Expanded Botanics
Ninth World Music NWM 029 CD

Violin, percussion and laptop may seem like the sort of improv mixture unique to the 21st Century. But then again so are cross-border, co-op aggregations like this one, whose name and that of its CD are both Expanded Botanics. An on-and-off team since 2002, the band consists of one veteran British-Ugandan improviser — violinist Philipp Wachsmann — and two Danes: Peter Ole Jørgensen on drums, percussion and, most importantly home-built instruments, and Jakob Riis on laptop.

Abrasive yet low key at the same time, the music the trio makes is definitely 21st Century as well, calling on multi-disciplinary familiarity from all three. Riis comes from a compositional background, but mixes electronic music and sound art with performances with the Minijacks laptop quartet and drummer Stefan Pasborg’s improv group Toxicum. Jørgens works with bassist Peter Friis Nielsen and German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann in the Wild Mans Band. Classically-trained, Wachsmann, who adds electronics to his violin here, is an important part of British reedist Evan Parker’s Electronic Project as well as a duo with German drummer Martin Blume.

With such cumulative backgrounds it would seem that there isn’t a sound extant that would surprise any of the participants. You can hear that on the almost 20-minute “Aboretum syv”. Here Wachsmann’s jettes and pizzicato plucks seem to feed back into the mix either from his electronics or sequenced effects from Riis’ laptop. This is after the splayed fiddle movement has advanced, double-stopping over a base of drum rumbles, cymbal snaps and staticy flutters from the computer.

As the violinist’s wood rending builds up to abrasive scratches and swerves, the laptopist produces hoof beat sounds, likely with a ring modulator. Soon, among the scratches and fluttering static you can hear the fiddle clones applying col legno tremolos and unvarying arpeggios. Then, for additional metallic squeak, the human violinist applies his bow both sul ponticello and sul tasto over the fingerboards and near the bridge. At this point Jørgensen too rouses himself from beneath the gravelly interference to construct original timbres out of each gong strike that makes up his bell tree and tam tams. Pushing reverberating loops to the side, Wachsmann scratches out a double- stopped almost classical theme for the finale.

Elsewhere, precise marimba-type pressures are upfront. Throughout, homemade percussion objects emulate the concussion strikes on items as disparate as chains, maracas, hubcaps and hollow logs. However on tracks like “Aboretum fire”, in between what sounds like pointed sticks grating on drumhead parchment, Jørgensen is content with standard ruffs, flams and paradiddles.

Earlier on, Riis has used buzzing oscillations to replicate the sound of railway level crossing bell, the crumpling of tin foil and the ratcheting smacks of a pin ball game — through the last might be the percussionist’s contribution. “Aboretum otte”, is Riis’s showcase nonetheless, with sudden barks and resonation pushing aside hissing sine waves and twittering loops to meet ponticello violin swoops on their own terms. A static crackle ends the track and the session.

Although little of EXPANDED BOTANICS could be related to anything green or growing, the cross-fertilization of sounds produces some memorable music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Aboretum et 2. Aboretum to 3. Aboretum tre 4. Aboretum fire 5. Aboretum fem 6. Aboretum seks 7. Aboretum syv 8. Aboretum otte

Personnel: Philipp Wachsmann (violin and electronics); Peter Ole Jørgensen (drums, percussion and homebuilt instruments); Jakob Riis (laptop)