erikM/Michel Doneda

Razine Monotype Records mono043

Michel Doneda/Jonas Kocher

action mécanique

Flexion Records flex001

Adroit realizations which balance reed blown textures with atonal actions from either a standard accordion or a trio of electronic implements are the connections that unite these masterful duos. Both feature French soprano and sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda, but action mécanique is a single improvisation created with Swiss squeeze-box specialist Jonas Kocher, while Razine, recorded a few months earlier, consists of three improvisations that involve the Toulouse-based reedist and erikM from Marseilles, whose sound sources are turntables, electronics and live sampling

Doneda, who has been perfecting this bare-bones approach to reed instruments since the late 1970s, has performed with other sonic explorers raging from fellow Gaul, baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro to British guitarist John Russell. Younger, Kocher, who has worked with among others, Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre and German percussionist Burkhard Beins, plus M, who has collaborated with such distinct personalities as Swiss-American turntablist Christian Marclay and German industrial music pioneer FM Einheit, like Doneda share a similar interest in textural dislocation. M tries to play on several levels, capturing each moment of the present in clear focus, while Kocher explores the relationships between tone, noise and silence as well as the listening process.

Certainly his session with Doneda, recorded in Sofia, Bulgaria, is about as far away as the customary reed instrument and accordion session as Jupiter is from Pluto. While Kocher’s exposition is concerned with bellow actions, broken-octave oscillations and frequent smacks and quivers, the saxophonist’s initial strategy centres around reed-sucking, back-of-throat growls and panting through his horn’s body tube. Fortissimo split tones do meet pumping shudders at points, but the resemblance between respired and manipulated reeds is such that the 42-minute piece stays chromatic. Silences are overt, but more as place markers than sectional transitions. At the same time the accordionist’s powerful whacks on the sides and tops of so-called objects make it sound as if he’s playing percussion instruments on occasion. Meanwhile his usual intermezzos range from nearly endless tremolo extensions to swift buzzes pumps and yelps. His instrument shudders widen at junctures to mix with vibrations produced by Doneda’s pressurized multiphonics. Elsewhere the squeeze box’s blended glissandi taper to narrow tones in order to meet shrill, fortissimo cries from the sopranino’s highest register.

By the penultimate series of variations, the two push back from textures as thin as to almost dissolve, to intense tandem improv. As Kocher’s glissandi quiver and pump, Doneda responds with piercing whistles, guttural snarls and air expelled with no finger movement. Complementary, staccato yelps and echoes from both sides signal the finale.

Quiet is not part of M’s game plan, since the rumbling textures, processed static and rattling friction that arises from his live sampling and turntable motion create a continuous undercurrent. Additionally this crackling, blurry undertow often causes the reed man to unleash circular-breathed glissandi, while the resulting staccato lines are given additional textural context with M adding vinyl scratches and Doneda segmented voices from the radio. This is especially notable on “Raz” and “Rain” extended tracks which take up the majority of the CD’s running time. Nonetheless some snatches of radio-sourced conversation, plus fragments of pre-recorded instrumental and vocal music that lodge unexpectedly in the mix are from M’s sampling. So is the omnipresent crackling static that at times is nearly so opaque that Doneda must use staccato flattement to cut through the aural haze. Still, M is experienced enough in sound mixing to oscillate and process the vinyl samples as well. Instrumental sounds and lyrics are exaggerated, repeated, cut off, flanged and run backwards to contrast with the reed man’s multiphonics.

When compared to “Raz”, with its pounding wave-form pulsations and drum-like thumping, “Rain” is more temperate, although the saxophonist’s multiphoniccs and M’s electronic quivers are cast in even bolder relief. Backwards-running tape samples, inevitable radio wave static and split-second interjections of vinyl-sampled bells, piano, bands and bird cries are heard. Meanwhile, circular breathing on Doneda’s part give him space for reed kisses, staccato bites and continuous tone expansions which showcase partials as well as root notes. Eventually the two reach a climax of dual staccisssmo cross tones that finally downshift to a summation of abrupt reed bites and scratched turntable pressure.

Although both these discs consist of hard-core, uncompromising improv, they’re still captivating and can be explored for sonic rewards and pleasure by the adventurous.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: action: 1. action mécanique

Personnel: action: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones) and Jonas Kocher (accordion and objects)

Track Listing: Razine: 1. Raz 2. Rain 3. Azine

Personnel: Razine: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones and radio) and erikM (turntables, electronics, live sampling)