Christoph Schiller/Birgit Ulher

Kolk
Another Timbre at 52

Myelin

Axon

Intonema INT 003

Birgit Ulher

Hochdruckzone

Entr'acte 134

Consistently operating on the cutting edge of contemporary improvised brass music, Hamburg-based trumpeter Birgit Ulher is prepared for all sorts of challenges. This triptych of CDs recorded during one four-month period is particularly notable. Using the multiphonics available by processing her sounds through an attached transistor radio while employing various objects to alter the resulting timbres, she has produced an appropriately abstract solo threnody for Bill Dixon, another trumpet explorer, as well as demonstrated how timed reductionist improvising can be spread between two musicians.

Recorded less than a week after the death of American Dixon (1925-2010), Hochdruckzone is no melancholy dirge, but an individual extension of the unfussy, hushed playing in which Dixon specialized. Kolk matches her brass strategies which those of Swiss keyboardist Christoph Schiller, who prepares a Baroque-era spinet with metal, stones, polystyrene, a small cymbal etc., while activating it with a cello bow and e-bow. Axon on the other hand is a meeting with a familiar associate, French alto saxophonist Heddy Boubaker, who brings his own objects along. Medical problems have since forced Boubaker to abandon his saxophone for electric bass and synthesizer.

While more abstract than even Dixon might have imagined, Hochdruckzone’s eight selections are infrequently fortissimo, but are united in their circular architecture as mouth, tongue and throat are constricted to quiver breaths against unyielding surfaces. Containing lingering silences that separate the often foreshortened air blows from one another, the rough, perhaps processed, results aurally resemble the sounds of hamsters spinning wheels, a band-saw cutting through wood and a güiro being ratcheted. Among the bubbling reflux, staccato gargles and vibrating drones there are passages where air moves through the horn without valve movement.

That trope is more frequently put into action during Axon’s seven duets or “Impulses”. While Ulher also sounds effervescent lip-burbling and watery hisses as if from a dentist’s suction hose, Boubaker taps his reed against mouth cavity and lips, reed bites and finally expels flat lines whose piercing whistles are sharp and jittery. Together the two deconstruct textures, affiliating animal-like squeaks, rolling sibilate tones, cavernous tube echoes and pops. At points each instrument’s natural tone is heard. But these brief interludes of brassy triplets or reed-squeezed bent notes serve to underline the mouth motions taking place during the remainder of the disc.

Redefining instruments as sound sources and deconstructing expected timbres are markedly more prominent on Kolk, as the preparations on Schiller’s spinet vibrate alongside Ulher’s objects. With bows, chopsticks, rulers and other implements foreshortening or buzzing the instrument’s strings as he prods, plucks and rubs them, the results are met with full-bore growls or, to add further aleatory excitement, near static lines from the trumpeter. Since Schiller can produce harp-like angled arpeggios as well as isolated plucks or key clipping at will, Ulher’s strategy has to be that much more discursive. Mostly operating in parallel lines to the spinet, whether she strains piercing growls from the trumpet’s body, French kisses the mouthpiece, moves air through a hollow tube or erupts into a series of bugle-like cries, the results provide a theatrical response plus the satisfaction of hearing these duets completed.

One again demonstrating talent playing on her own or in much different textural set ups with others, Ulher continues to pioneer a new identity for the trumpet. Whether it can be accepted for what it is, putting aside historical associations with brass instruments is a question each listener must answer him or herself. The more adventurous ones will be enthralled and awed.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Hochdruckzone: 1. Antizyklone 2. Hochdruckkern 3. Zwischenhoch 4. Grenzschicht 5. Inversion 6. Polare kaltluft 7. Hochdruckzone 8. Isobaren

Personnel: Hochdruckzone: Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, speaker and objects)

Track Listing: Axon: 1. Impulse 1 2. Impulse 2 3. Impulse 3 4. Impulse 4 5. Impulse 5 6. Impulse 6 7. Impulse 7

Personnel: Axon: Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, speaker and objects) and Heddy Boubaker (alto saxophone and objects)

Track Listing: Kolk: 1. Auflast 2. Sediment 3. Geröll 4. Kolk 5. Bult

Personnel: Kolk: Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, speaker and objects) and Christoph Schiller (spinet and preparations)