These days there's precious little that's stimulating, much less that's surprising, making its way on to disc from the world of abstract Improv. The general impression is of a genre drowning in a sea of workmanlike mediocrity. You know the stuff: crammed with textural incident, thanks to a huge array of ingenious extended playing techniques, but lacking a clear sense of narrative direction and cohesion to bind all these disparate elements together. While many grope around in the dark, the finest groups (e.g. AMM, Parker/Guy/Lytton, CT String Quartet) seem to know where they are going; we sense it in their intense concentration, in their authoritative and decisive gestures and how they sensitively weave them together to form a substantial sonic architecture. They take us on a memorable journey through a characterful soundworld that invites repeat hearings.
Günter Müller and Lê Quan Ninh first met in 1988, though they have collaborated only occasionally since then. Nevertheless, their's is a rapport rich in the aforementioned qualities, and their improvising, all 75 minutes of it, certainly knows where it is going. Both percussionists work with electronics to produce an exquisitely balanced electroacoustic soundworld which, even in its most contorted revelations, stays true to an essentially percussive range of timbres and textures: the thud, squeal, chime and shimmer of skin, wood and metal whisked up and swept along on a tide of abstract invention. Swollen with microstructural detail or stripped down to a few carefully placed tones, the music simply flows out of these chaps. Improv CD of the year, or thereabouts.
Other Music, Michael Goodstein
Music dedicated to water all too often ends up as a pleasant new-age listening experience of yawns and yawns and more yawns. "La Voyelle Liquide" (the vowel liquid) is different. Drawing inspiration from Gaston Bachelard's "Psychoanalysis of Water," Muller and Ninh (Swiss and French percussionists, respectively) explore the similarity of free improvisation to water: the ways in which the artists constantly reconfigure and transform themselves, fluidly, both yielding and forceful. The sounds they create move, and as they move, they restructure themselves just as water restructures itself to fit a landscape, obstacles, or vessels. Primarily an electronics album, the artists' typical scraping and cymbal bowing still occurs as the players rapidly switch off between electronics and percussion, along with some bubbling in tribute. But these sounds play a minor part of their ungraspable whole which ranges from fragile, nearly inaudible sound droplets to oceanic droning waves. Just as water is rarely in a static form, this work constantly seeks to redefine itself, and becomes a bold, hopeful statement on the future of sound improvisation.
Incursion Music Review, Richard di Santo
Two established and adventurous percussion/electronics improvisers team up for these dynamic performances recorded in January 2000, now released on Erstwhile Records. Mčller has been exploring the potential of electronic improvisation in recent years, most notably with his releases on his own For 4 Ears label. Ninh has also been working with integrating electronics and percussion improvisation, and as a percussionist he has been performing with the new classical percussion ensemble Hêlios Quartet. The two met in 1988, and have occasionally been performing together since then.
The music on this disc has really grown on me over the past few weeks. There are so many subtle shifts, the sounds move in and around these compositions with such delicate movements, it amazes me more and more the fine details that are contained within these 75 minutes. The tracks are long, and each has its own voice, tone and direction. Percussions flutter to and fro, creating a body of multifarious textures and incongruous rhythms. Electronic processing sometimes interferes but mostly the crackles, tones and waves are integrated so as to make an harmonious whole. This is a superb work, full of the most minute details that will no doubt reward the attentive listener. Highly recommended, and one of the finest from Erstwhile's strong and growing catalogue.