The Happymakers
Balance Point Acoustics BPA 008

Six Fuchs
Ratascan BRD 052

Part of the accelerating interchange between experimental musicians from Europe and the United States, multi-reedman Wolfgang Fuchs of Berlin has become a regular transatlantic commuter.

Known for his leadership of the King Übü Orchestrü and the all-reed Holz Für Europa group, these discs find Fuchs heading even further out. That’s a geographic reference – for the CDs were recorded with two different sets of associates in California’s Bay area during a productive visit by Fuchs in 2003.

On SIX FUCHS, the bass clarinetist and sopranino saxophonist is the only European present. His Yank buddies are percussionist Gino Robair, a collaborator with other advanced reedists like Britain’s John Butcher; Tim Perkis, a founding member of computer music group The Hub, manipulating electronics; Tom Djll on trumpet, pocket cornet, balloon [!] and hog caller [!!], who has worked with reed explorers such as Boston’s Bhob Rainey; guitarist John Shiurba, who has played with just about everyone in the advanced Bay area scene; and bassist Matthew Sperry. Sadly, Sperry was killed in a bicycle accident shortly after this recording was made. He was already advanced enough to work regularly with folks such as composer/accordionist Pauline Oliveros.

Fellow bassist Damon Smith, who plays with many of the same musicians as Sperry did, is the catalyst behind THE HAPPYMAKERS. Local reedist Jacob Lindsay, who regularly is in a combo with Smith and vocalist Aurora Josephson, is featured on Ab, Bb and bass clarinets. Adding to the European contingent is Serge Baghdassarians on guitar and electronics and Boris Baltschun on electronics, both of whom have recorded with advanced French saxophonist Michel Doneda.

Each CD is memorable in a subtly different fashion. THE HAPPYMAKERS scores because is explores the possibilities inherent in 11 short improvisations based on transformation of energy between electronic and acoustic textures. Electro-acoustic as well, SIX FUCHS string-reed-electronics interface is expanded with Robair’s energized surfaces and Djll’s brassy oral additions. Limited to six tracks, the sextet has up to 18½ minutes in which to expand every available nuance.

“Buttery Consort”, with unrolls at that length, mixes the rough with the tender. Quivering reverb, which sounds as if a dull knife blade is pressing against the strings, joins with horn tones which suggest both men are trying to blow through metal sheets held in front of their bells. On the other hand, Fuchs’s temperate, chalumeau breaths and Sperry’s legato stops are made uneven by the application of shrill, rasping loops from the electronics and bubbling slurs from the pocket cornet.

As the oscillating reverb scours sound in the background, the horns unite in broken counterpoint, with Fuchs, on sopranino, trilling aviary timbres as Djll deflates a balloon in the foreground. Sperry’s sawing jettes are reduced to near inaudibility as a distorted guitar amp buzz combines with horn textures resembling comb and tissue paper drones to buzz resonating microtones into note clusters as the electronic sideband gongs extend this even further. A final variation finds growled reed obbligatos, possibly made even more obtuse by electronics, dissolving into throaty colored air mixed with sul ponticello bowing from the bassist.

Meanwhile, the nearly 12-minute “An Illegible Memory” begins with an ululating but unattached glissando from the bass clarinet as well as quivers from the surfaces. A brassy downwards slur from Djll accentuates the rippling, metallic properties of all the instruments that are displayed on top of Sperry’s tremolo bass lines. Accumulating timbres make way for droning fretless guitar slides, strident vibration from the sopranino as well as buzzy spits from the trumpeter. Robair plugs the available spaces with side band resonation, as murmuring pulses slowly reveal themselves as flanged tones from Shiurba’s guitar and subtle leaks from the electronics and preparations. These escalate into buzzing guitar interface, wah-wahs from the brass, pinched snorts from the bass clarinet, bass string sweeps and gong-like ring modulator clanging.

Other sounds on tap include abrasive screeches that could come from guitar strings or preparations, moist balloon scrapes, vibraharp resonating suggestions from the percussionist, pulsating sequences created by guitar delay, watery brass mouthpiece kisses plus focused slurs and cuckoo clock warbling from the bass clarinet – not to mention barnyard cackles from the sopranino.

This aural miasma also enlivens THE HAPPYMAKERS. But lacking supplementary brass and percussion interjections and limiting the improvisations to 11 shorter tracks restricts the available textures and foreshortens some idea development,

Interesting enough, some of the strategies the five follow on “Ma(r)ker#10”, the more-than-eight-minutes longest track, seem to reflect those which succeed on the other disc. With two reeds, however, possibilities abound for sounding different textures simultaneously. On top of hissing electronic flutters, one reedist begins by expelling delicate breaths until they gather into chalumeau register tones, while the other quacks and flutter tongues. Shifting through the static, broken cadences allow individual solos to follow one another sequentially. Suddenly, as Smith shuffle bows up and down his strings, one of the reedists produces a rooster crow, while the other buries his notes in stentorian territory. Harsh electronic pulses mix with splattering reed pitch vibrations –

some circular breathed, others sounded for split seconds. Coda is a wavering tone from the guitar amp and a single toot from one clarinet.

This sort of basso exhalation is also a feature of “Ma(r)ker#5” until both clarinets combine to expel colored air and reed bite in the highest range. Around them, programmed waveforms, singular guitar licks and powerful scrapes on the belly of the bass push the sound downward to muted pitches again. For a finale, flutter-tongued reed lines and reverberating modulations combine than fade away.

More upfront here than Sperry is on SIX FUCHS, Smith fulfills his polyrhythmic role, manipulating spiccato swipes, low-down resonation, col legno harshness and sul ponticello squeals into intense energy to either accompany or encourage the soloists. Recorded more upfront, the equipment manages to pick up every one of his wallops and jettes as it does reed tones that range from legato to staccato and from so-called legit to indefinable.

At points, it almost seems as if pickups had been forced down the clarinets gullets so the woody strains produced take on extra vibrations as they’re played. Hocketing and multiphonics allow Lindsay and Fuchs to engender sounds both from the hollow body tubes and through reed percussion on the axe’s outsides. Electrionics, extended techniques or merely good recording also allow the reedists to often thicken their arpeggio undulations, crackling peeps and tongue slaps into wider, near bagpipe tones. Hooked up with computer-generated drones, reed and motor energy is also expressed polyphonically.

While SIX FUCHS may have a slight edge over THE HAPPYMAKERS, followers of this style could be made happy with either CD. Both offer a sound picture of recent Bay area improvisation and suggest Fuchs should continue traveling and collaborating.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Six: 1. An Impish Onus in the Vogue 2. (Loosely) Second Iridescence 3. Buttery Consort 4. An Illegible Memory 5. Ingot (Teacup) Minstrelsy 6. A Touch of Grandsire, Up Wrong

Personnel: Six: Tom Djll (trumpet, pocket cornet, balloon and hog caller); Wolfgang Fuchs (bass clarinet and sopranino saxophone); John Shiurba (guitar); Matthew Sperry (bass and preparations); Gino Robair (energized surfaces); Tim Perkis (electronics)

Track Listing: Happymakers: 1. Ma(r)ker#1 2. Ma(r)ker#2 3. Ma(r)ker#3 4. Ma(r)ker#4 5. Ma(r)ker#5 6. Ma(r)ker#6 7. Ma(r)ker#7 8. Ma(r)ker#8 9. Ma(r)ker#9 10. Ma(r)ker#10 11.Ma(r)ker#11

Personnel: Happymakers: Wolfgang Fuchs (bass clarinet and sopranino saxophone); Jacob Lindsay (Ab, Bb and bass clarinets); Serge Baghdassarians (guitar and electronics); Damon Smith (bass); Boris Baltschun (electronics)