Hanoi New Music Festival Ensemble 2013

Being Together
Setola di Maiale SM 2840

By Ken Waxman

Although more closely associated with 1960s’ Vietnam War designators like the Ho Chi Minh trail and the Hanoi Hilton, there’s now an improvised music scene in Hanoi and this disc celebrates the city’s first-ever New Music Festival. A three-party piece based on a graphic score by Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker, the performance was the finale of the 10-day fest with participation from five locals playing traditional instruments as well as eight attendees from Sweden, Denmark, Italy and Germany.

Many attempt at creating cross-cultural music fall into the category of so-called World Music, which slams together divergent sounds with the brutality of trying to erect a Trump Tower next to the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, Hanoi’s oldest Buddhist temple. Dissonance works in Being Together’s favor however. Plucked textures from the đàn đáy (three-string Vietnamese lute) or

đàn bầu (one-string indigenous zither), sit comfortably alongside manipulated drones from the electronics of Jakob Riis, Patrizia Oliva and Henrik Frisk.

Resolution arrives in “Part 3” in a performance of near-Free-Jazz abandon as tones from Anker’s soprano saxophone and Terje Thiwån’s flute showcase slurred double counterpoint, underscored by crackling slaps from percussionists Burkhard Beins and Stefano Giust, while the string players radically twang and plink as if they were the Viet Cong’s favorite bluegrass band. Distinctive bifurcation still exists though. On earlier tracks, Oliva’s Occidental bel-canto-like warbles and Kim Ngoc’s Oriental throat wiggling are electro-distorted or paired with nearly identical horn expositions. As extraneous tones ranging from miniature finger-cymbal jangles and harmonium-like electronics fills retreat, the vibrating romanticisms and exotic chipmunk-like vocal chattering of both become evident. Reaching a climax of whistling, spluttering and buzzing, the acoustic, vocal and electronic timbres meld confirming the truth of the title. Being Together is a notable historical as well as musical achievement. In future, what would be equally fascinating is to find out how Vietnamese improvisers are creating their own electro-acoustic sounds.

—For MusicWorks #124 Spring 2016