Christine Sehnaoui/Michel Waisvisz

Short Wave
Al Maslakh CD 08

Lawrence Casserley-Jeffrey Morgan

Room 2 Room

Konnex KCD 5213

As the sonic interaction of acoustic and electronics instruments in improv shifts from the province of novelty to that of an everyday occurrence, focusing on the strategies used for coherence is more instructive than enumerating sound sources.

So it is with these notable CDs, recorded about six months apart by duos from different backgrounds. Interestingly enough the two slightly younger performers – Lebanese-French alto saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui and “The Hands” manipulator Michel Waisvisz, of the Netherlands – blend and jumble pulses to such an extent that it’s often difficult to tell which instrument creates which sound. Furthermore neither player is much concerned with capturing a pure timbre. With Room 2 Room on the other hand, there’s never any question that American-born, Köln-resident Jeffrey Morgan is playing tenor and soprano saxophones, while the signal processing created by British electro-acoustician Lawrence Casserley demarcates itself.

As an aside, appreciation for Short Wave is tinged with melancholy. For despite being the first studio recording since the 1970s by live-electronic visionary Waisvisz – best-known as inventor of the crackle box and The Hands – it’s also one of his last. He died of cancer in June 2008.

Waisvisz, whose involvement with STEIM went back to 1969, uses an ultra-flexible version of “The Hands” attached to various sensors which, when used with specially designed sound manipulation software LiSa, translates the performer’s hand gestures into sound. Someone whose playing partners have included saxophonists such as Willem Breuker and Steve Lacy, he easily adapts to the non-idiomatic focus of Sehnaoui, who has recorded with musicians such as Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach. Her most distinct approach involves lip bubbling, throat retches, split tones, tongue slaps and sudden expelling of breath. These strategies are doubled, amplified or deconstructed by oscillated signal processing runs and ramping, ever-moving processed wiggles.

Vocalized gurgles subsumed in circular motions are most pervasive on “Preciously Empty”. Initially built on low-key whistles, single puffs and mouth-expanding growls from the reedist, the piece alters its shape as Waisvisz’ pond-algae-like wave forms spin from broken octave concordance with reed tones to new definitions. Processing solid pipe-organ-like pumps and calliope-like shrills, the crackling, blurry oscillations eventually become forced drones and amplified twitters. These sound waves break infrequently to reveal Sehnaoui’s circular breathing and growled counter tones.

Morgan, whose electronics collaborators over the years have included Joker Nies on synthesizer and real time-processing plus guitarist Keith Rowe using treatments, short wave radio and noise makers, isolates his saxophone tone more overtly than Sehnaoui does hers. While Casserley, a retired Royal College of Music professor, known for his contributions to Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensembles, is sensitive enough to reed textures to never mask them. Interactions which encompass legato and semi-lyrical trills or abrasive kazoo-like mouthpiece squeaks on Morgan’s part, float on, or dart among, indistinct oscillations or color-organ-like crescendos. As well, Casserley’s sampling multiples the saxman’s initial tones.

Compare “Rhombic Rheums” with “Lunar Lagoons” for example. The later may almost be a reconfiguration of Bird and Strings – if you can imagine the signal processing as the “strings”. In its climatic moments, the piece finds Morgan playing tenor saxophone in swollen straight time, while flanged modulations from Casserley’s instrument produce a cascade of polyphonic pumping textures. Where previously the processor’s echoes performed a monkey-hear-monkey-do tactic along with Morgan’s foreground strident cheeps and cries; by the finale the reedist’s almost-solipsistic split tone are being cushioned by near symphonic sheets of sound coloration.

In contrast, “Rhombic Rheums” is taken adagio with atmospheric reflections. As the fuzzy pulsations give way to ring modulator-like clangs and a landscape of complex drones and shrill echoes, Morgan’s split tones reassert and divide themselves still further, before they’re doubled and tripled with electronic replication. Aviary squeals, guttural honks, spetrofluctuation and tongue flutters protrude, before they’re remixed by Casserley. Going head-to-head with his processed selves, the live saxophonist easily projects his individuality.

Each of these CDs contributes a significant definition of satisfying electro-acoustic integration. Unfortunately now, only the Casserley-Morgan interaction can be repeated.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Room: 1. Quaking Quarks 2. Martian Arts 3. Rhombic Rheums 4. Ayler Appears 5. Strange Roads 6. Lunar Lagoons 7. Questing Qualms

Personnel: Room: Jeffrey Morgan (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Lawrence Casserley (signal processing instruments)

Track Listing: Short: 1. Wig Wag 2. Precious Empty 3. Deep Sleep Revelation 4. The Bottom of the Pond 5. Find the Short Wave in the Dark

Personnel: Short: Christine Sehnaoui (alto saxophone) and Michel Waisvisz (“the hands” live electronics)