Messier Objects
Ftarri 999

Creating two extraordinary, extended improvisations using so-called messier objects, which, except in one case, aren’t usually acknowledged as musical instruments, brings with it more than the usual challenges. Abrasive, grainy and droning the success of this presentation relies on how far away from conventional tonality listener are prepared to travel. Sticking with the program can provide unexpected dividends.

Recorded at a festival in Prague and a Viennese studio, the recital unites four improvisers from four different countries. Playing the one almost-real instrument, the inside piano plus mixing board is Berlin’s Andrea Neumann, known for her work with percussionist Burkhard Beins among others. Another of her associates is Ivan Palacký from the Czech Republic who here plays an amplified Dopleta 180 single bed knitting machine and photovoltaic panels which generates power by using semiconductors to convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. Vienna’s Klaus Filip, who runs a networking-modules software project ppooll on his laptop, has performed with clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski. Then Japan’s Toshimaru Nakamura, who has played with guitarist Keith Rowe, sticks to the no-input mixing board, in which no external sound source is connected to the board’s inputs.

With both tracks named for star clusters, a certain amount of outer space soundscaping is to be expected, especially on “M20 Trifid Nebula”, where connection is supplied via vibrating sound loops and sequences of static noises obvious or made silent with the flick of a switch. Among the oscillated whooshes and ring-modulator gongs, Neumann’s rubs, rustles and string plucks add a needed humanity to the proceedings. The final sound resembles a stylus being lifted off of a turntable.

Much lengthier, “M1 Crab Nebula” is occasionally animated by basso plucks, strokes or strums from either Neumann’s inside piano plus the percussive judders from Palacký’s knitting machine. Otherwise the initial exposition turns onto itself, with aural fascination related to how splintered or concentrated, stentorian or inaudible this collection of razzes, farts, flanges, gouges and buzzes can be. Eventually after dramatic pauses downshift the narrative into widely spaced, looped sequences, the resultant sonic landscape is filtered enough to become moderato and flat-lined. With the machine-prodded shuffles and buzzing static decorated with mallet-driven pops and guitar-string-like strums, the now slow-moving, sequences attain a restful connection.

Designed for no one but the highly adventurous, Messier Objects will still evoke awe and appreciation in those who follow the sounds on it to the end.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. M1 Crab Nebula 2. M20 Trifid Nebula

Personnel: Andrea Neumann (inside piano and mixing board); Ivan Palacký (amplified Dopleta 180 knitting machine and photovoltaic panels); Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) and Klaus Filip (ppooll)