June 4, 2014
Traces of Wood
Music Moderna M008
Engrossed with exploring the intricate links and disconnections among improvised, notated and electronically generated sounds, Berlin-based percussionist Bukhard Beins is one of the theoreticians of Echtzeitmusik or real-time music. This theory of slowly developing, low-key connections in which drone and quivers are showcased more so than dramatic individual tones, is clearly, if somewhat blurrily, epitomized by Trees. Traces of Wood may be even more notable though. That’s because it captures the mutation of what has been a long-standing ensemble built around horn and string players, to one set apart by a string-percussion partnership.
Initially percussion-free, Polwechsel was centred on the interplay of first Radu Malfatti’s trombone then John Butcher’s saxophones, with Burkhard Stangl’s guitar, Werner Dafeldecker’s double bass and Michael Moser’s cello. Today however, the band now consists of only Dafeldecker and Moser plus Beins and another percussionist Martin Brandlmayr, who is also one-third of the Radian band. Despite the additional percussion capability, the quartet still promogulates a distinctive otherworldliness, where mellowness vies with abrasiveness. Reducing the range of sustained timbres means that the result is also often divided between rubs and scrapes from the percussionists plus spiccato and sul ponticello lunges from double bass and cello. Although there can be crescendos, the implicit drama arises when certain textures which stand apart from the others, are stretched into neo-electronic pulses. Ironically the track on which vibraphone resonations, drum ruffs and bass string thumps are most easily defined is “Nia Rain Circuit”, which could also be characterized as the most delicate and pastoral composition of the set.
“Grain Bending #1” on the other hand is Traces of Wood’s longest, loudest and most characteristic performance. Built up from stentorian percussion crashes plus string grinds and wood stretches, the polyphonic climax is reached when droning wave forms take on keyboard-like glissandi properties before shuddering into silence. A coda of rumbling percussion japes, soon pricked by buzzing strings, confirms the band’s toughness as well as its connectivity.
Meanwhile there is a keyboard on Tree, three in fact – dx7, analog synthesizer and pump organ – all played by Chris Abrahams, best-known as a member of Australian trio The Necks. But Tree is no more a keyboard-centred session than Traces of Wood is a percussion showcase. Instead the three musicians: Abrahams; Beins, playing percussion, objects, analog synthesizer and live-electronics; plus samples and field recordings manipulator Andrea Ermke – who has worked with inside piano specialist Andrea Neumann among others – create a non-hierarchical session whose texture is often as limpid as it is agitated. The lengthier first track, “32:22”, eventually gathers whistles, rumbles, granular asides, bathtub drain slurps and other discordant tinctures into a crescendo of oscillations and tremors, co-existing with a droning continuum. After the keyboard-processed buzz retreats to a fuzzier focus, bells which have been hinted at during the exposition, begin pealing and resonating as if they are attached to a tree shaking in the wind.
More enigmatically dramatic, “25:48” is given extra impetus from field recordings which appear to capture glass rattling, bird chirping, footfalls, fire crackles and the ecosystem of a watery swamp. With tremolo organ pulsations more prominent as well, the soundfield becomes half-soothing and half- stressed, with neither emotion gaining the upper hand. Less mechanical sounding than “32:22”, the piece is finally resolved as both natural stone-rolling-like textures and humming processes meld, fade and disappear.
Chronicles of the sonic journeys rather than the destinations, Tree and Traces of Wood demand concentration and a willingness to sacrifice simple musical rewards. But both provide suitable cerebral interest if given the proper attention.
Track Listing: Traces: 1. Adapt/Oppose 2. Grain Bending #1 3. Nia Rain Circuit 4. S 64° 14" W 65° 37"
Personnel: Traces: Michael Moser (cello); Werner Dafeldecker (bass); Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Tree: 1. 32:22 2. 25:48
Personnel: Tree: Chris Abrahams (dx7 plus analog synthesizer [track 1] or pump organ [track 2]; Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects, zither [track 1]; analog synthesizer, live-electronics [track 2] and Andrea Ermke (samples and field recordings)