3 by 3, 1 by 3, 1 by 2.

Thursday 13 April 2023

There are some new Jürg Frey albums about on Elsewhere and Another Timbre but I’ll get to them later. Circles, Reeds, and Memories (Elsewhere) documents a concert in Limburg late last year by the trio of Germaine Sijstermans, Koen Nutters and Reinier van Houdt, playing one of their compositions each. I’ve discussed other pieces by all three individually, so here we get to compare their styles more directly. Even while there are strong resemblences, you can detect Sijstermans’ disciplined approach, Nutters’ slow accumulation from the smallest array of pure sounds, van Houdt’s tendency to narrative and slowly developing drama. The trio play clarinets, harmonium, small organ, all blending in ways which I’m sure we’re used to now, although Nutters seems to give Sijstermans more prominent work to do on the clarinet than in her own pieces. The new wrinkle here is the presence of ‘objects’ and tape recordings which rumble underneath the otherwise smooth surface to produce interesting blemishes; or it may be the presence of an audience in the chapel. Neat twenty-minute chunks to sample each composer’s work.

Is he rambling? Giovanni Di Domenico, I mean. The album’s credited to the trio of Domenico, Silvia Tarozzi and Emmanuel Holterbach, but Domenico gets composition credit and, more crucially, “later completed” the work with editing and more of his piano in post-production work. L’​Occhio Del Vedere (Elsewhere) is a one-hour piece for microtonal piano, frame drum and piano with the scale, dynamic and interplay of instruments that all resemble late Feldman, but the impetus here favours performance over composition. The harmonic language is similar too, with the piece beginning with an ascending piano scale echoing Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet and Tarozzi’s piquantly tuned violin recalling his propensity for pointedly enharmonic notation. Those resemblences end as the piece tends to drift from one idea to another, a more relatable wandering than Feldman’s formal decisiveness. There are moments when that relatability becomes a weakness, with passages that seem to go nowhere but are too forgiving to command your attention. The real kicker is Holterbach’s large frame drum, which softly hums and throbs behind the violin and piano duet, producing strangely oscillating subharmonics that push everything back into the uncanny again.

Biliana Voutchkova and Sarah Davachi are definitely not rambling in their Slow Poem for Stiebler (Another Timbre), a tribute to the composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler. Back in 2020 Another Timbre released an album of Voutchkova performing Stiebler, including his violin solo Für Biliana. This duet by Voutchkova and Davachi combines violin, voice and reed organ to stretch short moments from Stiebler’s composition into long, long held sonorities that let harmonies and overtones float around inside each extended phrase. It’s a fittingly odd way to address Stiebler, as his late work such as Für Biliana has seen him moving away from the intensely examined harmonic stasis of his best known pieces, even venturing into florid but creaky improvisation. Voutchkova and Davachi capture both the improvisation and the stasis – even as their piece is notated it expects great flexibility from the performers – with music that is equal parts meditative and analytical.

Voiceless voices: Jason Kahn & Antoine Läng, Biliana Voutchkova

Thursday 13 May 2021

To uncultured ears such as mine, avant-garde vocal performance often falls into a sort of uncanny valley; the moments in which it resembles human expression without reaching verbalisation are when it seems most alien to human experience. I’m listening again to Jason Kahn & Antoine Läng’s Insub release Paratopia, which pairs two improvisations by the duo using their voices as the sound source. The first piece documents a recent performance, made in a forest during lockdown last year. The only technological interventions made to their voices is through the use of megaphones; these amplify small, incidental mouth sounds over vocal content. More importantly, they act as filters which thin out the voice, hollowing out the vocalisations for greater prominence on aspirations and fricatives. For a long time, the voice is not identifiable and the piece sounds like an improvisation for found objects and abraded percussion. Long swatches of varying grain and textures, verging on sound sculpture. This could be detrimental to a recorded percussion performance but the use of voice adds more than novelty, adding different details that would never arise otherwise. The forest ambience adds it own subtle complexity. Once the piece passes twenty minutes more recognisable vocalisations start to emerge, but for me the effect was less transformative and more left me wondering where the track could have been truncated to have kept the sounds in a different realm, outside of human measurement. The second track captures one of the duo’s first performances, with voices weaving in and out of the greay zone between man and nature with that restless urge to make more of a show which has been almost tamed in the later recording.

Last year I reviewed Biliana Voutchkova’s recordings of Ernstalbrecht Stiebler’s violin pieces dedicated to her. Her Takuroku recording Seed of Songs presents her as composer as well as performer. As with many Takuroku releases, it documents her response to forced inactivity in the year of Coronavirus. Unexpectedly, it doesn’t depict the artist at work, or even in a prolonged moment of quiescent contemplation. Seed of Songs was born out of attentiveness, from time without motivation to create. Late in the year she responded to this existential act of listening by recording small sounds – violin, her voice, objects, environmental sounds. Early in the new year she created this collage which is both empty and full, an excercise in receptiveness to what might become. Voutchkova’s voice is present throughout, even if mostly through its absence, as an intermittent thread. In repeated listenings it sounds different each time. One time I was surprised that it was much emptier than I remembered it; this last time I just realised that the violin appears much earlier than I had thought and small sounds teem throughout. Things that Voutchkova might recognise of herself – voice, violin, handmade sounds – remain faintly distinguishable from the surrounding environment. Like Dürer’s Melencolia I, it depicts an impasse which has conditioned the mind to a heightened state of perception, ready to make things new.