wild on a suburban lawn, mewling and scratching miniature fur-bearing mammals, thunder, tumbleweed whistling, ping pong balls being hit, a soft drink can top being popped, the peal of bells, repairing the inner workings of a radio and a conveyer belt in motion. That’s not taking into accounts the electronic impulses, however. Somehow it also appears as if other instruments enter the equation as well.

“Rhodochrist’, for instance, rides on a recurrent backbeat as if the same phrase was being produced from electronic modifications on the bass. Rolling oscillations and sine waves interrupt what could be the tones of unselected cymbals and vibes while the guitarist uses his volume pedal to create feedback distortions which swell to louder and more expansive sounds. Subdued, wiggling electronic splats, sprawls and drones appear on “Pennin”, with the buzzing of guitar strings approximating a keyboard.

Sometimes an authentic guitar chord is sounded; other times individual high bass notes can he heard. Then on “Auripigment”, definite finger picking vies for supremacy with what could be night sounds in a forest clearing. As delay allows the guitarist to reverberate crystal clear notes, the bassist forges ahead in a straight line. Finally the dials are finessed in such a way that the sounds resonate in a sympathetic undertow.

Because of its fluid, experimental cast, this CD isn’t for everyone, and overall it seems as if a little more human-sounding input would have helped. But if tonal guesswork and instrumental expansion is your thing, you may find much more to enjoy here.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Realgar 2. Tagilit 3. Goyazit 4. Thaumasit 5. Rhodochrist 6. Skeroklas 7. Auripigment 8. Nephelin 9. Milarit 10. Chalkolith 11. Annabergit 12. Serpierit 13. Cinnabarit 14. Pennin 15. Hämatit

Personnel: Luigi Archetti (guitar, electronics); Jan Schlegel (bass, electronics)