Text of Light

Un Pranzo Favoloso/A Fabulous Lunch
Final Muzik FM05

Michael Doneda/Giuseppe Ielasi/Ingar Zach
Flore de Cataclysmo
Sedimental sedcd048

Highly abstract, electronic-tinged works with similar instrumentation – reeds, percussion and strings – both Flore de Cataclysmo and Un Pranzo Favoloso create hermetic and hypnotic frameworks in which committed improvisers exhibit the many dynamics available when invention meets technical prowess.

Each CD impresses on its own however, since each is committed to an almost antithetical version of creation. Group music above all, Un Pranzo Favoloso is played by a band of three Americans – guitarists Alan Licht and Lee Ranaldo plus percussionist Tim Barnes – and German saxophonist Ulrich Krieger, who have even given themselves a group name: Text of Light. Organized to play so-called background music for the experimental films of Stan Brackhage, the four expand this concept to craft a highly original “sonic continuum” between music and the movies. During the CD’s 63 minutes, while emphasis is put on expression, cohesive harmonics are also a goal. Although Licht and the drummer are now freelance musicians, all band members have experience with group dynamics. Ranaldo is a long-time member of avant-rock band Sonic Youth for instance, while tenor saxophonist and electronics manipulator Ulrich Krieger works with such ensembles as Ensemble Modern and Zeitkratzer.

Flore de Cataclysmo is another story. Featuring three of Europe’s most accomplished improvisers – soprano and sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda from France, Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach and Italian Giuseppe Ielasi on guitar and electronics – the trio usually improvises in triple counterpoint. As committed to story telling as Text of Light, Doneda, Ielasi and Zach, who have been involved with such musicians as German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and British tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe, use their bravura virtuosity as individual responses to the creation of sound pictures.

Take “One Wing of Matter” for example. Here Zach is the centrifugal force with an interface that seems to consist equally of vibraharp keys and other metallic percussion struck with narrow knitting needles for gong-like, singular timbres on one hand, plus electronic pulsations on the other. In response, Ielasi string strokes echo melodically, while Doneda’s tongue-stopping proceeds to freely vibrated squeals and throat squawks. As the saxophonist’s split tones become louder and sharper, the guitarist not only introduces harsh chording but also triggers pure wave-form textures which envelop the improvisation in fluttering hisses.

In contrast, “Run Fingers over Turquoise” radiates from Doneda’s minimalist approach to the saxophone, made up of tongue slaps, lip kisses and colored air exhalation. Developed in the 1980s, in formations with percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and fellow reedist Daunik Lazro, these singular pitches are linked with inchoate tubular-bell rattles and a solitary guitar lick, until the three languid tones meld. Electronic flanges fill in the supple backdrop, as light bell-like patterning and drum stick cymbal scrapes give way to a conclusive bass drum whack.

Ritualistic guitar strumming, animal peeps from the sopranino and bell-ringing and staccato scratches take up the CD’s first track, with quivering electronic sequencing soon giving way to conclusive reed smears that adumbrate the minimalist pulses to come.

In contrast, Text of Light’s “fabulous lunch” works its way from soup to nuts with enough connective musical tissues to keep the hour-plus soundtrack/not soundtrack from dissolving into mere background noises, during this recording of a live Italian concert.

Clouds of grinding and wiggling drones sluice consecutively in lower pitches during the exposition, with the phantasmagoric electronic interface pierced intermittently by altissimo slurs from Krieger’s plugged-in saxophone, which uses processed amplifications to jumble expected reed timbres.

As his staccato reed bites meander through the buzzing, sonic miasma, triggered by Renaldo’s and Barnes’ electronics, only Krieger’s tone appears distorted. By his side, the drummer ruffs and rebounds on his skin tops. Meanwhile, the guitarists’ abrasive metal scraping and raw fuzz tones approximate both rock guitar-hero posturing and a sitar-like raga continuum. Eventually a combination of slurred fingering and amplified reverb from the guitars, concentrated pummeling from Barnes and undulating note layering from Krieger impel the looped harmonics into a solid block of sound.

This wedge of sequenced and undulating drones continues to pulsate throughout the rest of the performance, further bonded by slurred textures from the dual guitars and mechanized taps, rolls and plops from the drummer. Even the saxophonist’s repeated screeching split tones and harsh reed biting growls merely reinforce the solid, vibrating textural correlation.

Flanged whooshes which resemble the sounds of jet planes passing overhead introduce the purported soundtrack’s concluding section. As the echoing polytonal buzz dribbles diminuendo, the triggered sound loops are more frequently interrupted by clanging percussion swats and tongue-stopped saxophone breaths. With the traditional sound of the guitars replaced by faint siren-like tones and ritualistic cymbal spanking, the piece fades away with a filigree-light pitch vibrato from Krieger.

Mesmerizing wordless story telling if approached with the proper level of concentration, each CD rewards the committed listener.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Pranzo: 1. Un Pranzo Favoloso/A Fabulous Lunch

Personnel: Pranzo: Ulrich Krieger (tenor saxophone and sax-tronics); Alan Licht (guitar); Lee Ranaldo (guitar and electronics) and Tim Barnes (drums, percussion and electronics)

Track Listing: Flore: 1. Floating On the Mass of Blossoms 2. One Wing of Matter 3. Run Fingers over Turquoise

Personnel: Flore: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones); Giuseppe Ielasi (guitar and electronics) and Ingar Zach (drums and percussion)