Baldrian Quartett

August 29, 2022

Frieda Bertelsohn Martholdy: Streichquartette – Entschlummern sollst Du, sollst entschlummern
Bruit CD bR11

In Air
Bead Records BDCD 16

Mixing electronics and conventional acoustic instruments, these European sessions play with expectations of dissonance and concordance, technique and intuition and sensitivity and detachment. Plus with its Deutsche Grammophon-like cover of a string quartet and purported historical booklet notes in three languages, the Baldrian Quartett satirizes European music’s high art pretension. Ironically despite the cover photo, the quartet actually consists of German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, Austrian electronics manipulator Christof Kurzmann, and accordionist Jonas Kocher and electronics musician Gaudenz Badrutt from Switzerland The only violinist represented on In Air by the way is Ugandan-British Philipp Wachsmann, who also uses  electronics and turned from notated to free music decades ago. His partners are similarly UK-based, Norwegian-percussionist Emil Karlsen and synthesizer player Martin Hackett.

The textures created by Baldrian Quartett obviously sound nothing like the music supposedly composed by the imagined German female composer Frieda Bertelsohn Martholdy (1878-1907), whose short, sad life and descent into madness is recounted in the booklet notes. Her name of course echoes that of  composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) Christianized adaptation, while the title and CD’s major performance, translated as “You shall slumber, you shall slumber”. Considering the other titles are  translated as “Eerily felt near”, “Ode for Death (Fragment)” and “I have had enough”, this burlesque of so-called classical music becomes more pronounced.

In truth the selections have as much in common with romantic notated music as the Sex Pistols had with Morton Feldman. Working through a nearly opaque mass in broken chord motions, the pulsating drones and whistling whooshes from the electronics repeat almost continually with sound loops infrequently and briefly pierced by reed warbles or tremolo accordion splashes. The later tracks take on minor attributes of acoustic interaction as concentrated reed trills are surrounded and propelled by accordion pushes. But even in those situations t the program’s sliding tessitura is based around slippery synthesized pulses and bell-like resonations from the electronics. Higher-pitches and elevated tempos as well as counterpoint between chalumeau clarinet buzzes and extended computer peeps or overblown split ones exist alongside near-static voltage stability. It’s the nearly 23-minute title tune which gives the quartet greatest scope for expression. At first dot-dash like sound processing and splintering computer buzzes intersect with the acoustic instruments’ tremolo tones to create interlocking horizontal timbres. While the track climaxes with a coda of nearly immobile sound loops, the always linear sequence draws back enough for accordion splashes and clarinet twitters to confirm the human-ness of the participants.

There’s less AI and more individual action In Air, since besides the violinist’s live processing, Hackett’s electronic contributions are from a vintage Korg monophonic synthesizer which generates only attack, decay, sustain, and release when dealing with volume, filters and pitch. In fact the three “In Air Studio” tracks, recorded in 2019, highlight resounding violin glissandi and other expected techniques as the drums pitter patter and the synthesizer creates resounding inner-piano string-like resonations at point. Overall despite ascending voltage plops and throbbing buzzes, Wachsmann’s exquisite string control is always on display. Besides straightforward linear sweeps, he adds col legno string smacks, multiple string burrs and squealing echoes. Karlsen for his part adds complementary rim claps and cymbal plops.

In concert several months later, Tern members find more timbres to juggle and fragment. Korg projections buzz, snare drums are clunked, rims are slapped and the violinist’s  sul tasto echoes and affiliated string pressure strain harsh string textures from the neck near the scroll. Balance is maintained overall as three lines evolve in tandem. The intermittency is resolved on “Sounds Like This Leeds 2”  as scratched strings, video-game-like noises and measured drum pops intersect in triple counterpoint. Swelling to an understated crescendo, slide-whistle-like twitters from the Korg, reflective string whines and drum top rubs combine to express expected dissonance at the same time as they reaffirm linear growth.

In spite of visual japes and tongue-in-cheek writing acoustic and electronic instruments actually reached a creative rapprochement to create distinctive programs long ago. These discs are two better iterations of the resulting blend.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Air: 1. Sounds Like This Leeds 1 2. Sounds Like This Leeds 2 3. In Air Studio 1 4. In Air Studio 2 5. In Air Studio 3

Personnel: Air: Philipp Wachsmann (violin and electronics); Martin Hackett (Korg MS10) and Emil Karlsen (drums)

Track Listing: Frieda: 1. Entschlummern sollst Du, sollst entschlummern 2. Schaurig empfundene Nahe 3. Ode fur den Tod (Fragment) 4. Ich habe genug

Personnel: Frieda: Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet); Jonas Kocher (accordion); Gaudenz Badrutt and Christof Kurzmann (electronics)