June 8, 2009
Amirani Records AMRNO 13
AltriSuoni AS 261
Discovering sonic rapprochement between acoustic instruments and electronics is in many ways the most pressing situation to be resolved by improvisers in the 21st Century. Numerous and diverse solutions to this conundrum have been advanced by an assortment of musicians. These CDs demonstrate how two European brass-reed-electronics trios deal with the concept.
Interestingly enough, Swiss veterans Beuret/Koch/Vonlanthen actually use more obvious electronic attachments than the young Belgian performers who make up Collectief reFLEXible. Conversely and ironically though, the interface on Realgar sounds more electronic. That’s precisely because the Belgium crew is comfortable enough with advanced techniques, that its members to tilt their instruments’ sounds to strip away most acoustic properties.
Collectief reFLEXible consists of two Brussels natives, alto saxophonist Thomas Olbrechts, who introduces elements such as live sampling, live television and live cam into musical performances; and Joachim Devillé, a trumpeter, flugelhornist and visual artist. The third member, Antwerp-based electronics manipulator Stefan Prins, has won compositional prizes and received several commissions from the Flemish government. Collectively the trio has an ongoing relation with the Champ d’Action ensemble for contemporary experimental music; has been in residency at Amsterdam’s STEIM; and besides creating soundtracks and graphic scores, has worked with local experimenters such as bassist Peter Jacqemyn and visitors such as British guitarist John Russell and American trombonist Steve Swell.
Best-known of the Swiss trio is Zurich-based bass clarinetist Hans Koch. A member of the Koch-Schütz-Studer combo and the Barry Guy New Orchestra, he has also worked with musicians as disparate as pianist Cecil Taylor and clarinetist Louis Sclavis. Moving force on Synopsis however is trombone conceptualist Denis Beuret, also a music professor in Fribourg, who recently released a dazzling, unaccompanied solo set on Leo Records. Influenced by jazz, contemporary classical music and electronics, the CD’s program consists of the three musicians – electric guitarist Vinz Vonanthen is the trio’s third member – interpreting 24 graphic scores by Beuret. Both horn men play live electronics as well. Based in Geneva, Vonanthen’s playing partners have ranged from pianist Sylvie Courvoisier to trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.
Imposing in execution – and improvisations – the riddle of Synopsis is how much connective material is provided by Beuret’s scores. While there are five versions of “Synopsis No. 24”, plus three of “Synopsis No. 03” and two each of “Synopsis No. 28”, “Synopsis No. 04” and “Synopsis No. 06”, none of these variants appear any more melodically connected to one another then they are to the remaining single tracks. Take “Synopsis No. 24” for instance. Throughout the five variants, no obvious formula determines how much or how little electronic patching is required.
The first and longest version features the trombonist slurring watery echoes from his horn as Koch’s altered reed tones clank and pan and the guitarist’s microtonal string taps echo back onto themselves. Variant two exposes ring modulator-like clangs melting into plunger tones from Beuret, while what appears to be Vonlanthen’s palm taps on a fretless guitar contrast decisively with Koch’s consistent reed snorts. Sequences of contrapuntal reed vibrations and emphasized wah-wah tones from the trombonist dominate the third version, cumulating in Koch’s quivering trills reverberating back onto themselves. The penultimate variation finds Koch’s initial, mutated reed bites further distorted by electronics. In oblique counterpoint to this, Beuret’s double tonguing and Vonanthen twangs and fist-rapping on the strings, evolve chromatically in near harmony until finally surmounted by intermittent clarinet glissandi. Undercurrents of patched flanges distinguish the final version from the others, as computer-altered trombone warbling and bass clarinet whoops move in triple counterpoint with the guitarist’s slurred fingering.
In contrast, the stand-alone “Synopsis No. 13”, which at a hair over five minutes is Synopsis’ longest track, offers up segmented Klangfarbenmelodie. With multiple tones, timbres and pulsations audible, the piece unrolls with strident reed squeaks, bell-like guitar cranks and cavernous ‘bone blasts which collectively dissolve to isolate guitar string snaps. Elsewhere adumbration of electronic drones interrupts the ground bass continuum to reveal portamento diaphragm vibrations from Koch as well as Beuret’s corkscrew plunger tones, as guitar oscillations reference what could be rocket-ship landing textures. Conceptually memorable, appreciation of the CD lies in performance rather than theory.
Free of an analogous theoretical framework, the significance of Realgar’s four lengthy tracks is that the pieces affirm their intentions through bravura playing and interconnections.
The title track for instance is layered with thunderous, mechanized pulsations that pan from one sonic area to the other as the three improvise upfront. Adding a Greek chorus of shuddering squalls and strident shrieks, the underlying forms put in bolder relief such techniques as extended glissandi plus squeak and bites from Olbrechts, as well as bubbling slurs from Devillé. With Prins’ interface wobbling unsteadily below, the horn men combine to weave tongue slaps and banshee yells into interlocking timbres.
Similarly built on an undercurrent of rampaging voltage, the parameters are still translucent enough on “Exposed” to expose mouth pops and tongue slaps from the saxophonist plus whines and valve-less air pressure from the trumpeter. As static loops pulsate in sequence, Devillé blows tremolo tones high and higher to bring in extra partials along with the original notes, and Olbrechts honks with an exaggerated diaphragm vibrato. Retreating to narrowed squeaks, the trumpeter final efforts are contrapuntally opposed by the saxophonist’s low-pitched tongue slaps.
Given larger canvases on which to experiment, Collectief reFLEXible’s sonic impressions are as notable as those of Beuret/Koch/Vonlanthen. Although only the later, may be able to theorize the background to its creations, the high creative standard provided by both trios is more important than music explained.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Realgar: 1. Vacuum 2. Exposed 3. Orpiment 4. Realgar
Personnel: Realgar: Joachim Devillé (trumpet and flugelhorn); Thomas Olbrechts (alto saxophone) and Stefan Prins (objects and live electronics)
Track Listing: Synopsis: 1. Synopsis No. 28 2. Synopsis No. 04 3. Synopsis No. 24 4. Synopsis No. 23 5. Synopsis No. 03 6. Synopsis No. 04 7. Synopsis No. 08 8. Synopsis No. 22 9. Synopsis No. 03 10. Synopsis No. 08 11. Synopsis No. 19 12. Synopsis No. 13 13. Synopsis No. 26 14. Synopsis No. 06 15. Synopsis No. 24 16. Synopsis No. 24 17. Synopsis No. 28 18. Synopsis No. 06 19. Synopsis No. 10 20. Synopsis No. 24 21. Synopsis No. 03 22. Synopsis No. 24 23. Synopsis No. 11 24. Synopsis No. 25
Personnel: Synopsis: Denis Beuret (trombone and live electronics); Hans Koch (bass clarinet and live electronics) and Vinz Vonlanthen (guitar)