Durian 023-2

“Avec les pouces” Madam Chili
Unit UTR 4151

Extreme oral output from lower-pitched members of the clarinet family in tandem with sound makers linked to keyboards, characterize these two sessions from Europe. However, while one is fully is wedded to a Continental mix of waveform signals and human breaths – slotting it midway between electro-acoustic and New music – the other welcomes jazz inflections and improvisational color. Which one you prefer may depend on your commitment to electronica.

NTRIX slots firmly into that first genre, featuring Lugano, Switzerland-born, Vienna-resident Ernesto Molinari – a member of Klangforum Wien – playing clarinet and contrabass clarinet along with two laptop computer operators: fellow Klangforum member Uli Fussenegger, also a bassist; and Bernhard Lang, a pianist who teaches at a university in Graz. Tricorder reconfigures and reassembles live and pre-recorded samples, not only creating new structures from the material, but also looping Molinari’s initial improvisations into quasi-compositional structures.

AVEC LES POUCES, on the other hand, the title of which translates as “all thumbs” is more acoustic. It features Porrentruy, Switzerland-born Lucien Dubuis, who has worked with locals such as reedist Hans Koch and cellist Martin Schütz, improvising on contrabass clarinet and bass clarinet with Neuchâltel, Switzerland-based teacher and organizer Christophe Studer on electric piano, electric organ, piano and – sparingly –


Major disparity exists in the performances as well. While Tricorder confines itself to four protracted tracks – the shortest of which is seven minutes and the longest almost 18½ – Dubuis-Studer spreads its work over 17 [!] tracks – only five of which are more than five minutes long, and three of which hover around the one minute mark. Both discs suffer from these decisions.

In Tricorder’s case for instance, the most notable performances come on the shortest pieces, “Cha” and the title track, which is exactly seven minutes long. Given a vivid, delineated shape, “Ntrix” allows Molinari’s sweeping coloratura trills to make common cause with shifting sideband oscillations from the laptops. When he accelerates to undulating screech tones, these are backed by rattling pulses and wiggling loops knit mechanically out of his earlier solos. This allows the clarinetist to comment both on the watery laptop pitches as well as his phantom self. Background is made up of a protracted inanimate buzz from the machines, which quiet to be replaced by a coda of legato, almost pastoral trills from the reedist.

Beginning with obstreperous, very physical, continuous contrabass clarinet timbres, “Cha” soon is highlighting sizzling sequences that turns grainier and irregularly vibrated as the woodwind player’s output turns to keening. Almost instantaneously he’s playing counterpoint with a sampled, lower-pitched version of himself. Dense, pulsating waveforms from the computers now turn sul ponticello, as if each was a mechanized cello, but this attempt at formalism doesn’t move Molinari one and two away from energy sounds. Diving from sound barrier-breaking screeches to earth sweeping growls and key clicking percussion, his basso investigation encourages the laptoppers to reverberate similar textures back at him. Variations exhausted, the coda involves the clarinetist languidly expelling one tongue slap at a time, until the murky tones find the nth degree of the lowest pitch.

Earlier, more prolonged tracks follow this strategy as well. But when there’s nearly 16 and more than 18 minutes available, immoderation replace brevity. Counter tones take the place of thematic development as buzzing motors, fluttering hisses and bubbly, trembling textures extend sideband counterpoint to laptop ornamentation. Similarly, the reedist gives vent to many subterranean snorts, key clicks and discordant piercing tones, punctuated by protracted silences. When legato trills finally appear to complement the computer’s output, it sounds like exhaustion, not motif on his part. Puffing out distracted treble squeaks, Molinari may be yearning for playing partners who don’t plug in their axes.

Fatigue sets in after a while on the other session as well, not so much from the improvising – that is invariably at a high standard – but by the sheer quantity of tracks. Dubuis and Studer may have a closer musical connection than the members of Tricorder. But while a CD may allow artists to record nearly 77 [!] minutes of improvisations, a fat-free hour would have sufficed. Secondly, with tunes as short as 27 seconds, many ideas aren’t developed properly, let alone elaborated.

Unlike Fussenegger and Lang, Studer doesn’t appear to have a commitment to atonal modernism. Heck, there are even a couple of tracks that vibrate with what in other circumstances could be called swing. Pianist with the Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra in the late 1990s, Studer’s reference link is to classic jazz. On “Le va-et-vient du petit nain”, for example, despite the caustic POMO clarinet line, his great swathes of electronically fuelled obbligatos sound as though they could have come from Wild Bill Davis or Bill Doggett. Nevertheless, neither of these pioneering electric organists of the 1940s and 1950s ever faced anything like Dubuis’ abstract screeches and half-muffled snorts.

Similarly, “Départ au zoo” includes descending syncopation that could come from pianist Lennie Tristano. Later, introducing walking bass figures and high frequency alternating chording, Studer matches the reedist’s irregular boppish pattering and slurring tongue slaps.

“Petits Pétons” finds him using tinkling note clusters and a raggedy rhythm to accompany and contrast with buzzy contrabass clarinet tones and riffing smears. Meanwhile, on “C’t’équipe”, the clarinetist’s mid-range melodic lines and clicks create an electrified tone that make it appear as if Studer is playing a combination of calliope and banjo. Dubuis’ spewing falsetto freak notes alternating with riffing growls suggest Klangfarbenmelodie on “Ca Blues”. The pianist’s logical response is a jagged blues line.

Elsewhere, atonal, sideband distortion and clanging electric keyboard tremolos that encompasses glissandi and portamento are heard when Studer isn’t straining more conventional timbres from his set of keyboard instruments. Dubuis screams oddly shaped tones with diaphragm vibrato into dog whistle territory at points, echoing into the far reaches of the studio or wheezing subterranean colors through his body tube. Versatility and inventiveness are certainly the players’ long suits.

Yet, had Dubuis and Studer condensed the CD’s running time and merged a few of the improvisations, AVEC LES POUCES would have been an exceptional rather than just a notable session.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ntrix: 1. Matraca 2. For M. 3. Cha 4. Ntrix

Personnel: Ntrix: Ernesto Molinari (clarinet and contrabass clarinet); Uli Fussenegger and Bernhard Lang (computers)

Track Listing: Chili: 1. Petits Pétons 2. C’t’équipe 3. Départ au zoo 4. Le gros pouce 5. 1/2 6. Interlude 7. Hymne patriote 8. Le va-et-vient du petit nain 9. L’entrepouces 10. Ca Blues 11. Amélie Moutarde 12. Interlude 13. Sans les ongles ou alors coupe-les 14. L’arc noir 15. Interlude 16. Megabionicrobot 17. Noukette 18. Bonus boat: la marchande de légumes

Personnel: Chili: Lucien Dubuis (contrabass clarinet and bass clarinet); Christophe Studer (electric piano, electric organ, piano and usine vert)