AMN Reviews: Beam Splitter – Rough Tongue [Corvo Records core013]

Beam Splitter is a duo with a unique, and uniquely broad, perspective on what wind music can be when augmented by contemporary sound technologies and produced through extended performance techniques. The project, a collaboration between Norway’s Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø and American expatriate Audrey Chen, is premised on the idea of creating an interpersonal sound from the dynamic interaction of the participants’ instruments: amplified trombone and amplified voice, respectively.

Ten of the eleven tracks are relatively short collages assembled from fragments of sound recorded during live performances in Vienna and Ljubljana in October, 2016; the long eleventh track appears to capture the real-time flow of Nørstebø and Chen’s July, 2016 performance at the Weincafé in Berlin. The latter track in particular reveals Nørstebø and Chen’s fundamental sense of the dramatic potential of the improvised duet; given the intimacy of pairing the human voice with an instrument not very far removed from the voice—and played in such a way as to emphasize its closeness to voice—it isn’t surprising to hear an element of theatricality in their work even when, through manipulation or assemblage, its surfaces are deliberately rendered illegible. This theatricality extends to their dramatization of the physical gestures underwriting sound production, which are brought to the forefront by virtue of their use of amplification: listening to Nørstebø and Chen, one can never forget that both voice and trombone are dependent on, and have their origin in, breath. For each of us, breath is a highly personal signature at the audible edge of sound; to magnify it, as Nørstebø and Chen do, is to make oneself available in a particularly bold way. And the work on Rough Tongue is nothing if not bold.

Daniel Barbiero