December 25, 2011
Sven-Åke Johansson/Annette Krebs
Olof Bright OBCD29
Live noise minimalism stacks up against studio-tweaked avant pop in a comparison of these sessions which demonstrate improvised music’s particular allure to the adventurous. Even though both CDs feature duos with the same instrumentation, were recorded around the same time, in the same city, and are part of the same non-mainstream ethos, their differences are more apparent than their similarities.
Adapting electronic programs and samples to her austere improvising, German guitarist Annette Krebs, whose usual playing partners are contemporary microtoinalists such as tubaist Robin Hayward and pianist Andrea Neumann, creates a fragmented sound collage in her duet with percussionist Sven-Åke Johansson. Recorded live in Berlin, Peashot also demonstrates that the then 66-year-old, Swedish drummer whose Free Music credentials go back to its 1960s beginning alongside saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, can hold his own with anyone of any age in terms of invention and interplay.
Meanwhile in another part of the city guitarist Torsten Papenheim and drummer Merle Bennett, frequently found in the company of bassist Axel Haller, but here assisted by engineer/co-producer Dave Bennett, spent studio time in 2009 and 2010 reaching Land. Bennett, also a music teacher and rock drummer, and Papenheim have come up with a session that is in parts lo-fi and spatial, and elsewhere swollen with overdubbed additional instruments and sound samples. Mostly though, it’s as if the straight-ahead beats of instrumental combos such as the Ventures or the Shadows are stripped down to the simplest guitar and drums formula. During unexpected interludes however, the interface gets more complicated as multi-tracked guitar, piano and harmonica licks appear. Field recordings are part of the mix as well. So a piece like “Luen” underlined with what seem to be the whoosh of highway traffic, the clank on trams tracks, and police sirens evolves as Papenheim picks cleanly and Bennett lays down a steady pulse. Pops and shuffles are the drummer’s strategy on “Bluhm”, while the guitarist’s chords are linear, as both react to contrapuntal input provided by a manic typist clanking away on an old-time manual machine.
Papenheim’s string snaps throughout range from harsh and isolated to convivial and folksy, while Bennett’s never neglects the beat. Pushing aside overdubbed guitar distortion, the final “Gees” gives full rein to the drummer’s paradiddles, rattles and bass drum beats until Papenheim’s ringing variations on the theme suggest pop hooks as well as improvisational intensity.
Guitar hooks and a steady drum beat aren’t present on the other CD, concerned as it is with unusual strategies from both instrumentalists. But the improvisations are still interrupted – or enhanced – by aleatory radio broadcasts that fade in-and-out of hearing range. Perhaps the weather reports in English had a particular resonance for the audience that day in April, but forecasts of cloudy and other inclement weather would probably be more appreciated if one didn’t understand English.
Extraneous resonance added to the duo’s improvisations appears more palatable when the flanges can be related to the sound of a tape-recorder running backwards, voices sped up to chipmunk squeaks, as well as intermittent buzzes. That way each of these sequences accompanies Johansson’s percussion invention. For instance he cuts off one snatch of conversation with drum top vibrations, wooden pops and affiliated thumps. Another time he pushes aside both the weather report and buzzing guitar string distortion for a subtle series of tap-dancing paradiddles, then intensifies the beat with kettle drum whacks. Occasionally what could be machine-gun fire disrupts the proceedings, making a bellicose point before the linked improvisations turn back towards slurred fingering from the guitarist and finally, in each case, a slow fade to silence.
For what they attempted to achieve and the fashion in which they attempted it, the Johansson and Krebs’ disc may be more notable in its audacity. Yet it also seems that whatever point the broadcast sequences were supposed to make is lost through repetition and uncoordinated response. In contrast, while Papenheim’s and Bennett’s dual narrative is less audacious from the get-go and was pieced together with studio additions over a longer time period, their program of 13 short and more clearly delineated experiments is a more holistic.
Track Listing: Peashot: 1. Speaking 2. Radio 3. Throwing
Personnel: Peashot: Annette Krebs (guitar and electronics) and Sven-Åke Johansson (percussion)
Track Listing: Land: 1. Stel 2. Radik 3. Rasch 4, Starrnh 5. Hunderer 6. Bluhm 7. Luen 8. Krupunder 9. Sterrnh 10. Resch 11. Rees 12. Orlando 13. Gees
Personnel: Land: Torsten Papenheim (guitar) and Merle Bennett (drums)