Not Dead Yet

Saturday 12 March 2022

My little world has started to open up again after a couple of years away. Went out to drink in public and hear the latest in Apartment House’s string quartet revivals: Hermann Nitsch’s String Quartet No. 2. Having heard some of Nitsch’s organ music a year ago, I figured a string quartet couldn’t hurt too much. It’s the humour that got me. Over 70 minutes, the opening movements dwelled upon fat slabs of sound as expected, but then things started to get a little more playful with creaking romantic gestures like petrified Schubert and a lop-sided, foot-stomping ländler tune like a ham-fisted Walter Zimmermann. “Hermann Nitsch lives in a castle.” Ultimately it all seemed very meaningful, which, having lived neither in a castle nor in Germany, is not the same thing as having meaning.

For virtual concerts, I’ve heard the LP of Two Duos from cellist Okkyung Lee’s gigs at Oto in 2019. On side one she’s paired with Jérôme Noetinger making real time tape manipulations, side two she’s with Nadia Ratsimandresy on ondes Martenot. Both bits of retro technology add a slightly spaced-out dimension to the cello: Noetinger adds fizz and buzz to the graininess of Lee’s playing before expanding into more overtly electronic obstacles for the cello to dodge around. Conversely, Ratsimandresy’s ondes Martenot starts out in its vox humana register, sounding uncanny against Lee’s enlarged bowing sounds. Again, the second duet takes an initial concept as a base from which to wander in ever more fanciful detours. The pleasure comes from the matching of sounds and the playing being free-spirited without self indulgence. Knowing how and when to stop also helps a lot.

More talk about the overlapping fields of composition and improvisation come up in the notes for Jonas Kocher’s Perspectives and Echoes, “an architectural struc-ture defines the temporal and spatial course of largely indeterminate events”. The electroacoustic ensemble play thick sounds distributed thin and I can’t hear it as much more than a listless group improv. More distressingly, the piece is accompanied by a performance of Luc Ferrari’s Tautologos III tackled with the same languor, so that the consequences of interactions fail to accumulate and events fail to gather significance or momentum. Perhaps the numbing isolation in this rendition is the suburban riposte to Ferrari’s city analogy.

I’ve been soaking in a small pile of intriguing recent releases on the Insub label which I need to address soon. I was going to set aside Louis Laurain’s Pulses, Pipes, Patterns but I keep trying to listen to it in different ways. It sounds like heavily sampled and processed thwacking of PVC pipes, sliced and diced in various ways to eke out an album’s worth of material. Apparently it isn’t, but instead is made from trumpets mostly, plus lots of digital processing and also “birds, white noise, vibrating metal stuff, saws, toads, sine waves…” Heard in one way it still comes across as sound sculpture, although in a highly creative and roundabout way of doing it; the reductiveness becomes admirable. If you turn it up loud and stand further away it sounds like ambient electronica from the Nineties as the conformity and instability battle it out, like another eccentric Pole Imposter.

Missed another Apartment House gig at Wigmore Hall on Thursday because I’d already booked a ticket to see a revival of Lucinda Childs’ Dance at Sadler’s Wells. For me, this was a personal indulgence in nostalgia and revisiting youth, having had a formative experience watching Childs perform in the 1990s staging of Einstein on the Beach in Melbourne. As a new experience, fresh contact with Philip Glass’s Seventies music, Childs’ choreography and Sol LeWitt’s film treatment was sweetly rejuvenating. Good artists learn from the recent past at least as much as from history lessons, taking up the loose threads as yet unfollowed. This was the future once, and it can still offer the promise of a better tomorrow.

Jérôme Noetinger with Anthony Laguerre and Jean-Philippe Gross on Takuroku

Monday 14 September 2020

A long year ago I wrote about Jérôme Noetinger’s sublime collaboration with Anthony Pateras, A Sunset For Walter. Cafe Oto has now put out two new Noetinger collaborations, recorded over Covid summer, again featuring his use of a Revox tape recorder as an instrument. Noetinger’s live shows typically have a playful element, exploiting the unpredictable nature of bending sounds through manipulating tape directly, with the mad-scientist theatricality adding to the off-kilter element in the music. As stand-alone recordings, they retain that spirit of adventure recording-only adventures through the slightly messy technology at work and provocative formal conceits that challenge the musicians’ creativity.

The concept behind Propagations is simple. Noetinger and Anthony Laguerre exchange tapes they have made and do a number on each other’s recordings, “just like in the 80s”. Although no longer dependent on physical media and the postal service, both Laguerre and Noetinger seem to be using their tape decks in their ‘edits’ of each other’s work. Each of the two 15-minute tracks is a noisy, chaotic ride of electronic sounds that never stick around for too long. This is just as well, for as with all chaos there are occasional irritating and boring moments mixed in between effects that range from cheesy to inspired. It keeps you guessing, particularly with questions like: is it all really that simple? In an attempt to drill down and distinguish the two pieces and the two artists’ work I kept hearing similarities arise between them, with a kind of symmetry that suggests each track started as the reverse of the other before the additional transformations took hold. Maybe I’m hearing things, but authentic-sounding chaos usually carries an underlying design.

The concept behind Nos cadavres is simple. Noetinger and Jean-Philippe Gross exchanged tapes, but only the last 10 seconds of their recording for each one to carry on after the other in a game of Exquisite Corpse. So the exchange passes back and forth, each new contribution adding a new twist to a hallucinatory continuity that makes itself up as it goes along. In lesser hands, this lack of greater context would wear thin pretty quickly. The length of each section, however, was allowed to be anywhere from ten seconds up to seven minutes, so that moments of stability are allowed to emerge and define an overall shape, however mysterious it may be. Gross and Noetinger are also smart enough to vary sounds from the continuous to discontinuous, allowing silences to both break up the information overload and create more distinctive sonic forms. Between them, they manage to put together a dazzling range of interesting sounds over the course of the two extended tracks. Surprisingly, each listening has added further intrigue, so far.

Jérôme Noetinger and Anthony Pateras: A Sunset For Walter

Monday 2 September 2019

The hell is going on here? It’s, it’s… beautiful. A long, long way from his signature hyperactive style, Anthony Pateras contemplatively plays slow, arpeggiated octaves over a gentle ambient hum that takes on a life of its own at the start of A Sunset For Walter, the new Penultimate LP of duos by Pateras and Jérôme Noetinger. The two have collaborated numerous times before, but this is the first legit release of the two playing together alone. Pateras on untreated piano, Noetinger on Revox tape deck, adding ambience, disembodied counter-melodies and distorted piano reflections. Bass resonances linger ominously, chords pile up and echo; each musician adds an occasional flourish to cast the prevailing mood into relief, opening up the sounds to new possibilities.

The Walter in the title is Walter Marchetti and the album is an homage to his piano music, “particularly the slowed-down subaquatic expanse of Nel Mari Del Sud.” The LP presents four excerpts from a three-hour performance given by the two at an evening concert in Stuttgart last year. The ruminative pacing and sustained tones throughout create a marine calm, always slightly eerie more than lulling. A crepuscular atmosphere prevails throughout, giving everything a suitably elegaic tone, as though the sounds are imperceptibly fading away. Presumably the entire gig was like this – we get some clues of what we haven’t heard from Noetinger’s tape, playing back manipulated fragments of the two playing. Sounds from the small audience become more audible, some children in the room, a bird somehwere.

The selections, presented out of sequence, work as distinct compositions, each preserving a mood while allowing for musical development. Both players are excel at deepening the plot, slipping a new undertone into the colouring of their sound or introducing disruptions at just the right moment, never out of place but changing the listener’s perspective. The tracks are titled only by the time at which they were played; the last track is the latest. The sounds here are at their most sparse, the tape playing thin, high sounds, people’s feet shuffling on the hard floor – it sounds like the sun has set and this is indeed the end.