Keith Rowe and Radu Malfatti are two of the most influential experimental musicians in recent decades, each with extensive bodies of highly distinctive work and a combined 80+ years at the forefront of their respective areas of exploration. On Φ, their first meeting ever is documented via one disc of selected compositions (Frey and Cardew), one disc of their own compositions, and one disc of improv.
Radu Malfatti has been a major presence in the European free improv scene since the early seventies. He's been a member of such stellar bands as the Brotherhood of Breath, the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, and the King Ubu Orchestra, as well as countless small groups. Malfatti's recent focus on developing a unique style of superspare, tranquil music led him to join the Wandelweiser collective, a group of like-minded composers, in 1994. Since 2006, Malfatti has been releasing recordings spanning the past 12 years of his compositions on his own b-boim label, which cumulatively are one of the important bodies of work of recent times. Φ is his third release for Erstwhile, following 2001's groundbreaking dach and 2009's gorgeous imaoto (recorded at Amann Studios like Φ).
Keith Rowe was in the forefront of the initial wave of European free improvisation, co-founding the AMM collective in 1965 and originating the tabletop guitar. The tabletop guitar has remained at the center of his ever-evolving table of electronics and gadgets ever since, becoming increasingly stripped down and minimal in recent years. Having mostly performed within AMM until the late 90's, he's since been involved in a wide range of projects, including a slew of the most prominent Erstwhile releases. He's the cornerstone musician of the label, and his wide range of releases over the last decade stands with the strongest bodies of work of the last century in improvised music.
Malfatti and Rowe met in Vienna in November 2010, their first musical meeting of any kind, for three days of recordings at Amann Studios. They began with Jürg Frey's Exact Dimension Without Insistence, selected by Malfatti, then proceeded onto Cornelius Cardew's Solo with Accompaniment, selected by Rowe. Next was Malfatti's nariyamu, then a version of Rowe's Pollock '82, and lastly an extended improv. Almost all of the recordings are included on Φ in the order in which they were made, three of the four compositions (excluding the Frey) only required one take. The playing order allowed the two musicians to gradually build a rapport of sorts, finding a remarkable amount of common ground despite their widely differing perspectives. The progression over the three days and the connections between the pieces are quite evident, leading to an improvisation meeting that is both confident and thoroughly uneasy. Φ is housed in a stunning eight panel digipak, the four outside panels contain original paper on paper artwork by Rowe and the inside panels contain photos of the scores and a photo of the musicians with recording engineer Christoph Amann.