TonArt Ensemble & Ernesto Rodrigues

Creative Sources CS 170 CD

As much a part of the necessary future of notated contemporary as well as improvised music, Hamburg’s TonArt Ensemble brings the discipline of New music, graphic notations and spatial structures to experimental performances. This impressive two-movement suite links the disciplined nine-member ensemble with input from Lisbon-based violist Ernesto Rodrigues, who regularly collaborates with many of Europe’s most accomplished Free musicians.

Collaboration is the key here, since rather than being a soloist standing apart from this democratically constituted group, Rodrigues merely adds his sounds to those created by the rest of the string section of violin, cello and double bass. Other musicians who have worked with the group, which was founded in 1989, include British saxophonist Evan Parker and Austrian turntablist dieb13. Able to evolve a novel strategy for every situation, besides clarinet, saxophone and trumpet, TonArt Ensemble members also use such non-conservatory-approved sound-sources here as zither, prepared mandolin, ventil-horn, trompsax, sheng, tube, synthesizer, soundtable and electronics.

Aiming for the release that characterizes “Part 2”, the much lengthier “Part 1” works through variants as the exposition and development of the suite take shape. As atonal as it is legato in spots, the nearly 38-minute first section includes episodes that swell to full fortissimo and others which deflate to mere whispers as the punctured polytones are spread using staccato licks. With no designated soloist, each of the 10 players adds pointillist dabs to complete the sonic picture. Pressured undercurrents from the strings become sharpened spiccato pops and mandolin plinks, while horn polyphony divides among crackles and rolled tongue slaps, chirps and altissimo screams. These timbres not only cozy up to reverberating electrical wave-forms, but simultaneously also reflect other percussive textures. There are ricocheting door-stopper-like rebounds, bovine-like bellows from pedal point cello motions and col legno bass string slaps.

Still, when string section polyharmonies threaten to turn overly melodic, an off-centre harmonica-like whimper, blurry synthesizer growls, hollow tube blows and bass clarinet yowls keep the contrapuntal interface on course. Oddly enough, even when a sudden burst of turntable friction abuts bird-like reed yaps, the impulses are continuously connective rather than disruptive.

Slightly past the half-way mark mercurial connections solidify among the different sections. Zither and mandolin plucks move to slackened harmonies until superseded by col legno and wood pounding asides from the string players, whose bow pressure exposes additional partials and vibrations. While this string-advanced ostinato undulates beneath the section work, so to do brass brays and reed tongue slaps, shortly afterwards rubato brass triplets and reed yelps join swaying, intermingled string tones to provide the introduction to Murmúrios’ second movement.

As one fiddler – perhaps Rodrigues – stridently squeals, the others move in circular concordance, until the tonal centre gradually shifts, thickening percussive sequences that include animal-like lows, lawnmower-like buzzing and UFO-like oscillations from the electronics. Eventually after it seems as if every TonArter has pushed his or her instrument to its timbral limit, a pause foreshadows a reductionist harmonization as the soundtable adds further layers of vocal gurgles and dissected instrumental sounds. Despite this atonality, the piece moves chromatically to the end.

Filled with enough dissonance to give nightmares to conventional chamber ensembles, compositions such as Murmúrios, and its interpretation by the TonArt Ensemble must be part of this sort of music’s future so that it doesn’t ossify.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Murmúrios Part 1 2. Murmúrios Part 2

Personnel: Helmuth Neumann (trumpet and ventil-horn); Hannes Wiennert (soprano saxophone, trompsax, shen and tube); Georgia Ch Hoppe (clarinet, mandolin and objects); Thomas Österheld (bass clarinet); Nicola Kruse (violin); Ernesto Rodrigues (viola); Krischa Weber (cello); Thomas Niese (bass); Robert Klammer (zither, electronics and analog synthesizer) and Heiner Metzger (soundtable)