Burkhard Beins / Michael Renkel

May 27, 2010

Lohn & Brot

Absinth Records 017

The Sealed Knot

And we disappear

Another Timbre at23


Fifteen point nine grams

Organized Music from Thessaloniki 107

Negotiating the chasm among noise, improv and notated music is Berlin-based Burkhard Beins, who over the past decade or so has solidified his identity as a sound artist as well as a percussionist. While not for the aurally squeamish – or the traditional jazzer – there are numerous exhilarating instances of timbre blending and sound collaging among this trio of discs.

Moreover these CDs also point out the increased universality of free music and free musicians. Although Activity Center – despite the American spelling of the second word – consists of two German players, it was recorded in Berlin and released on a German label. The Sealed Knot ties Beins in with two London-based string players: harpist Rhodri Davies and bassist Mark Wastell and is on a British label. Even more international, SLW’s CD is published on a Greek label, and joins improvisers from Germany (Beins), Wales (Davies), Italy (soprano saxophonist Lucio Capece) and Japan (no-input mixing board stretcher Toshimaru Nakamura).

Perhaps it’s their relative brevity compared to those tracks on the SLW disc, or perhaps it’s duet the multiplicity of voices involved elsewhere, but single, wide-ranging improvisations from either SLW or The Sealed Knot appear more impressive than Lohn & Brot’s five duo performances. Considering that the disc’s most lengthy track is almost as long as the entire Sealed Knot CD suggests the possibility of electro-synthesis overkill in this format.

Dealing with the SLW quartet first, it’s often easiest to distinguish the unfiltered timbres of Capece’s reed here then the vibrating tessitura of any of the others’ instruments. More importantly, as someone who has partnered with such unique sound producers as tubaist Robin Hayward, Capece’s discordant diaphragm trills or chirping split tones contribute as much to creating the inchoate miasma as the repeated signal-processed drones and reverb emanating from Nakamura’s apparatus. A long-time associate of saxophonist John Butcher, Davies moderates the expected textures that emanate from his chosen instrument with the sort of devices that amplify arpeggios one moment and transform them with rasping oscillations the next. Meanwhile Beins’ percussion strokes vary from opaque to transparent, depending on whether the existing interface needs sonic mystifying or edifying.

Overall, the improvisation builds a sonic edifice of mesmerizing, ever-shifting tones. From the start, distorted reed whistles, whirring string multiphonics and ratcheting percussion blows are filtered through envelopes of granulized whooshes and motor-driven buzzes. They emerge as tones that now possess both electrical and acoustic properties. These properties are put to good use as the static-infused friction engendered from the meeting of similarly unyielding objects further thickens the textures with concentrated string scrubbing, super-hard reed blows and pulsating cymbal strokes. Using protracted silences as place markers, the concentrated vibrations finally reach a climax of strident reed cries, blurry percussion turns, and single-string pops. Wriggling in different tonal directions, the piece finally resolves itself with barely-there metal scrapes and solid descending buzzes.

Concrete and fortissimo at the top, The Sealed Knot’s extended improv resolves itself in a similar fashion, but with more distinctive instrumental color from Beins, Davies and Wastell, who is also known to play cello, tam-tams, bowls and amplified textures. Here the thick strokes from his beaters join with Beins’ grating strokes to outline Davies’ tremolo string patterns that intensify and regularize as the exposition reveals air-leak inferences and buzzing reverb. As fragmented timbres are layered on top of shifting drones this extended interlude gives way to thumb-strummed string lines that are forced into silence by metal scraping friction and what might result if a constantly rotating motor was powered by the air from a Bronx cheer. Davies’ e-bow-created sustain is responsible for some of the undefined humming, while it’s likely Beins whose rim and slide scrapes produce steel-pan-like resonation. Fragmenting the dense textures in the penultimate variant, the resulting multiple thumps make it seem as if each player is vibrating a percussive surface – with variants on steel drums, temple bells and a drum kit. By the finale, the accumulated crescendo of fortissimo scratches and angled buzzing gives way to an outburst of staccato, fortissimo rubs and a final wood-extended bass string thump.

With both Michael Renkel and Beins manipulating a veritable warehouse full of string, percussion and electrified instruments on Lohn & Brot the timbres available are more varied than would be expected from only four hands. At the same time, especially on the longer tracks, additional input could have ratcheted these performances up a notch. Still the musicians’ sympathetic interaction, which dates back to the late 1990s and the 2:13 Ensemble, prevents the most egregious disconnects.

Most spectacular of the creations is “zone: produkt”. At mid-point its contrapuntal textures encompass motor-driven whirrs, resounding woodpecker-like raps, bell peals plus stretched plucks coming from a propelled zither or amplified stringboard. With each interlocking part both audible and atonal, and with the result pumping up and down in perpetual motion, it could be the sonic equivalent of an Alexander Calder mobile.

But this is just one part of the overall sound picture. Throughout the piece, complementary timbres appear then are superseded by squealed tones, granulized ruffs, jagged electronic pulses, relentless rubs or what sounds like dog panting. Eventually after a variant reaches a crescendo of harsh, flat-line pulsations, mallet pops and rubs, it then accelerates still further to reveal spinning and buzzing palindromes that change pitch, reflection and volume, but never speed. Later the contrapuntal clinks and clatters take on a Christmas bell-like rhythm of their own, only to be replaced by separated signals that are equal parts sideband power snorts and propelled cross tones.

Ingeniously where guitar-string strums and percussion ruffs would serve as a conclusion for others, Beins and Renkel instead ramp the tension up still further, concluding the duet with a block of solid sound that finally just dissipates. Shorter pieces sound rougher, if more focused. However, the CD’s other extended experiment introduces a different conception altogether: a gentling interface arising out of the confluence of cymbal sizzles, vibraphone plinks, bass string rubs and whistling trills.

Each of these CDs is a fitting demonstration of Beins’ skills and versatility. While the number of textures available multiples along with the quantity of musicians involved, the skill involved in noise-minimalist pieces like these is in preventing incoherence from overshadowing the sound strategies.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fifteen: 1. SLW

Personnel: Fifteen: Lucio Capece (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet and preparations); Rhodri Davies (electric harp and electro-acoustic devices); Burkhard Beins (selected percussion and objects) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board)

Track Listing: Lohn: 1. arbeit: material 2. passage 3. zone: produkt 4. transit 5. station: prozess

Personnel: Lohn: Michael Renkel (acoustic guitar, preparations, amplified stringboard, live electronics and percussion) and Burkhard Beins (drums, cymbals, objects, table percussion, e-bowed and propelled zither, mixing desk and handheld electronics)

Track Listing: And: 1. And we disappear

Personnel: And: Rhodri Davies (pedal harp and e-bow); Mark Wastell (bass, bow and beaters) and Burkhard Beins (percussion and objects)