Jonas Kocher

Solo
Insubordinations insub cd03

Jonas Kocher

Materials

Creative Sources CS 164 CD

For an instrument that’s been around since 1822, when German instrument maker Christian Buschmann added expanding bellows and free vibrating reeds to a small portable keyboard – or if you prefer 3000 B.C when the Chinese cheng initially used the vibrating reeds principle for music –– the accordion has taken a long time to adapt to reductionist, experimental music.

With these solo sessions, however Swiss accordionist Jonas Kocher appears determined to do for the bellows, buttons, and playing surface what fellow sound explorers such as, British saxophonist John Butcher and German trumpeter Axel Dörner have done with their respective instruments: create a role for it in experimental music. In the past Kocher, who also composes for radio dramas and creates installation pieces, has brought his squeeze-box refocusing to situations involving among others, French saxophonist Michel Doneda and Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre. But Solo and Materials are unaccompanied sessions. Alone except for objects and electronics, Kocher’s allows his instrument’s timbres and textures to create a unique sound picture rather than formally replicating melodies or tones in the narrative tradition. The allure of these CDs is to hear how original statements are created.

For instance, Solo’s single track, percolates along for almost seven minutes before anything resembling a standard accordion tone is audible. Before that the interface is divided between flat line whispers more felt than heard, and solid, stentorian snarls that vibrate with the depth and power of a baritone saxophone. Notwithstanding these timbres reconstituted into staccato peeps, percussive pumps and signal-processed peals, the exposition moves chromatically, yet with enough granular synthesis to signal dissonance.

Following passages of widening glissandi that could be the replication of a fat man’s heavy breathing, blunt smacks, paper-tearing textures and high-pitched squeals move the narrative into its final phase. Simultaneously shrill flat whistles, guttural glissandi and nephritic drones with the consistency of a bass saxophone are heard. The irregularly vibrated, gravelly climax is so visceral that the image of bellows being stretched to their maximum is almost visible.

Experimentation is more obvious on the brief – barely 35 minutes – other CD. With the apparatus used itemized on each of the seven tracks, the materials involve not so much the demystification and deconstruction of particular sounds, but literal dismemberment of the accordion. “Bellows, Steel Wool” for example is a friction-layered suite where electronic-styled oscillations and crackles underscore the vibrations produced by constantly rubbing one unyielding object against another. On the other hand a track such as “Buttons” is practically an intermezzo. Here accordion buttons are persistently depressed until the subterranean pitches swell from faint quivers to loud pulses and divide enough to allow agitated basso lines to rumble in the foreground, complemented and decorated by quieter pressures. There are other interludes in which the electronic-add-ons not only serve to reorient the accordion’s acoustic tones by exposing sine-wave-like pitches and hissing static alongside them, but also source snatches of radio broadcasts to further muddle and confound conventional sound reproduction.

Not for everyone, especially those whose concept of the squeeze box is linked to Lawrence Welk or even Jazzer Art Van Damme, both CDs offer a modernist and distinctive version of accordion improvisation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Solo: 1. Solo

Personnel: Solo: Jonas Kocher (accordion)

Track Listing: Materials: 1. Bellow, Bow 2. Bow, Cymbals, Buttons 3. Buttons, Bellow 4. Bellow, Steel Wool 5. Electronics 6. Buttons 7. Buttons, Electronics

Personnel: Materials: Jonas Kocher (accordion, objects and electronics)