Ensemble X

Ensemble X
Red Toucan RT 9344

Insub Meta Orchestra

Archive #1

Insubordinations insubcd04

Reductionist to the extreme, especially for those accustomed to the distributed colors of a symphony orchestra or the rhythmic flexibility of big Jazz band, these European ensembles both take as their strategy the movement and integration of timbres. Despite the 15 members of Köln-based Ensemble X or the 35 plus [!] participants in Geneva-based INSUB META Orchestra’s initiative, the idea is for each group of improvisers to move and sound like one entity. Equally challenging, the concept is designed so that each must contribute his or her particular tonal qualities at controlled volume and within a specific dynamic range. That these discs are as striking as they are is a testament to both the ensemble members’ cooperative skills as it is to the guidance of tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Ensemble X’s initiator on one hand, and the five Insub Meta Orchestra members who lead the conduction on different tracks of that CD.

Blending this collection of electro-acoustic impulses and quivers is most apparent on the Ensemble’s “X8”. With portentous bell-tolling and thickened bass drum rolling creating a firm foundation, massed spiccato strings inflate only to be interrupted by a snorting tuba tone, plunger trombone lines, burbling flute passages and what sounds like plastic items rolled on the ground. If the initial contributions are a bit distant, a solid line of electronic impulses and pressurized reed vibratos push the textures together alongside subtle percussion strokes, chuffed, sul ponticello strings and bird-like whistles. The ending is framed by smacked percussion plus astringent and irregularly vibrated reed parts.

Throughout the disc, sequences of harsh horn reflux brush up against grinding strings stretches and electronic buzzes managing to suggest dynamic indicators without moving the volume anywhere near fortissimo. “X111” finally reaches an accelerating plateau, replete with connective piano plinks, aviary reed twitters, string scratches and vibrating brass and reed timbres. Although still no louder than mid-range, the resulting polyphony paradoxically sounds more affiliated, if equally distant, attaining conclusive a climax before fading away.

Despite five of Archive #1’s six tracks being conductions by different ensemble members there’s a similar, detailed-oriented collectivity among them. This doesn’t mean that saxophonist Christophe Berthet, percussionist Rodolphe Loubatière, objects-manipulator d’incise, violinist Patricia Bosshard or spinet player Christoph Schiller – who is also featured with Ensemble X – hear things the same way, but that after only one year of concerts, a group ethos has developed.

Even more so than with the other group, the sheer number and multiples of players’ tones makes identification of individual contributions and sometimes distinctive instrumental timbres difficult to assess. Different velocities are more noticeable however, with, for instance, the Schiller-led “Punkte und Flächen” distinguished by regularized whacks from the percussionists; jittery air expelling from the horns; harsh plucks and bowing from the string players; and a wave-form undertow. Meanwhile Loubatière’s “Miroir” encompasses accordion trembles, reed squeaks and expostulations from vocalists who lip-bubble, yelp and shout intermittently. Here the kinetic electronic stasis takes the form of disconnected processing that isolates signals from one another, but eventually manages to decisively amalgamate oscillations. Sometimes as many legato as extended techniques are heard, but rubato timing and sinewy actions ensure that the distinctive friction is maintained throughout nearly every sequence.

“Set sail, finally”, which completes the program with a promise of future ensemble exploration manages to expose more polyphony and polyrhythms than the preceding tracks. With ring modulator-like clanging, signal-processed shimmies are upfront, while scuffed and angled string slicing plus horn peeps and percussion beats shrink backwards. As the vector subtly changes during the performance bel-canto warbling, gong smacking and an upward trumpet blast signal the piece’s crescendo. Then it gradually diminishes into rubs and drags.

Certainly theses discs are not CDs for anyone whose idea of large ensemble creation is defined by the Berlin Philharmonic, Duke Ellington’s orchestra or even Gil Evans palate mixing. Yet both the Insub Meta Orchestra and Ensemble X still suggest new strategies in which to fruitfully spread the ideas of utilizing pure improvisation among many players.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Archive: 1. Punkte und Flächen 2. Et si... 3. The living dust 4. Miroir 5. Lava underground 6. Set sail, finally

Personnel: Archive: Guy Bettini (trumpet); Denis Beuret (trombone); Christian Müller (contrabass clarinet); Christophe Berthet (soprano and alto saxophones); Ganesh Geymeier (tenor saxophone); Steve Buchanan (saxophone and electric guitar); Jamasp Jhabvala, Patricia Bosshard (violin); Hannah Marshall, Brice Catherin (cello); Florence Melnotte (keyboard); Jonas Kocher (accordion); Christoph Schiller (spinet); Nicolas Raufaste (acoustic guitar); Igor Cubrilovic (acoustic resonator guitar); Gérald Zbinden (acoustic and electric guitars); Fabrice Pittet (acoustic guitar, voice, percussion); Marcel Chagrin, Richard Jean (electric guitar); Vinz Vonlanthen (electric guitar, banjo); Ivan Verda (electric guitar, bouzouki); Brooks Giger, Dragos Tara (bass); Raphaël Ortis, Frédéric Minner (electric bass); Loïc Grobéty (piano strings and electric bass); Cyril Bondi (floor tom, cymbal); Rodolphe Loubatière, Filippo Provenzale (percussion); d’incise (objects); Simon Berz (DIY instruments, electronics); Thierry Simonot (electronics); Eric Ruffing (theremin, analog electronics); Thomas Peter (laptop); Gianluca Ruggeri (function generator); Olga Kokcharova (typewriter, voice); Edmée Fleury, Heike Fiedler (voice) and Antoine Läng (mouth)

Track Listing: Ensemble: 1. X113 2. X8 3. X112 4. X111

Personnel: Ensemble: Nate Wooley or Nils Ostendorf (trumpet); Matthias Muche (trombone); Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba); Xavier Charles and Markus Eichenberger (clarinets); Dirk Marwedel (extended saxophone); Angelika Sheridan (flutes); Eiko Yamada (recorders); Tiziana Bertoncini or Harald Kimmig (violin); Martine Altenburger (cello); Philip Zoubek (piano); Christoph Schiller (spinet); Nicolas Desmarchelier (guitar); Ulrich Phillipp (bass); Michael Vorfeld (percussion); Uli Böttcher (electronics) and Olivier Toulemonde (objects)