Grosse Abfahrt

Erstes Luftschiff zu Kalifornien
Creative Sources CS 065 CD

Grosse Abfahrt

Everything that Disappears

Emanem 4146

Named for a German dirigible that in 1908 crashed near Berkeley, Calif. during an unsuccessful demonstration of its potential as trans-oceanic liner, both of Grosse Abfahrt’s CDs are organized around more successful European-American interfaces.

Undoubtedly it’s because the only air being distilled here are the currents propelled from the eight instruments on Erstes Luftschiff zu Kalifornien and the nine on Everything that Disappears. Also more in keeping with 21st Century improvisation, the fuel of choice – besides the musicians’ inventiveness – is electricity, not hydrogen gas. Plus, as opposed to brief duration and subsequent crash of inventor John Morrell’s disastrous flight, only one improvisation on either intriguing set is less than three minutes in length. Most clock in around the 10-minute mark, with the first disc’s “interkontinentale luftschiffahrt” proceeding for almost 19 minutes while the other session’s “geometric undulating driveway symmetrical, all the road of masters” unrolls for nearly 39 minutes. Depending on traffic, the later probably is likely a longer time-frame then it takes to drive between San Francisco and Berkeley.

Chief instigators of the project are a group of experienced Bay area improvisers whose associates involve various bands, computer music, study or teaching at nearby Mills College and work with theorist/saxophonist Anthony Braxton. Present on both discs are trumpeter Tom Djll, clarinetist Matt Ingalls, guitarist John Shiurba, percussionist Gino Robair and electronics manipulator Tim Perkis. Chris Brown on piano and electronics – member of the electro-acoustic band the Hub – joins the home team on Erstes Luftschiff zu Kalifornien, while bassist George Cremaschi, who has played with saxophonist Evan Parker, pinch-hits on Everything that Disappears.

Visitors on the first CD are Berlin-based electronics experimenters Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun, while the other CD’s out-of-town input is all French: pianist Frédèric Blondy plus Lê Quan Ninh, whose contributions are via a surrounded bass drum.

Courtesy of the Teutonic dial twisters – as well as Perkins, Brown and Robair – the first CD is more electronically oriented. Hissing and undulating pulsations coalesce and swell throughout, relieved slightly by antiphonal cork-screw like aural actions and bottle top-like pops. When clearly identifiable instrumental timbres are heard, they too exist in the furthest reaches of extended techniques. For instance, featured are low-frequency chording and metallic and metronomic key clinking from the piano, perilously plus descending reed slides from the clarinetist, with both mixed among split-second cavity tube gasps from the trumpet. Occurring alongside these pitches are scraping sideband whooshes, reverberating ramping, bubbling circular synthesized tones and what could be an electric fan whirring.

Frequently converging then breaking apart, the effects reach a crescendo midway through this session when the cumulative pulses isolate a thick rhythm which suggests a stick being scraped against a ratchet, while piano cadenzas clink and the horns alternate between tongue slaps and approximating squeak-toys.

Reconvening more-than-2½ years later, at Mills no less, the French connection widens the cynosure. Travelling in carefully measured steps, acoustic instrumentals move to the fore, with the improvisation encompassing Cremaschi’s sul tasto bow swipes and thumps, piezo-extended plinking from Shiurba and bird-whistling trills from Ingalls.

Not abandoning electronics altogether, ricocheting loops further distort the sound picture on “Admittedly, social relations This”. But in contrast to earlier tracks and the entire other CD, rather than masking them, the electronics extend the acoustic timbres. For example the tongue slurps, lip burbles and mouth cries from the horn men are strengthened with ghostly layers of preparations that spurt and fizz. Meanwhile a single guitar strum, internal piano string-stopping and mallet-powered drum thwacks are cleanly isolated.

However every imaginable timbre – both electronic and acoustic – appears to get space on “geometric undulating driveway symmetrical, all the road of masters” whose complex performance envelops capillary brays, irregular reed vibratos and funereal bass drum thumps plus dial-twisted pulsations. Subsequent developments encompass guitar string distortions, frenzied reed obbligatos and unvarying piano key pounding. Eventually, slide-whistle-like chirps and whines from the horns, give way to intermittent signal-processed burbling and chafing squeaks that could arise from either reed tones or sul ponticello string manipulation.

Next from beneath the blanket of grinding wave-form distortions and flanged electronic tones, occasional rubtao brass bursts, low-frequency piano cadences and surface percussion ruffs and slaps are highlighted. As the blurry, computer-triggered flutters distort acoustic instruments’ output, the horns’ staccato output abstracts and melds with other textures, finally disappearing into conclusive tone-matching.

Based on textural exploration rather than story telling or straightforward exposition, both CDs can be appreciated for their atmospheric qualities. Accepted on their own specialized terms, they offer rewarding listens.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Erstes: 1. am anfang zerstörung 2. interkontinentale luftschiffahrt 3. Morrell remained hopeful 4. riesenflugzeugabteilung 5. ein dicker ‘gas bag’

Personnel: Erstes: Tom Djll (trumpet); Matt Ingalls (clarinet); John Shiurba (guitar); Chris Brown (piano and electronics); Gino Robair (analog synthesizer) and Serge Baghdassarians, Boris Baltschun and Tim Perkis (electronics)

Track Listing: Everything: 1. The lack Americans connected What disappears* 2. negativity paradox achieved in humour realm 3. Admittedly, social relations This* 4. geometric undulating driveway symmetrical, all the road of masters*

Personnel: Everything: Tom Djll (trumpet, pocket cornet and preparations); Matt Ingalls (Bb clarinet and bass clarinet); Frédèric Blondy (piano); John Shiurba (guitar)*; George Cremaschi (bass and electronics); Lê Quan Ninh (surrounded bass drum); John Bischoff and Tim Perkis (electronics)* and Gino Robair (energized surfaces and voltage made audible)