July 8, 2009
John Hughes/Lars Scherzberg/Nicolas Wiese
discard hidden layers?
Cono Di Ombra Luce
Amirani Records AMRN 015/GRIM 002/MD001
Gradual acceptance of electronics in improvised music has by now nearly turned to mass acquiescence. Today, CDs are as likely to capture synthesized and oscillated pulses the sounds of acoustic instruments. More importantly, this sonic reorientation has confirmed that novel resonances can be produced when mixing plugged-in and pure timbre instruments. Take the trios on these fine discs. While both ensembles subscribe to this electro-acoustic philosophy, neither sounds remotely like the other.
On discard hidden layers, created in a Berlin studio by bassist John Hughes, saxophonist Lars Scherzberg and programmer Nicolas Wiese the focus is on granular textures revealed though the abrasive clash of sonic tones. More harmonic and site-specific, Cono Di Ombra Luce is an exercise in spectral interpretation. Not only do trumpeter Mirio Cosottini, bassoonist Alessio Pisani and electric bassist Luca Cartolari utilize the live-electronics generated by Cartolari in several instant compositions, but the timbral polyphony also reflects the setting: an ancient synagogue in Ivrea, Italy.
Although this project rejects formalism for cooperation, members of the Italian trio still bring impressive credentials on the date. Cartolari has written customized programs for computers utilized in musical and other situations, while Genova-native Pisani has plied his trade in so-called classical orchestral settings. With Cosottini, Pisani co-founded of GRIM-Italy (Musical Improvisation Research Group). Cosottini teaches improvisation and composition at the Padova Conservatory and has worked with artists ranging from New York guitarist/composer Elliott Sharp, to Genovese saxophonist/composer Claudio Lugo.
Schleswig Holstein-born, Wiese is similarly well-educated at the University of Hamburg, HAW Hamburg and Berlin’s University of Arts, and performs computer alchemy on a trio of discard hidden layers’ tracks here. But there’s no sense that the other players merely provide the raw material. That’s because both often work with sine waves as well as acoustically. Maryland-born, Hamburg resident Hughes plays with Italian pianist Alberto Braida and Brooklyn drummer Jeff Arnal among others, while Scherzberg, another Hamburg-resident, also works with Arnal and more frequently with local trumpeter Birgit Ulher.
Quivering and clanging massed signals vie for space along with squeaking reed bites and tongue slaps plus sul ponticello slices and string pumps throughout discard’s nine tracks. Yet while some timbres are obvious from first, others are so opaque that solos must develop for instrumental attribution to be made. Upfront grainy pulsing and popping textures swell to meet cumulative arco bass strokes or warbling reed bites. Meanwhile – without disrupting the foreground – shards of Morse code-like intimations plus blurry, signal-processed swirls pulse as the backdrop.
Prominent among these eruptions of corkscrewed, processed and modulated tones are the tracks “choke chameleon choke” and “discard”. On the later, processed sound curlicues resemble both a computer rebooting and outer-space tracking signals. All the while however, Hughes is sounding traditional string slaps and Scherzberg repetitive reed tones expose the underlying sonic grain. By the climax, Scherzberg’s jagged expression is figuratively poking a hole in the fabric of computer-generated processed tones.
“choke chameleon choke” is another brainteaser where the initial timbres could be created by a ring modular but are soon revealed as smacked double bass strings. Soon the saxophonist’s renal cries and growls squall above Hughes’ subterranean-pitched sul tasto movements, in anticipation of Wiese’s fiddly and fuzzy oscillated wave forms finally creating a three-way dialogue. Mutating his electronic pulses to pipe-organ-like accelerations and irregular clangs, further textures arise from the bassist’s tremolo and the saxman’s trills, both of which reflect back onto the root sounds.
Although studio-bound, discard’s sonic coloration is wide enough to encompass not only waveforms from the cosmos, but synthetic landscaping that suggests both the ocean and solid land. Cono Di Ombra Luce’s characteristic shading on the other hand, is all about perceptions of depth, volume and form extended through tessitura mixing and reflection.
Plus there are historical and contemporary echoes as well. A piece like “Medusa” for instance, has a low-pitched mid-section is one part medieval ground bass and the other futuristic electronic burbles and rumbling thunder. Earlier, the horns’ harmony is split, with the bassoon moving in a chromatic line while the brass output is nearly heraldic. Sampled granular patters taken from the atmosphere arise on “Si Chinerà al Vento”. But they soon subsume legato trumpet breaths and pinging marimba-like slaps, created by bass-string hand tapping.
Supposedly inspired by Erika Fischer’s book Aimèe & Jaquar, Cono Di Ombra Luce’s track of the same name evolves in triple parallel lines. Taken andante, droning bassoon blasts and slurred trumpet cries inflate the collective vibrato that melds with clanking and buzzing electronics. Eventually, the synagogue’s porous walls provide an additional musical resonance.
Although the group is an equal creative partnership, Pisani’s background ultimately asserts itself on “ExMod2”, with the parts carved out as fastidiously as if this is replication of early notated music. Buzzing bassoon provides the shifting continuum, processional trumpet blares soar, while piezo-pick-ups allow the bass strings to pan in different directions as electronics crackle and buzz. Expanding with spectral reflections of the structure, the track provides an accurate summation of what EA Silence can create.
Despite similar electro-acoustic instrumentation, what this trio does is far removed from Hughes, Scherzberg and Wiese’s process. This contrast confirms both the versatility of electro-acoustic creations and the individual impressiveness of each ensemble.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Cono: 1. After Machines 2. Medusa 3. Nuovi Topi ad Ur 4. Jaquar e Aimèe 5. Avvio 6. Assenza 7. ExMod2 8. Si Chinerà al Vento
Personnel: Cono: Mirio Cosottini (trumpet, slide trumpet and flugelhorn); Alessio Pisani (bassoon and contra-bassoon) and Luca Cartolari (live-electronics and electric bass)
Track Listing: discard: 1. neither shivering nor calm 2. lungwire 3. infraredemption 4. infra_texture 2.0 5. discard? 6. choke chamber revisited 7. choke chameleon choke
8. exit choke chamber 9. hidden disbalance
Personnel: discard: Lars Scherzberg (alto and sopranino saxophones); John Hughes (bass) and Nicolas Wiese (sampler and computer)