AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: TRIONYS – Protuberanzen (2021; earsay); TRIONYS – vector alpha (2002; earsay)

At its most basic level, TRIONYS are 3 uber-talented musicians, improvising to their hearts’ content and, not only making one helluva lot of noise but by the sound of it enjoying each other’s interactions whilst doing it.  That’s important and really, all that matters!  But, before you think Protuberanzen is a 38-minute pissing match of which member makes the biggest noise (no pun there), I’ll try and explain why it’s a lot more than that.

TRIONYS is Rainer Bürck on keyboards and electronics, Günter Marx on violin and electronics, and Martin Bürck on gongs, percussion, and yep… electronics.  (Do you think electronics are key on this album?) 

Protuberanzen is one 38-minute piece when it’s presented in its entirety.  Additionally, on the download, the piece is split up into 4 sections…I suppose for the benefit of the time-pressed listener.  I will always default to the entire 38-minute piece in one shot which is the preferred way the group would like it to be heard.  That’s what this write-up is based on.    

I recently wrote about Rainer Bürck’s two very excellent acousmatic albums here and here.  In the context of TRIONYS, the sound heavily leans on his music technology skills.  One of the key elements is the formidable use of samples and (especially) live sound processing.  Rainer developed the necessary software that combines sampling, MIDI processing, and live sound manipulation and injected it all into the DNA of TRIONYS… basically allowing the players a huge, greenfield space of options in which they can individually and jointly express themselves.  Not only does each member display virtuosic chops on their chosen sounding body, but tastefully and sympathetically layer this added technology boost to their soundscape.  If someone insisted on knowing who they sound like, gun to my head I would say The Necks (with a giant caveat which I’ll explain below).  This answer would be predicated on TRIONYS’ sound BEFORE all the electronics and real time manipulation comes into play.  The addition of electronics changes the playing field, giving the trio a very different set of options to mold their sound.

And that they do.  Trionys is not a slave to technology.  Au contraire, all this high-tech layering serves a purpose, and it’s used to spread truth, beauty, goodness, and good cheer in the most mind-altering way possible. 

So that brings me to my first reason why I dig their sound.  My recent write-up on Åke Parmerud emphasized the point that electro-acoustic music should bring in elements of polyphonic composing.  The music on Protuberanzen checks that box.  The Necks comparison above came to mind because of the deft ensemble work within this trio.  The music is birthed by group improvisation and it’s very apparent that they are all listening to each other, playing off each other and using ideas set forth by one member as a springboard to move the sound into an entirely different direction.

This interplay makes for wonderful textures while also providing great opportunities for the close listener to appreciate each member’s contribution to the greater good.  I particularly enjoy the moments when the trio untethers themselves from some of the moodier atmospherics and begin to all out blow.  Here I’m reminded of the British free jazz unit Ovary Lodge, especially in the way Rainer Bürck channels Keith Tippet’s piano stylings.  But, unlike OL, The Necks, or other improvisational groups, the best bits of these improvs are cherry-picked and then re-animated into a coherent form after the fact, thus my caveat.

TRIONYS also does something that I don’t run into very often (which brings me to my second reason).  Whether you want to call them a free-jazz improvising ensemble (with benefits) or, for that matter a rock-based trio creating instant compositions (also, with benefits) … their usage of electronics and live processing adds a very awesome acousmatic element to the space.  While I would love to hear TRIONYS au naturale without the electronics… and I have no doubt it would be a completely different and superb listening experience (these gentlemen can play!!!), that’s just not who they are.  The acousmatic content which is part of the group’s fabric transports the Protuberanzen experience into a netherworld of chaos, unease, and negative space.  The chaos of an ultra-modern, advanced city during rush hour, the unease of a black and grey cobblestoned back alley ’round about midnight after a rainstorm, the negative space of a formless void folding into itself, into a non-being.  Yeah, those are the sensations I want to experience when I check into the headphone space and Protuberanzen delivers!  What are yours?

Their first album, vector alpha was released about 20 years before Protuberanzen.  While the overall sound is somewhat the same, the ensemble feel is tempered by solo spotlights.

vector alpha leaves more room for Bürck, Marx, and Bürck to highlight their individual talents on their respective axe.  The group synergy still abounds but each member is given their own space.  I think in lesser hands, this would not have been a selling point for me but on vector alpha it works.  Both Rainer Bürck’s (piano) and Günter Marx’s (violin) solos seem to just materialize seamlessly into the overall feel and atmosphere of the entire album and they both play with the passion/restraint that is needed.  If I wasn’t looking at track titles, I would think that these spots were part of one extended piece, they fit perfectly.  In fact, as I type this… even though vector alpha is indexed into several tracks, they all have that airbrushed feel that links everything together.  It may as well be a 67-minute piece like (the shorter) Protuberanzen.

It’s Martin Bürck’s percussion solo that really stands out though!  It’s the longest “solo segment” and I think for good reason.  His “electrified” percussion rig expands the soundscape creating a BIG sound.  Acousmatically speaking, the uncanny and unusual abounds over the course of his 13-minute spotlight.  There even seems to be thematic development happening with his ebbing and flowing dynamics.  What I assume are gongs are transformed into super-sized taiko drums reverberating throughout the cosmos.  Smaller percussives sound out with a crispness that is deconstructed into grains that fade as they pan across the sound screen.  Bits of metal and junk get thrown around adding to the entropic mess of sound… a mess that is as much beautiful as it’s chaotic.

I wish I had the opportunity to see TRIONYS perform live.  Yes, the large acousmatic element enables the wyrd sound and textures, a virtue that is compelling enough for me to love both albums… but gesturally I bet they would be a thing to behold!  Taking Martin Bürck’s percussion playing in isolation would be a performance I wouldn’t want to miss but really, I suspect all three of them would be an intense and physical live show.

Until that happens, we have both Protuberanzen and vector alpha to enjoy.  Even though the albums are 20 years apart, they share a similar sound, a sound that is unique enough for me to say that its possibilities are not fully mapped out and explored yet.  I can only hope that the intrepid voyage of discovery that TRIONYS is on will continue.  Their particular new world is ripe for further exploration.  Both come with my highest recommendation.

Late addendum:  TRIONYS did indeed do an unplugged set back in 2006.  Here are 4 short videos:

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999