Elisabeth Flunger

Lowenhertz 015

Christian Wolfarth
For4Ears CD 1658

Matthias Kaul
Cover Versions
Nurnichtnur 106 08 14

Paradoxically or not, German-speaking musicians seem to have an affinity for and prowess on percussion instruments. Perhaps it’s the marching band traditions which permeate most of Europe, or maybe – to expand on what may be an overly simplistic analysis – there’s something in the brute weight of percussion that strikes [sic] a certain chord in the Teutonic psyche. Certainly some of the most accomplished European drummers in improvised music have been German speaking, to cite Paul Lovens, Fritz Hauser and Günter “Baby” Sommer as three examples.

The freer – or is it less remunerative [?] – climate of 21st Century music also encourages solo sessions. These notable CDs showcase the ideas and dexterity of three inventive percussionists, all of whom operate in a German-speaking milieu, but only one of whom is German.

Zürich-based Christian Wolfarth is a drummer most closely associated with Jazz and improvised music, having over the years played with, among many others, pianist Michel Wintsch, saxophonist Christoph Gallio and bassist Christian Weber. His self-titled CD features him using a standard percussion kit in unconventional patters.

Born in Bozen, Italy, but a Vienna resident, where she plays with pianist Hannes Löschel in the Chroma Duo, among other gigs, Elisabeth Flunger’s program of 24 short Songs is expressed on a combination of found metallic objects, gadgets and blunt surfaces, junked or used for other functions.

Frankfurt-based Matthias Kaul is an old hand at these sorts of single-handed sessions. A former rock and jazz drummer, who recorded a memorable duo CD with American violinist Malcolm Goldstein, Cover Versions, with its tongue-in-cheek title, ostensibly relates to Kaul’s bygone past. Referencing by inference 1960s-1970s rock music classics, his seven improvisations append unexpected and non-Western instruments and electronic modulations to the basic beats. He subverts these rock-like sounds while celebrating them.

Perhaps because he doesn’t extend his kit with electronics and found objects, the Swiss drummer’s Wolfarth is the most monochromic of the three discs. Although he does seem to limit himself to single parts of his set-up at times, elsewhere Wolfarth uses ruffs, hand and stick pressures and polyrhythmic expansions to widen the timbres of these creations still further.

A common strategy is expressed on the third track. Here a few seconds of silence introduce clog-dancing patterns, wood-echoing rumbles and an overlay of buzzing whistles. What could be electrified castanet timbres soon becomes snare press rolls, subsequently sudden stops and parchment sweeps predominate, until an irregular envelope of synthesized sounds snakes through the sonic arrangement then dissolves.

Elsewhere, door-stopper-like reverberations mix with what sound like dumbek beats, with singular aligned stillness alternating with sandpaper-like cymbal scrapes. These scrapes are further manipulated to highlight drum skin resonation as well as the wooden construction of the percussion implements themselves, with some shuddering textures taking on naker, temple block or vibraharp identities. Turntable spindle squeaks and fortissimo organ-like drones are further exposed, as are grinding metal – while burry oscillations become a far-reaching leitmotif in itself.

Reductionist in execution, Wolfarth’s improvisations still make room for complementary overtones which help preserve the timbres of the standard drum kit, no matter how often whizzing shrills or wiggling hisses submerge its expected sounds.

The same can’t be said about Elisabeth Flunger’s CD. With the sometimes minuscule tracks often more assemblages than compositions or improvisations, the objects’ origin as machine parts, kitchenware, gadgets or landfill is never far from the surface. Still, for all that, many of the Songs have a perverse charm. Akin to portions of Wolfarth’s disc however, her session is most satisfying when the rhythmic conceptions have room to expand and aren’t just foreshortened investigations of single ideas.

Priding herself in distancing her sounds from traditional playing techniques, Flunger’s arrangement of the percussive paraphernalia as well as spatial movements and patterns apparently counts for as much as the sounds themselves. At the same time, conscious or not, she has antecedents for her work. When she creates a track consisting of measured or rushed whacks on what sound like grandfather clock chimes, bells and muted gongs, for example, American reedist Roscoe Mitchell’s use of a self-created percussion cage for rhythmic variance comes to mind.

Besides that, her textures and techniques involve varied strategies. These include battering and bopping garbage can lids and squeaking contrapuntal shrills from hard surfaces. Jangling and shaking unattached part of the gear, she clinks hollow pipes for extended resonance and apparently sways her drum sticks so that they hit more than one part of her equipment with a sweeping spherical motion.

Sometimes she surprises with repetitive shakes and ratchets that coalesce into distinctive patterning. During the final track, in fact, among a script that encompasses rolling items on the ground, patting garbage lids and outputting duple meter notes, she doesn’t neglect orthodox paradiddles, flams and ruffs.

Using the hiss and scratches of vinyl records as a sardonic undercurrent to his work on Cover Versions, Kaul categorically proves that he’s very familiar with Mainstream Jazz and Progressive Rock accenting – he just doesn’t use them very often. While dedicated, but discordant percussion licks hover into aural view, than vanish among the feed-back pulsations and electronic oscillations, he extends and reverses his output so that many textures are over-modulated as much as played.

The culmination of all this is “Through the Skies”, which jumbles the pre-recorded sounds of a choir singing Monteverdi with the nuclear war head-like explosion of over-amped, Jimi Hendrix-style electric guitar. Soon the bel canto 16th century vocal styling is submerge beneath 21st century bowed metal bars and modulated cymbals as all the sounds jockey for audibility among reverse voices modulated through talk boxes à la “Itchycoo Park” or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. As voices vaguely whisper without any of the phrases clearly heard, rubbed frame drum motion presage the return of low-flying-airplane-like drones.

“Listen this is for You, Kona” – with its anti-Apartheid subtext – is another affecting piece. Here the melancholy mood is maintained with didjeridoo-like bellows, more inchoate and vibrated wooden rubs, loon-like cries, and in the last minute hocketing pongs and pings from knitting needles.

Scattered among the other tracks are musical tropes as psychedelically familiar as talking drum beats, sitar resonation, ProgRock acoustic guitar interval strumming and bass guitar spiccato lines. These sound are mixed at different points with straight parade-ground rhythms, detuned guitar licks, scraped metal pulsations and antiphonal maracas rattles, plus the tightening and loosening of drum heads – while the sided are whacked and the tops rattled. In short, pop nostalgia is more imagined than attributed.

Overall the panoply of textures used on these so-called cover version plus the comfortable length of the tracks makes Cover Versions the most impressive session overall. Still each one of these CDs is satisfying enough to increase awareness of

German-speaking Europeans’ inventive facility with percussion.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: Wolfarth: 1. (11.59) 2. (04.17) 3. (15.45) 4. (08.19) 5. (08.04)

Personnel: Wolfarth: Christian Wolfarth (percussion)

Track Listing: Cover: 1. Rigby, Father Mackenzie, a Face in the Jar and Some Lonely People 2. Chilly Minutes 3. Walk Don’t Run 4. America no Miracle 5. Through the Skies 6. Walk Don’t Run, slight return 7. Listen this is for You, Kona

Personnel: Cover: Matthias Kaul (maracas, snare drum, wooden cow bells, tam-tams, gongs, metal box, knitting needles, glass tubes, voice, talk box sitar, hurdy-gurdy, electric and acoustic guitars, feedback-bottle, water drum, frame drum)

Track Listing: Songs:1. 1. große kreise 01 2. große kreise 02 3. große kreise 03 4. große kreise 04 5. große kreise 05 6. große kreise 06 7. oder 8. mikado 03 9. mikado 04 10. mikado 05 11. mikado 06 12. hatscha 01 13. hatscha 02 14. hatscha 03 15. hatscha 04 16. kleine kreise 01 17. kleine kreise 02 18. kleine kreise 03 19. kleine kreise 04 20. kleine kreise 05 21. kleine kreise 06 deutsch 22. kleine kreise 06 francais 23. kleine kreise 06 italiano 24. shuffle 5.27

Personnel: Songs: Elisabeth Flunger (a collection of sheets, tubes, parts of tools and

machines, gadgets, kitchenware and found implements)