April 22, 2016
Mikroton CD 38
GOD Records GOD31
Systemizing an interconnected approach to aleatory playing with instruments usually relegated to the rhythm section is the objective of these discs featuring Berlin-based percussionist Burkhard Beins and others. A polymath who has moved among noise, notated and electronic sounds plus semi-acoustic improvising with the likes of pianist Andrea Neumann and tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, Beins expresses atonality in a unique fashion on each disc.
The most recent (as of 2012) manifestation of microtonal ensemble Polwechsel’s sound, Untitled (No.7) explores three oddly titled group instant compositions, Besides Beins, this edition includes fellow percussionist Martin Brandlmayr, who also works in bands such as Radian and Trapist; cellist Michael Moser; and double bassist Werner Dafeldecker, involved in other electro-acoustic experiments such as the Splitter Orchestra. More aggressive by definition, Glück is a five-part percussion discussion among Beins, fellow Berliner Michael Vorfeld; Swiss drummer, Christian Wolfarth, who often work in regular Jazz contexts; Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach, member of the bands Dans Les Arbes and Huntsville; plus Italian sound art researcher and practitioner Enrico Malatesta.
Like Chinese Red Guards working undesignated in matching Mao suits, the five drummers go about their business almost anonymously and without solos. Concerned most with percussion timbres and patterns ascribed compositions aren’t that individual either. The two – short and lengthy – versions of Beins’ “Adapt/Oppose 14” for example play with the attributes of clamor and silence, refracting from barely-there microtonal scratches, shuffles and sibilance to, on “Adapt/Oppose 14/1-b”, an apocalyptic-like detonation that suggest all the percussionists are hitting every surface available with weightlifters’ power. Preceding a resonating clunk that signal completion, a trope used throughout, the composition appears to be about how many sound patterns can be sourced with various implements from a single cymbal.
In contrast Wolfarth’s title track and Zach’s “Floaters”, both of which clock in on either side of the 19-minute mark, try for individual separation, but like details in a painter’s busy canvas of the royal court, are only integral as part of the larger work. “Glück” for instance, includes enough persistent pummeling to push Death Metal percussionists into awed silence, whereas the clanking and clicking locomotive-like passages on “Floaters” oscillate with such machine-like precision that electric drum sets are suggested. Besides replicating what could be string and horn timbres, the mournful buzzing and rubbing tension reaches a point of release when quivers are cut off with a diminishing pop as if an impending thunderstorm has just been averted.
As for the title track, the climax is a crescendo of juddering and resonating dissonance that seeps into every crack and crevice of the composition. Although there’s enough bell ringing, gong resonation and steel rail-like clanking and shrilling to be a field recording of a subway station at track level, fine-spun vibrations alternating with the noise, pinpoint the quintet’s sophisticated logic. Subtle drum surface sweeps and washes plus a distant drone underscore and alternate with the sonically opaque material so that a pressure-release is finally attained.
Balance between the string and horn sections is more apparent on Untitled, although like a pen that actually conceals a knife blade, string reverberation at many points don’t sound that much different then tones sourced from a dedicated percussion instrument. If anything the constituents are most audible on “UNZ”, where a rounded overlay from the cello and double bass integrate into melody. Plastic swizzle-stick-like shuffles and maracas-like rattles that result from Beins and Brandlmayr striking all sorts of idiophones result in an elevated level of loudness whose reactive qualities appropriately balance splendiferous string sweeps and percussive tones at their starkest.
This ability to color the proceeding by a process of uniting seemingly opposite impulses decides the musical shape of the rest of the sounds. Like figures glimpsed from far-away windows, the occasional press roll, rim shot or sul ponticello string sweep confirms that acoustic orchestral instruments are in use. But the overriding concept is that of group solidity. Although the almost impenetrable drone produced by the quartet is distinguishable from the five’s resonation on the other disc, both affirm the kaleidoscopic textures that develop from ensemble programs. Careful listening allows the overlaid impulses that go into these sound constructions to be more closely appreciated.
Track Listing: Untitled: SIDE A: 1. UNX 2. UNY SIDE B: 1. UNZ
Personnel: Untitled: Michael Moser (cello); Werner Dafeldecker (bass); Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr (percussion)
Track Listing: Glück: 1. Glück 2. Adapt/Oppose 14/1-a 3. Floaters 4. Adapt/Oppose 14/1-b
Personnel: Glück: Burkhard Beins, Enrico Malatesta, Michael Vorfeld, Christian Wolfarth and Ingar Zach (percussion)