March 29, 2011
Philip Samartzis/Michael Vorfeld
Non Visual Objects NVO021
Nurnichtnur Berslaton 109 08 11
Monotype Records Mono 031
Remote from the standard solo or drum battle CDs of contemporary Jazz as Sun Ra’s purported birth place of Saturn is from Earth, these exemplary instances of percussive Free Music demand a different way of listening. While percussion extensions are obviously the leitmotifs here, the basic building blocks of harmony and rhythm have been put aside for the designation of drums and allied percussion as sound sources. These sounds must to be celebrated for their unique textures and beats; not heard as ancillary tones dependent on any others.
The spirits of micotonalism, minimalism and other so-called New notated musics also infuses these CDs by mostly German percussionists. But most of the soloists would likely admit that accomplished mid-century Jazz drummers ranging from Max Roach and Art Blakey to Milford Graves and Sunny Murray were as important and influential for drum liberation as formal composers in the European tradition.
Except for Trier-based Bernd Bleffert, featured on Abtausch, whose expanded kit encompasses any number of home-made or found noise makers, the other drummers have parallel careers, playing in improvised music ensembles. For instance Wiesbaden-based Wolfgang Schliemann, also on Abtausch, works with musicians such as bassist Ulrich Phillipp and saxophonist Dirk Marwedel. Japanese-born, Pennsylvania-based percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, whose Abiogenesis is a solo disc, plays in bands with the likes of saxophonist Frank Gratkowski and trumpeter Nate Wooley. With art and sound installations and exhibits plus frequent solo concert performances, Berlin-based Michael Vorfeld – in duo on Scheckenrock and solo on Flugangst – regularly improvises with reedist Chris Heenan and pianist Reinhold Friedl, to name two.
Melbourne-based sound artist Philip Samartzis may be the anomaly here. But his duo with Vorfeld on Scheckenrock is mostly concerned with non-specific, non-harmonic percussion impulses. Here he puts his ideas on spatialization into practice. Sourcing the sounds from his mixed and reconstituted field recordings of natural and constructed environments, he abuts and amplifies Vorfeld’s percussion and stringed instruments creations. “Schaube” is the track on Scheckenrock which appears to encompass the most field recordings. At least it seems as if lowing wild animal or wild human cries are contrapuntally mixed and interspaced among the granular scrapes and flanges, strident cymbal stasis and small instrument clatter that occupy most of the space of it and the CD`s other tracks. Many times the resulting tones are unique, sounding as if they include the smack of two solid objects against one another or capturing the aural vibration from a cocktail shaker.
Ranging from Onkyo to oscillations, additional timbres inhabit the entire disc, none of which are easily identifiable. Somewhere a cricket chirp is audible, for example, or is it that the sound of a wet finger rubbed across a drum top? Aural reflections of what could be produced by strumming on a taut string, knocking on a wooden surface, rubbing on a balloon, smacking a massive gong or rapping on a kettle drum ruff are present as well. But most textures undulate singularly before combining with understated spinning, buzzing and signal processing from Samartzis’ electronics. Overall, though, the result is more individual than one driven by a computer alone. That because as the CD evolves the oscillations get rougher and more invasive while remaining opaque.
Consecrated to what can be created from acoustic percussion implements, Abtausch/Short Cuts is as novel as the other duo CD and as inimitable. Latterly living up to its title, the disc’s final, more than 27½ minutes, are divided among 28 cuts that hover around the one-minute range. While appealing in their brevity, each track appears to be the solution to a separate technical challenge. The question as to why they couldn’t have been combined into a longer, more varied text arises. Included are electronic-like impulses produced by acoustic instruments; sandpaper-like strokes on malleable material; e-bow buzzes; pops and clatters on the ground that could result from the bounce of billiard balls at one juncture, or tennis balls at another; resonations from what could be an unreconstructed oil drum; a duet between woodblocks and vibes; unaffiliated scrapes and scraps; and parallel strokes from a vibraphone and a marimba.
More generic to percussion versatility are Bleffert’s and Schliemann’s lengthier cuts, some of which go on for more than five minutes. Narrowly escaping tonal sameness, the outstanding performances are those which mash together unexpected resonations and suggest the properties of glass, rubber and bells as well as the more common skin, metal and wood. Another strategy, as on track three, is when broken-chord expansions from both sides break the time into smaller and smaller partials so that the result is as rigid as it is unique. Another, such as track five, alternates the beats that arise from suspended gamelan-like bells with strokes that could be produced by a North African dumbek Track four in contrast intermingles the spatialized pumps and pings heard in the clangs of bicycle bells and the abrasive scratches of a ratchet on a guiro.
Taking a different approach is Nakatani, who with his peripatetic background, would be expected to be conversant with the resounding properties of so-called ethnic percussion. Yet Abiogenesis, improvisations for bowed gong and percussion, is very much an atmospheric, low-key affair, reminiscent of Japanese Onkyo or British micro-minimalist sounds. Although a Jazz-oriented tinge can be sensed when Nakatani rolls and pops his drum tops and spanks his cymbals, his drum philosophy is more other directed. Often positioned on a transitive ostinato that encompasses pitch-sliding rasps and quivering echoes that also evoke field recordings, the percussionist’s intermezzos include sharpened drum sticks rubbed on un-lathed cymbals; violin bows scratched on a gong; mouth breaths directly on drum tops; and oscillating drones. Certain tracks feature matchless strategies, as when grinding and blurry spins subtly move from the background building into a crescendo of severe granular sequences then reverse into near inaudible flutters. Another track is made up of five minutes of layered, abrasive tones that include enough extensions and partials from the sounded notes that a buzzing, aural afterimage remains after the piece’s completion.
Vorfeld’s unique strings-and-percussion contraption on Flugangst is also concerned with the scope of sound(s) and silence(s). Over the course of seven inventions, his rolls and reverberations pulse, pop, pluck and pitter-patter, depicting the rasping buzz of excited strings or outlining additional textures from metal and wood insides as well as drum skins with vibe-like resonation or strokes. Another stylist who can suggest electronic passages acoustically, Vorfeld’s col legno strokes or surface raps somehow manage to reveal not only the timbres of the notes themselves, but memories of complementary textures when the root note is sounded.
Demonstrations of these techniques are clearest on “Peilung” and “Azimut”. On the latter, time is stretched alongside shredding strings and buzzing cymbals. As both tones intersect, the quivering lines become blunt, distanced and less insistent until succeeded by droning loops, reaching a climax of reverse flanges like that heard from a backwards-running tape reel. As for “Peilung”, pointillist squeals and microtonal drones give way to stroked and strummed strings blended with hand-tapped rolls, thumps and rim smacks. When the resonance appears ready to disappear into static stillness, inchoate scrapes and ear-wrenching staccato rasps return, leading to a finale of individual gyrating timbres.
Not for the faint-hearted, beat-mongers or those whose idea of how rhythm should sound is already set, these CDs instead offer tantalizing glimpses into how some innovators view percussion’s future.
Track Listing: Scheckenrock: 1. Krause 2. Wams 3. Schaube
Personnel: Scheckenrock: Philip Samartzis (electronics) and Michael Vorfeld (percussion and stringed instruments)
Track Listing: Abtausch: 1. 03:12 2. 02:57 3. 03:31 4. 04:42 5. 6. 03:29 7. 04:12 8. 05:22 9. 05:02 10.-37. 27:34
Personnel: Abtausch: Bernd Bleffert and Wolfgang Schliemann (miscellaneous percussion instruments)
Track Listing: Abiogenesis: 1. Untitled 1 2. Untitled 2 3. Untitled 3 4. Untitled 4 5. Untitled 5 6. Untitled 6 7. Untitled 7 8. Untitled 8 9. Untitled 9 10. Untitled 10 11. Untitled 11 12. Untitled 12 13. Untitled 13 14. Untitled 14 15. Untitled 15 16. Untitled 16 17. Untitled 17 18. Untitled 18
Personnel: Abiogenesis: Tatsuya Nakatani (bowed gong and percussion)
Track Listing: Flugangst: 1. Peilung 2. Taumel 3. Parabel 4. Scheinlot 5. Turbulenz 6. Stufung 7. Azimut
Personnel: Flugangst: Michael Vorfeld (percussion and stringed instruments)