The Wire, Brian Marley
Time is, of course, a key constituent of music. But this CD approximates one particular aspect of time: the period of stasis during long-haul flights when time zones are crossed and hours are lost or gained in the blink of an eye. Using minidisc recordings and sampled but mostly self-generated sounds, Günter Müller recycles sonic material and embellishes it intriguingly. He filters a select past into the perpetual present, thereby influencing future developments. In every respect he's a quality improviser, alert to the moment and what the music requires. Selflessness isn't a characteristic typical of improvisers, but that's what Günter Müller and Otomo Yoshihide have in common. When they met in performance for the first time, at AMPLIFY 2002 in Tokyo, their set was freighted with bold ideas and dramatic developments. How interesting, therefore, to hear this CD, recorded just a couple of days earlier, in which a very different, though every bit as fascinating, aspect of their musical relationship is revealed.
Although Otomo has disparaged his skills as an electric guitarist, it would be unwise to take him at his word. His technique may be limited, but his musicality and imagination are not. He peppers Müller's shifting array of patterns and textures with open chords and single chiming notes, and the duo music they make is seductive, especially when Otomo embellishes the soundscape with soft, billowing clouds of feedback. This is Müller's fourth release on Erstwhile, three of which, this one included, are among the best items in the catalogue. The way he uses sound reveals his origins as a percussionist, though he nearly always implies rhythms rather than stating them outright, and his preference is for irregular pulses and overlapping waves of sound. Something of these qualities can be heard on every track on Time Travel, but especially on "Nancy 01", which conveys the feeling of drifting off to sleep then jerking awake for a few deliciously disorientating moments, before the process begins all over again.
Stylus, Joe Panzner
In a genre where artists are distinguished by their particular instrumental quirk, Günter Müller and Otomo Yoshihide draw well-deserved renown for their uncanny, ego-squelching adaptability. Müller's chameleonic percussion and electronics bubble and pulse beneath his collaborators or seep imperceptibly into the sonic bedrock, and his slow, looming gestures subtly dictate musical pacing with near-imperceptible rhythm. His is persuasion by gravity and glacial pressure, coalescing his partners' gestures into aggregates like paint pooled by rippling a coarse canvas. Yoshihide pursues a more outwardly assertive brand of flexibility, preferring to meet his collaborators halfway with nimble multi-instrumentalism and a dizzying range of influence. His turntable and guitar inventions run the gamut from brittle and whisper-thin scratch to signal-spiking noise - infinitely pliable, yet retaining a singular musicality in all their permutations.
Though its track titles constitute a log of their larger-ensemble collaborations, Time Travel documents the first of two appearances by Yoshihide and Müller as a duo. Their latter encounter at Erstwhile's AMPLIFY festival was, by all accounts, a captivating display of the duo's more dramatic and aggressive dynamic tendencies, culminating in a turntable-thrashing climax steered by Müller's tidal percussive outpourings. As would befit a pairing of such noted adaptability, their earlier studio offerings pursue an entirely subtler course that trades volatility and narrative tension for patient, detail-heavy soundscaping churned by gradual evolution. True to its titular suggestion, it's music that traffics in a temporal elasticity and the suspension of sound between acceleration and deceleration, with Müller and Yoshihide generating teeming clouds of activity that buzz and stall like a slowly thawing gas. Deliberate and sensuous, Time Travel commands the attention with subliminal grace, less a breaking down of doors than the pouring rich surges of silt into some of the mind's less-explored crevices.
Much of the music is marked by a delicate and woozy state of anonymity, particularly in those moments where Yoshihide's grainy turntable whisking bleeds through Müller's scraping minidisc loops. "Lisboa 98" mingles these granular textures to subtle and stirring effect, snaking a thread of scratch and hum through its shifting morass of modulated drumhead feedback and icy whistling. Streams of loose static and amorphous thumps filter into growling bass drones and fizzling streaks or dissolve into wisps of smoke atop Müller's hints at a wobbly pulse. Even when shying from his percussive devices, Müller works up a masterful array of rhythmic illusions from lopsided loops of treated samples, and Yoshihide's sympathetic responses imbue their more electronic exchanges with burbling interior motion. "Nancy 01" finds Müller and Yoshihide infusing their sputters with a more explicit rhythmic foundation spun from washes of delay-fussed cymbals and stylus creaking, while layer upon layer of sound compress into a crackling mass of drone and microscopic commotion. The blurring of distinct identities into a common sound-form opens up a wide range of associative possibility for the players and listener alike, and the music unfolds in lulling organic tumbles that conjure imagined realms of metallic microbes and blown dust.
A number of tracks on Time Travel feature Yoshihide splitting his duties between emptied turntables and electric guitar, from which he rolls out rich chimed strokes and unearthly shivers above Müller's intricate electronic foundations. While Yoshihide's turns at the guitar render the player's identities more distinct, they never venture into episodes of soloistic dominance. Tracks such as the opening "Matsushima 89" and "Basel 95" exemplify both Yoshihide's attentive ear and his emphasis on the careful placement of sound above technical fireworks - he strings single-note islands into muted mallet strokes or hangs them in feedback blossoms like a more muscular Taku Sugimoto. "Victoriaville 01" opens with broken bell flourishes snapped from prepared guitar before sliding beneath a gravel-slide of scratching electronics, and "Sydney 02" observes Yoshihide bowing his guitar to excite shimmering harmonics while Müller echoes with long peals of rubbed metal and glistening feedback. Yoshihide removes the guitar from its traditional position as instrumental centerpiece and recasts it as a tonal texture generator - one texture among the many - and his willingness to mold it to Müller's rippling landscapes yields results as mesmeric as their more electronics sublimations.
All Music Guide, Brian Olewnick
Günter Müller is one of the most fascinating collaborators in contemporary improvised music. His persona is passive/aggressive; tending to create subtly modulated sounds of an almost palliative nature; often with an elastically liquid rhythmic sense, all of which remain unobtrusive even as they bend his partners toward his sound world. Otomo Yoshihide, whose musical output crosses countless territories, accedes to Müller's whims while still injecting more than enough of his own identity to make this an extremely rich and engaging session. The overall tone of the tracks (titled to commemorate the first seven meetings of the two players) is somber and undulating as each musician strives to infiltrate his ideas through and around the other's. On the second and sixth pieces, Yoshihide's guitar is clearly audible, but otherwise he and Müller mesh seamlessly enough that the listener has little notion as to who's doing what. The rhythm surges and ebbs in the mix; never dominating the affair; always simply one element of many. There's always a nice, thick dynamic balance in the sounds employed, always a range from low and juicy, to high and brittle; making for an aural/tactile sense of pure pleasure. But there's also a judicious use of restraint, of holding the reins and only letting loose what is necessary in a given situation. The listener easily conjures up ghostly images of passing trains, alive-with-biota fields, sub-aqueous journeys, abandoned machine plants, and rain falling with a hiss on hot pavement. Time Travel allows one to engrave his or her memories on its deep template: no small feat at all. Highly recommended and an excellent introduction to this area of music.