strange love

No Furniture
Creative Sources CS 009 CD

For all intents and purposes, it appears as if the interaction between electronics and acoustic instruments has become the paramount preoccupation of improvising musicians in Northern Europe and is rapidly spreading.

But even with bandstands filled with computers, samplers, ipods and minidisks, the results don’t necessarily sound identical as is shown by the sounds on these two CDs. They do prove that this electro-acoustic engrossment is universal, however.

Although the members of No Furniture are all from Berlin, the label on which its three-part rumination is available is based in Lisbon. Moreover, while Günter Müller, who has been involved with this sort of interface for years lives in Switzerland, his helpmates on STRANGE LOVE, recorded in Melbourne, are Australian sound artists.

One facet of this sort of improvisation illustrated here is its negation of distance. “Cooler”, the first tune, recorded live, sounds little different than “Warmer”, which was created by Müller from tracks recorded at different times in Sydney, Melbourne and Itingen, Switzerland.

Müller’s associates bring different musical baggage to the creations. Philip Samartzis, who supplies electronics and environmental sounds here, is a composer, sound artist, surround sound and immersive environment researcher and university lecturer who has recorded solo CDs and organized sound installations. Fellow Aussie Oren Ambarchi, who adds guitar and electronics, has gone from rock bands to playing with expressive improvisers like Swedish bassist Johan Berthling and British guitarist Keith Rowe.

At first “Cooler” moves between silences, sine-wave style whistles and electronic drones. As the fluttering drones become more circular like the sound of a small motor starting up, hints of steady rolling percussion and muted guitar reverb make their appearance. Soon rippling static hiss and oscillating buzzes take on a national cast with wombat-like scratches and lower-pitch didjeridoo-like tones make their appearance. Sonic recreations of water dripping are then mixed with hisses and what could be rubbed textures. As chugging assembly line tones turn to buzz saw roars, pealing bells and the occasional six-string chord are heard, followed, after a prolonged pause, by what is probably minidisk replay of the proceeding noises played back at higher volume. Before guitar reverb and vibrating, organ-grinder flutters return the piece to the primeval fluttering static, the pre-recorded sounds of small children playing alternates with rumbling buzzes.

More obtuse, “Warmer” finds harmonica like timbres and fluttering hisses coagulating into bell pealing and organ-like tones mixed with echoing guitar reverb and wavering sine wave signals. After children’s voices are revisited again, the output hardens into muted, marching tempo drumbeats and snoring jackhammer blows. As quivering electronic timbres gradually become louder and more insistent, they’re intercut with distorted guitar runs. Just before the end, the sounds of noisy restaurant patrons give way to an echoing, rubbed glass tube-like resonation that travels from side to side.

With two of the three participants manipulating instruments as well as electronic devices, NO FURNITURE has a completely different cast, often related to the physical breath limitations of trumpeter Axel Dörner and clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski. Boris Baltschun’s sampler is the third construct. Baltschun has experience with this electro-acoustic interface as he works regularly with trombonist Günther Christmann and drummer Burkhard Beins.

Neither Dörner, who also uses a computer here, nor Fagaschinski is in any way a conventional player, however. The trumpeter has invented a harsh, almost electro-acoustic brass technique which he has displayed in situations features inside pianist Andrea Neumann and saxophonist John Butcher, to name two. Noisy, abstract and often pre-melodic, the clarinetist doesn’t so much play his axe as conceptually force air through it to see what results. A veteran solo improviser, he also works in situations with guitarist Michael Renkel and laptopist Christof Kurzmann.

“... [symbol table]” is this CD’s most distinctive track, as its twists and turns illustrate both the electric and the acoustic components of the band. Initially it shapes up as a melange of the repetitive hisses and gurgles of what’s probably backwards running tapes, then stop-and-start, cylindrical tones, followed by air forced through the bell of the trumpet without moving the valves. Soon as this sound turn to fierce growls, Fagaschinski pumps lighter, fluttering tones into the equation and controlled signals oscillate from the sampler.

Following a few seconds of silence, electronically created intermittent power surges presage juicy, persistent snarls from trumpet, at least until the sampler output turns into something resembling harpsichord-like continuum. As the miasma of tones solidifies into a mass, whirling, tornado-like textures give way to Bronx cheer buzzes from the trumpet, plus low-pitched renal snarls and tongue percussion from the reed, until lapsing into silence.

Surrounding this track, the two other pieces are alive with rubbery tones and vibrated static to the extent that the textures are often felt rather than heard. On “.... [symbol bed]” minute clarinet trills and bird whistles vie with an overlay of static and the squeals of items being slid across the studio floor. Pulsating sampled color then gives way to the sounds of heavy air being forced through the bell and body tube of the horn as bantam jackhammer whacks meet reed smears and brassy buzzed grace notes. After a fluttering single reed trill is heard, then vanishes, textures coalesce into a droning pitch midway between booting up a computer and the clangorous innards of a mechanical toy.

As with the best of acoustic improvised music, each of the trios here has adapted electronics to its own needs and conceptions.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Furniture: 1.... [symbol chair] 2.... [symbol table] 3.... [symbol bed]

Personnel: Furniture: Axel Dörner (trumpet and computer); Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet); Boris Baltschun (sampler)

Track Listing: strange: 1. Cooler 2. Warmer

Personnel: strange: Oren Ambarchi (guitar and electronics); Günter Müller (selected percussion, mds, ipod, electronics); Philip Samartzis (electronics and environmental sounds)