Matthias Muche/Philip Zoubek/Achim Tang

Sator-Rotas
Creative Sources CS 109 CD

Standing on their heads earlier electronic projects such as Switched on Bach that were based on the adaptation of traditional music to wave-form material, the three Köln-based improvisers on this CD do just the opposite. They recreate German composer Marcus Schmickler’s award-winning pop-minimalist electronic composition “Sator-Rotas” using only acoustic instruments.

Although the three sonic researchers involved are usually affiliated with more acoustic music, the surging textures of this nearly-40-minute session, suggest similar musical alchemy performed by cerebral performers such as Britain’s AMM or Australia’s The Necks. More beguiling however is that unlike bands such as those, which use standard rhythm section instruments, this trio integrates the extended techniques and minimalist approach of trombonist Matthias Muche along with a piano and double bass in this sonic transformation.

Muche, who has worked with dancers and multi-media artist as well as improvisers such as Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg and American saxophonist Larry Ochs, here exposes ratcheting pops and flat-line expiration as his contribution to the mix, along with more expected brass sounds. As for the chordal instruments, bassist Achim Tang, who has collaborated with sound explorers such as Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger and American slide guitarist David Tronzo, provides the timbres closest to traditional. However, his use of expanding plucks, sul tasto string sawing plus wood and gut vibrato add more color to the undertaking.

On the other hand Philip Zoubek, who in has recorded with trombonist Paul Hubweber, creates prepared piano operations that provide vibrating ostinato wave forms that substitute for similar triggered pulsating sound loops found in true electronic projects. Applying pressure on wound piano strings, stopping, pumping, plucking and strumming highlights complementary partials, thus creating a constant buzzy undertow that frames the others’ solos.

Among this output are keyboard resonation from Zoubek himself, who cuts through the engorged layers of inchoate wave forms with arpeggios, single-key plinks, percussive triplets and two-handed cadenzas. Meanwhile Muche reaches past the trombone’s regular tessitura with rooster cries, gurgling throat motions and solid breath movements that involve the instrument’s lead pipe in preference to its valves or slide. Very occasionally he also produces alphorn-like cries, but they last only as long as similar out-of-character tones – which probably result from string-sawing bass striations as well as the clattering of a miniature cymbal against the piano action.

Eventually, the program reaches a crescendo of layered dissonant pitches and harmonies. Soon, the blurry, tremolo chunks dissolve, trans-mutate and are revealed as properly acoustic, individually shaded, keyboard notes, plucked bass lines and back-of-the-throat capillary trombone rumbles.

Operating as if a parallel music world exist the three players have modified “Sator-Rotas” so that it is the same, yet different. On this CD, Muche, Zoubek and Tang have produced a notable interpretive improvisation, while retooling the composition for the acoustic realm.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. Sator-Rotas

Personnel: Matthias Muche (trombone); Philip Zoubek (piano) and Achim Tang (bass)