Jürg Frey/Radu Malfatti - II (lossless)
Lossless AIFF (16bit/44.1kHz)
Two works, one each from trombonist Radu Malfatti and clarinetist Jürg Frey. Disc 1 features Malfatti's piece 'Shoguu', Disc 2 features Frey's piece 'Instruments, Field Recordings, Counterpoints'. Recorded by Christoph Amman in Vienna in 2013.
For CD format, go to this page.
instruments, field recordings, counterpoints (60:48)
(released July 18, 2014)
composed by Radu Malfatti (disc 1), Jürg Frey (disc 2)
clarinet and field recordings by Jürg Frey
trombone by Radu Malfatti
recorded and mastered by Christoph Amann at Amann Studios, Vienna on 13/14 November 2013
photography and design by Yuko Zama
Bill Meyer, Dusted
The title, II, depicts two identical lines. This in no way describes the careers of Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti. The former is a Swiss composer and clarinetist who has been a member of the Wandelweiser collective since 1993 when he was 40 years old. The latter is an Austrian trombonist who is 10 years Frey’s senior and who led a vigorous artistic life in free jazz and free improvisation before tiring of “chatty” performance. This provoked a return to much quieter and often scored music, as well as his eventually joining Wandelweiser as well. Wandelweiser music encompasses a variety of interests and practices, including an appreciative engagement with silence and the retreat of sound, scores that use texts and other means to invite decision-making from the performers, and an openness to the use of contemporary means including electronics, field recordings, and digital recording technology.
While Frey and Malfatti have worked together on various occasions, this is their first duo recording. II obviously references certain dualities — two musicians are involved, each contributed one composition, and it is a double CD. But it also acknowledges another actor here, Erstwhile Records. One of the label’s specialties is the first-time encounter between two musicians, often selected by label boss Jon Abbey rather than instigated by the musicians themselves. And since Abbey’s commitment to freshness and development means that the label’s releases now don’t sound like ones from five or ten years ago, each new duo commission communicates an evolving sense of what Abbey might think of his label, and of the musicians. There are layers of dialogue to-ing and fro-ing here.
Malfatti’s contribution, “shoguu,” gets right to the heart of what he and Frey have in common; in fact, the title is a Japanese word that means “dealing with.” Malfatti deals with their shared appreciation for stillness and paring things back to essentials. Both musicians play quietly, sounding mostly long notes from the middle range of their horns with just a hint of vibrato. Differences are presented discretely, a click of bell against mute here, a short clarinet pop there. But for the most part the long tones rule, fading in and out, played quietly enough that one doesn’t get a sense of harmony, but of coexistence that is similar to the two musicians’ not-quite-parallel involvement in Wandelweiser; they’re in it together, doing things that are close but significantly different.
Which shouldn’t be taken as an indication that that is the music’s intent, since I don’t know Malfatti to be prone to making self-oriented statements with his music, but which reflects the possibility for one’s mind to wander while listening to this disc. You have to be all in, or don’t bother with “shoguu” at all. It lasts over an hour, and it’s austere enough that if it were a budget, Greeks would take to the streets to protest it. It is subdivided, but even then, the shortest track is over 10 minutes long. Despite its quietness, it’s singularly unrewarding background music. Staying with it over the course of an hour presents challenges in time, attention, and listening environment management, so that both the effort to do so and the rewards you get from it feel like a step-up in meditation practice.
Frey’s “instruments, field recordings, counterpoints” is likewise quiet, and the instrumentalists play similarly to how they do on Malfatti’s piece. But the absence of track divisions and the presence of field recordings (distant traffic, stuff moved about in a room) create a very different listening experience. Instead of sounds that stand out from silence like smooth, palm-sized stones laid out on a large glass table, this piece feels like a continuous ribbon of mutedly colored, nubby-textured fabric.
The unending feeling imparted by an hour of uninterrupted music make this a CD that is easier to put on and just let play, which makes it both a more ingratiating listen and a less intense one. But if you do bring active listening to bear upon it, it creates a similar sense of stillness that is enhanced by the gradual revelation of a multitude of unemphatic shifts between foreground and background. Subliminal events move up, make their presence felt, then step to the side, and the more you follow them, the deeper you get.
Lucas Schleicher, Brainwashed
One way to approach Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti’s II is to concentrate on how they shape their music. The numerous small silences that dot the first disc are conspicuous. So is the album’s low volume and the sharp, maybe surprising, beauty with which Frey plays his clarinet and Malfatti his trombone, but form takes precedence over these. Form and the way sounds are formed. Much of what happens on these two discs is the product of the tension between silence and sound, the difference between expression and phenomenon, and the manner in which sounds beget forms all on their own. By subduing material and structure, Frey and Malfatti knock down the walls that sometimes bind music to a fixed path. What lies outside is a sparse and weightless field where music seemingly organizes—and destroys—itself.
II, as the title implies, splits the work of Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti over two discs. The first, a Malfatti-credited piece titled “shoguu,” cuts a strong impression. Long, vibrating tones, stark harmonics, and frequent silences comprise nearly all of its material, though certain tones are so smooth and consistent they sometimes sound computer-generated. The likelihood that computers were used is probably pretty low, but the semblance of that analog hum adds a mysterious and blurry component to the performance.
The noise of a depressed valve, a few unexpected squeaks, and the odd bodily clank of brass or hardwood turns up as well, but for the better part of the five sections of "shoguu," a subdued, balloon-like spaciousness holds court. The combination of clarinet and trombone produces delicate music, as restrained as it is gorgeous. Without a discernible structure—and without the usual musical tools, like rhythms, chord changes, and other sonic continuities—the duo’s wavering tones come off as autonomous little events, cobweb-like and fleeting. Some of the melodies are so tenuous they seem almost illusory, like particles of dust that might disappear should the sunlight hit them a different way. Malfatti even hollows his trombone’s lower register out, making it feather-like and buoyant, it’s swelling whole tones like vents of warm rising air.
“Shoguu” is a Japanese term that means both “dealing with” and “treatment” in English. In the context of Jürg and Radu’s playing it takes on an additional sense, something like “dealing with silence” or “the treatment of sound,” or maybe even “dealing with the other guy in the room.” Because the structure of the piece is invisible, the tones themselves become the focus, and because only two instruments are played the entire time, a special significance develops around the way they interact, both with each other and with silence. As they carve different shapes out of the air and take stock of the extent of the distances between them, it becomes easier and easier to understand what Frey meant when, in 1998, he wrote, “Sounds always occur as a formation or a shaping. They come into being by crossing a border which divides them from all others. At this border, everything formed becomes particular.” It’s as if the music is being sculpted one object (or phrase) at a time.
On disc two, Frey’s “instruments, field recordings, counterpoints” utilizes precisely those ingredients to craft a larger, different sort of sculpture. Field recordings of distant highways or spinning hard drives shimmer flirtatiously on the horizon, distorted and time-stretched to varying degrees. They act as a fixed reference for everything else, like a distant object in the night sky. Disconnected melodies pass under them and anonymous percussion rattles in between, booming and echoing down unseen canyon walls. A few edits shift the action suddenly, making it clear that these sounds have been arranged, but the music still achieves the illusion of total presence. It’s like Frey and Malfatti are holding a camera on one scene the entire time. The composition doesn’t move from left to right, it diverts attention or changes focus from instruments to an anonymous hum to the sound of birds and back again. Combinations rise and fall, disappear and reappear, and the scene slowly becomes more (or less) complex. Still, there’s no sense of composition. Either the sounds just happened that way by accident or they were always there and Frey and Malfatti cut them out from the silence. Cut too much and the performers begin to show through the work. Cut too little and it might not seem as if anything is happening at all.
That kind of controlled expression, which depends on the artist doing less rather than more, makes II difficult to pin down. At first blush it looks simple and compact, the product of reduction and compression. After a while it takes on the opposite appearance. The sounds grow and overflow with miniscule details and the music opens up in a way that suggests boundlessness. The sensation of constant shaping and the numerous pregnant silences push the edges of the music further and further into the distance, where the need to control and to speak relaxes and the ear wins a little freedom. To some degree, where it wanders depends on the performers. But after they’ve finished selecting and arranging their parts, much depends on the listener.
nausika, The Sound Projector
Both Jurg Frey and Radu Malfatti enjoy reputations as composers and performers of quiet soundspace music so listeners should not be surprised that when these two gentlemen from Switzerland and Austria meet to work on an album together, the result is two discs of quiet music. As with many other recordings Yours Truly reviews here (you all know what I have in mind here), the sound volume really has to be turned up to The Max or Eleven on a scale of 0 to 10 to fully appreciate this work. Malfatti presents one disc of pure tone and subterranean musing and rumble and Frey answers back with field recordings, everyday background ambience and various instruments including clarinet and piano. Since all the music is improvised and was recorded over a 2-day period, I assume Frey had a group of people (uncredited in the album’s sleeve notes) helping out.
Malfatti’s disc “shoguu” is broken down into five tracks for ease of listening but can still be a forbidding listening experience for most people. In this most minimalist of minimalist music, the extended cautious tone drones, limited in their range and expression, are separated by spaces that seem completely empty of mood, ambience and meaning. One’s ears still abhor a vacuum and even the most seemingly context-less pieces, on the surface nothing more than a musical binary code of tone and not-tone, end up with meaning assigned to them by the listener’s own imagination. Safe to say then that no two people will hear “shoguu” in the same way. The same person’s perception of “shoguu” will also change each time the disc is spun, depending on the person’s mood and the circumstances accompanying each occasion the disc is played. At this point, it would be fair to say that many people, faced with music such as this, lacking a narrative and context that more or less suggest to them what to think, what to feel and how to respond, will end up bored and restless.
Frey’s disc, labelled “instruments, field recordings and counterpoints”, is a slightly busier but no less quiet audio experience. Thanks to the continuous background ambience of outside traffic and people shifting instruments and furniture about – perhaps that’s why Frey’s “helpers” are uncredited since he would have had to go outside and get the names of all the pedestrians and vehicle drivers who happened to pass by during the recording of his piece as well as all the tradespeople walking in and out of the building – the whole disc presents a continuous tapestry of sound textures all kept together and unified by various tones played by Frey and his instrumentalists. Or is it that the field recordings unify the sounds Frey & Co generate? One’s attention is entertained by these polar opposites along with the silence-versus-noise paradox – which is noisier, more disturbing: the actual noise itself or the silence? – while Frey’s side runs its course.
This is one of those recordings which, to be fully understood, require some knowledge of the musicians themselves: Frey and Malfatti are members of the Wandelweiser collective of musicians which formed in 1992 to investigate and explore the potentials of quietness and silence as an essential element of music. Though they have been members for 20 years, I am not sure they have actually played or collaborated together very much. This disc expresses not only their interest in silence as an important creative element in their music but also their parallel “non-collaborating collaboration” contributions to it. The label Erstwhile Records becomes a significant actor in bringing the two musicians together and probably should have been credited in an active musical capacity beyond merely performing its usual support and distribution label function.
I guess while I’m at it, this is also one of those recordings that might have been better served as a DVD release so that listeners have something to watch and can appreciate the processes that Frey and Malfatti use to demonstrate their ideas and beliefs about the roles of quiet and noise in their music. As a pure listening experience, this set really is very demanding for those of us with short attention spans. I know I usually have to get up and do something while playing these discs; the downside is that I end up devoting less attention to the music because it is so quiet and monotonous.