Building Excess
GROB 651

w.m.o/r 07

Sessions that seem to be simultaneously ambient and experimental, these CDs are part of a pan-European genre that doesn’t distinguish between noise and silence, and makes no distinction between the output of computers or acoustic instruments.

Dates like these, that submerge the individuality of the players far more than did the music of, say, the Modern Jazz Quartet or AMM, have as their proponents younger players who grew up with binary code and e-mail. The anomaly here is Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti. A London-based Free Jazzer, from the 1970s to the 1990s, he played with among others, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. For the past half-dozen years or so though, he’s rejected conventional trombone tone for microtonal breaths and gasps, punctuated by prolonged silent pauses. He’s so rigid in this outlook, that reductionist band Polwechel wasn’t restrained enough in its output to keep him on board.

In this way, WHITENOISE, his 42-minute duo with Basque laptopper Mattin, who plays in Sakada with AMM’s percussionist Eddie Prévost and collaborates with others, offers more scope to hear — or perhaps feel — Malfatti’s MO. In contrast, although it’s about 10 minutes longer and adds two musicians — New Zealand guitarist Dean Roberts on the acoustic side and Viennese computer and digital electronics expert Klaus Filip on the electric one — BUILDING EXCESS really only builds on that foundation.

There are so many silences on both CDs that sometimes you feel like a train spotter, forced to obsessively note exactly when the silence is broken by sound — and its duration. WHITENOISE, for instance, is divided into two tracks of roughly the same length, with the second piece offering more textural differences.

Among the constant rhythmic rumbles that may be from a sequencer or static, are identifiable ascending tones from the trombonist, playing without pressing the valves or moving the slide. Eventually, with spaces for silence, these microtones blossom into mechanical-sounding glissandi, mouthpiece pressure and a variation of circular breathing.

Simultaneously Mattin creates oscillating loops that evolve from summer rainfall sounds to louder and more abrasive static waveforms. Three-quarters of the way through, there’s a hyper-extended set of exhalations from the ‘bone that one minute later is followed by a few seconds of buzzing, electronic flutters and squeals that subside into motor-driven roars. Malfatti forces out sibilant air then a razzy tone as Mattin’s electronics replicate a rain shower. Briefly, buzzes and shrill notes predominate, until the oscillations dissolve into individual sound molecules, then into silence.

Except for unidentified escaping air flutters and clenched throat exhibitions by the trombonist, plus some grating electrical current computer movement, WHITENOISE’s first piece is somewhat similar to the second. Furthermore, despite the addition of two players, BUILDING EXCESS also sounds somewhat similar to the first disc, with its title a misnomer if there ever was one.

Taking up nearly 52 minutes, and recorded two months before the duo CD, at first its tumbrel vocabulary seems to consist of machine pulsation, cylindrical computer rumbles, surface noises flutters and what sounds like a triggered sequence of a single string guitar strum. After this, a shrill low-intensity digital buzz slowly comes into focus meeting the crackle of static and what is probably the whistle of a ring modulator. Soon a stentorian lick — perhaps from the lowest string of Roberts’ guitar — reverberates. Before a repeated, slow-paced guitar strum is sounded a couple of minutes later, Malfatti’s expelling of unrestricted air has been heard. A sideband drone later gives way to what could be termed a balladic interlude made up of slurred guitar frails, dense, sequenced sound loops and a few brass mouthpiece breaths and tonguing.

Midway through, the echoing, repetitive pulsation breaks up into different pitches and takes on an accompanying identity of its own. It’s rather like the way AMM subtly advances a hardly-there continuum as it plays. Guitar flanges and cricket-like tones whistle loudly, then fade to almost complete silence within a minute. Among the smears of computer feedback, digital electronics tones and what sounds like someone using whisks on drum tops, is a distinctive metallic overtone from the trombonist. After a resonating buzz extends a single guitar strum, both computer and feedback begin rumbling until abruptly cut off, as if a switch had been turned.

Intimations of short-wave radio tuning signals and beeps then vie for aural space with tumbleweed wind whispers and the underlying faint sound of a computer fan and motor gradually get louder. Resonant buzzes from the two computers take on jet plane-like roars. Cut with crackling hisses, those tones soon fades to silence.

Long-time followers of Malfatti’s Free Jazz work and Roberts’ time with post-rock bands should probably stay clear of these discs. Microtonal electro-acoustians will be more favorably disposed. Intriguing in the same way as the viewing of a inert, uncut film of a desert vista, the two CDs must be minutely probed to reveal their cloaked charms.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Whitenoise: 1. Whitenoise One 2. Whitenoise Two

Personnel: Whitenoise: Radu Malfatti (trombone); Mattin (computer feedback)

Track Listing: Building: 1. Building Excess

Personnel: Building: Radu Malfatti (trombone); Dean Roberts (guitar); Mattin (computer feedback); Klaus Filip (computer and digital electronics)