One Final Note, Jason Bivins
The first release features the perhaps unexpected meeting of tabletop guitarist and electronician Keith Rowe with trumpet abstractionists Axel Dörner and Franz Hautzinger. A View from the Window (Erstwhile 041) is, like so much of Rowe's work, somewhat obviously preoccupied with space: The title gives an indication that the immediacy of circumstance will inevitably impact the process of music-making, just as will the actual space of the recording venue, and even more abstractly, the historical or ideological space of one's moment (something Rowe thinks deeply about).
The range of sounds coaxed from brass, breath, and strings is pretty stunning. Anyone who has heard Hautzinger's geologically slow Dachte Musik or Dörner's work with Kevin Drumm or Andrea Neumann (among others) will be familiar with the subtle splatters, unfurlings, and creaking noises, the gently oscillating breath and buzzing metal. It's not simply the case that these guys avoid the familiar gestures of free jazz; they also go a country mile beyond the restructuralism of, say, Bill Dixon (in the same way that Rowe's approach to the guitar is far removed from Bailey's). The trumpeters make for perfect partners for Rowe's arsenal of rattles, clangs, and radio snippets. The three voices blend together, sometimes giving the impression of a single alien organism speaking and elsewhere coming across like three-way satellite transmissions from some far galaxy. The two long pieces—almost an hour of music—don't move along conventionally linear pathways but instead play with a constantly morphing surface, in much the same way as one might play with a sand painting with a stick. This is rich, heady stuff, which is both provocative and accessible.
The Sound Projector, Ed Pinsent
File under: uneasy listening. The debut CD by this duo sounds like a series of field recordings from the human nervous system. Ielasi and Sciajno are central figures in Italy's under-recognized improvised music scene, playing in various ensembles, organizing festivals, and running labels. Over the years, Ielasi and Sciajno have been augmenting their chosen instruments (prepared guitar and bass, respectively) with electronics. This recording is the first to document their work solely in the digital realm. Listeners familiar with electroacoustic music will be reminded of both Japanese Onkyo (Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura, etc.) and various 'lowercase' sound artists (Lopez, Vainio, Deupree, etc.).The sounds on this album are reminiscent of scientific recordings of the magnetosphere, ion storms, and atomic reactions. Magnified static, whispered sine-tones, cellophane wrinkles, and flickering pulses are introduced and removed in a seamless, ghostly mix. These layers create a discrete architecture, not unlike that pictured in Friederike Paetzold's cover art. Because the recording requires focused attention, it heightens the listener's awareness of his/her surroundings. You hear the hiss of steam pipes, the digital purr of cell phones, and click of power transformers as part of some larger composition. This is one of the most challenging records on a label with a well-deserved reputation for pushing the envelope of its listener's expectations.
Another topnotch piece of Keith Rowe product, this one recorded in a studio in Vienna and for which he joined up with two European trumpet players. Both Dörner and Hautzinger have an impressive track record in terms of utterly transforming the sound of their instruments, through their radical approach to playing. Who better to accompany them than the man who has so radically reinvented everything about his guitar?
The combination of the threesome is extremely successful and results in a delicious blend. On the first of these two cuts, Rowe lays down a solid, heavy fog of guitar-string hum and teeming amplifier buzz, while the two brass-men growl, gurgle and burble their statements through lengths of twisted metal. It's a stately, slow and utterly immersive piece of significant length. Give it time to proceed and unwind and reveal its complex delights. Although the second cut delivers pretty much more of the same, by this time listener should be practised enough to decode the purposeful buzz-and-drone works slowly unspooling. Meditational, warm, absorbing; only a cup of good green tea can promise as much.
Hautzinger made a 'landmark' release for GROB not so long ago, wherein he improvised with Derek Bailey, but also supervised the recording and (more importantly) its subsequent processing, which involved extensive cutting-up and reordering of the improvisational flow into new, exciting patterns. He doesn't do that here, by the way. I mention it because there's no need; the work is exciting enough, and only a fool would dare to cut something that's so much of apiece. The woven pattern is already so beautiful, it should hang on the wall like a tapestry; why make it into a set of curtains?
The titles incorporate the names of oil paint colours. 'Magenta / Black' is the first, 'Cadmium Yellow / Turquoise' is the second. If you're of the sense-swapping persuasion, you may be one of the small percentage of people who can hear music as colours. If you do, then who knows but you may wish to take issue with the assigned colour scheme on this CD. These oil paint names clearly connect to the painting cover: there's a Rowe painting of said view from window, and a photograph of same for comparison, and the work suggests the processes (especially the length of time) involved in art, observing and carefully delineating on canvas. However, I'd argue this CD isn't actually as 'colourful' as, say, the Rowe/Fennesz release on Erstwhile. The sound, though very full, is also rather static; not exactly washed-out, but not teeming with colourful vivacity either. If anything, these two long works are more like fine art sculptures. Using steel, wood, beams, blocks, basic shapes…like the work of Caro or some such. Long, linear, exploring and extending into space,
All Music Guide, Brian Olewnick
A couple years before this session, Rowe recorded with two soprano saxophonists, Michel Doneda and Urs Leimgruber (The Difference Between a Fish on Potlatch), a session that, while providing some interesting music, had its share of problems. Central to these was the difficulty many saxophonists have in shedding the "baggage" accumulated while playing in jazz bands as opposed to working in non-idiomatic, free improvisatory forms. For whatever reason, possibly having to do with the ability to abstract their sound so that the clearly human, gestural element can be masked, brass players seem to possess greater ease in accommodating themselves to this sort of environment. Here, Rowe enlisted the services of two extraordinary musicians, Axel Dörner and Franz Hautzinger (each with plenty of experience in more straight ahead jazz ensembles as well as many experimental groups) and the results are exemplary. Neither trumpeter produces any sound that one might normally associate with the instrument, instead deploying an amazing range of breath tones, burbles, cavernous roars and other ephemera, all wonderfully integrated into the stunning electronic canvas prepared for them by Rowe. As was his habit at this point in his career, the guitarist tends to lays a subtle, self-effacing groundwork, to be almost "not there", that serves to enhance his companions' playing rather than to stand overtly alongside. The two long pieces display the kind of relaxed intensity that's the hallmark of fine electro-acoustic improvisation: the musicians are confident enough not to hurry along their ideas, allowing the form to take shape in a natural manner, from quieter sections where they flit about each other in search of sustenance to the massive crescendi that appear out of nowhere, like a sudden storm on a prairie. Where the first track percolates from one territory to another, the second is somewhat more linear, beginning as a powerful drone before shedding layer after layer and ultimately evanescing. One often entirely forgets what the particular instrumentation is; the music simply takes over as an entity unto itself. If Rowe's radio captures a contemporary, schmaltzy pop song, it takes its place in the proceedings as though it's the most natural thing in the world for it to be accompanied by two gurgling trumpeters. A View from the Window is as clear and as fascinating as the image evoked by its title: the same but endlessly changing, focused yet challenging to decipher. It's a superb recording.