Plus Timbre Overview

As stated on its web page:

Plus Timbre is a netlabel dedicated to experimental and improvisational music, aiming to foster and promote material in the widest possible variety of relevant musical styles.

We have reviewed a number of Plus Timbre releases over the last few years, compiled here. Original articles were written by Daniel Barbiero.

Gussoni / Magliocchi / Northover – The Sea of Frogs (2019)

The trio of Bruno Gussoni, Marcello Magliocchi and Adrian Northover has the unusual instrumentation of flutes, drums and soprano saxophone (played by Gussoni, Magliocchi and Northover, respectively). The standard flute and soprano sax share a substantial overlap in range, but differ markedly in timbre: one is hollow and airy in the low register and bright in the high register, while the other is penetrating and nasal in the upper register and reedy and dense in the lower register. In combination, they can create startling contrasts of color, as they do here. Whether played together in blocks of sound or as flurries of notes strung together in intertwining lines, the two instruments open up a sometimes very subtle space of difference between them. In their unaccompanied Duo #1, these differences are emphasized through extended techniques such as air notes and key clicks; elsewhere dynamic contrasts come into play, as in the opening piece for trio and in Trio #3’s upper register passages and held tones. Given the frequently delicate balance of sounds surrounding him, Magliocchi responds with sensitivity and open textures, never crowding out the winds. His skill as a colorist is evident throughout, but especially on Duo #2 for drums and soprano sax, and Duo #3 for drums and flute.

Foutel + Palotta – Mandarina (2019)

Foutel + Palotta are Argentinian—pianist Ana Foutel is from Buenos Aires, where Mandarina was recorded, while multi-instrumentalist Edgardo Palotta is from Quilmes. Their six duets are notable for their timbral adventurousness thanks largely to Foutel’s exquisite extended techniques and Palotta’s eclectic battery of wind, string and percussion instruments. On Noctilucas, a dark, ponderously paced piece, for instance, Foutel transforms the piano into a reasonable facsimile of a mallet percussion instrument; on Sándalo she plays directly on the strings with metal objects to give the piano a brittle, harpsichord-like sound. Palotta’s own contributions are always apt, whether underscoring the music with pizzicato double bass as he does on Ocre and Evening, spinning out evocative motifs on clarinet on Noctilucas, or bringing in the sounds of the South American Indian flute on Nos salvaron los peces.

Giuseppe Pascucci & Vito Pesce – Nikola Was Right! & Humasaurs (2019)

Guiseppe Pascucci and Vito Pesce, both of whom play guitar and electronics, are collaborators on these two simultaneously released and complementary albums, both of which were recorded live September 2016-February 2017. Pascucci and Pesce’s individual bios on the label’s site are vague almost to the vanishing point—which in a way is consistent with their music: on both albums they craft a collective sound in which each individual voice blends into an encompassing and satisfying whole.

On Nikola Was Right!—the Nikola in question being Tesla—the group sound is rich: resonant, full-ranged and sensuous. The album’s concise, intelligent soundscapes feature surging and cresting tones, complex harmonies wrapped in washes of sound folding back on itself, and crystalline, echoing chords and single-line runs splayed against electronic chaff and the occasional synthetic choir. Humasaurs, by contrast, is a spikier affair. Where Nikola Was Right! tends to efface the guitarishness of the guitars’ sound, Humasaurs pulls it into the foreground and revels in it. Pascucci and Pesce make each part of the instrument audible with aggressively staccato attacks, insistent rhythms, pointillistic textures and sharper-edged timbres. It’s a different proposition from what we hear on Nikola Was Right! and the perfect counterpart to that album. A fine matched pair.

Mauro Sambo & Matilde Sambo – …sibilava tra i denti… (2018)

…sibilava tra i denti…–“hissed between the teeth”—is the work of two generations of Venetian experimentalists. Multi-instrumentalist Mauro Sambo, here on electronics, double bass, kalimba, gong and other percussion, is joined by his daughter Matilde, who provides field recordings and plays electric guitar and electronics. Both bring sensibilities formed at the crossings of sound and various other media—videography for Matilde, and the plastic arts for Mauro. As might be expected, their collaboration shows a sensitivity to the ways sound can imply and simulate action projected into a three-dimensional space—implication being the soul of their musical wit.

The single, nearly twenty-nine minute track is permeated by an atmosphere of acousmatic mysteriousness, as the sources of Sambos’ sounds seem reluctant to reveal themselves. Until they do, in the form of clearly-shaped guitar arpeggios, a struck gong reverberating in a void, or the skittering of a hyperactive kalimba. Throughout its changes of texture and timbre, the track gives rise to an almost cinematic sense of obscure but purposeful actions performed with the help of unknown means, and all of it taking place just at the threshold of comprehension.

KURUNDU (Zigo & Camila Dos Santos) – Yvykua Ipuva (2018)

Much experimental/electronic sound art can be austere and even severely cerebral; Kurundu’s five-movement suite Yvykua Ipuva, by contrast, revels in the polymorphous sensuality of sound.

Kurundu, named for South American ritual amulets, is a binational duo of Paraguayan cellist Camila Dos Santos and Argentinian electronics artist Zigo Rayopineal. Their collaboration has produced a set of richly atmospheric, layered musical constructions built in real time. Dos Santos and Rayopineal are particularly good at creating the illusion of spatial depth with sound, partly through a close attention to the stratification of texture and partly through the reverberant voices they tend to favor. The foundation is Dos Santos’ cello, suitably looped and processed. Her playing here is more about ambience than melody, although a melodic line does unfold slowly at the heart of the long second movement; her use of chords and drones, glissandi and extended techniques complements Rayopineal’s shimmering electronic settings. The latter dominate the fourth movement, which seems to allude to early electronic music’s sonic imaginings of outer space; the final movement puts the focus on Dos Santos’ cello—strummed, overpressured and bowed for harmonics and multiphonics, it sketches its self-portrait in a concave mirror.

Sadhana – Sadhana (2017)

Sadhana, the Neapolitan trio of Massimo Imperatore on guitar and effects, Umberto Lepore on double bass, objects and bells, and drummer Marco Castaldo, take the jazz guitar trio through both conventional and challenging soundworlds, always following a path of musically impeccable logic.

Both tracks are structured as suites alternating melodic improvisation with abstract sound; the transitions between sections are smooth and make the relationship between melody and noise a reciprocal, mutually inevitable one. The nearly thirty-six minute long opening track starts with pristine, reverberant guitar notes quickly joined by double bass in a unison line. What develops is a vaguely implied, calypso-like harmonic progression seated on top of free-rhythm drumming and a restless bassline that seems on the verge of breaking into a regular walk, but never does. The piece dissolves into unpitched sounds—crisp drumming supplemented by creaking, scraping, the backwards-surge of a volume pedal or control. And then back again to melody, through several cycles. The shorter second track runs this script backward, starting with sound and developing into pitch.

Each of the pieces is notable for its clarity and transparency of texture, even when the music shades off into pure sound. Each individual voice maintains its unmistakable profile—the guitar its clean, round tone; the double bass a muted, pizzicato attack; the drums a firm, supporting presence. A very fine recording all around.

Mauro Sambo – Quel mutamento era il primo di una serie infinita (2017)

A sound collage of understated drama and almost tangible atmosphere, Mauro Sambo’s Quel mutamento era il primo di una serie infinita (“what change was the first in an infinite series”) is a perfectly symmetrical suite made up of twenty parts of two minutes and twenty-three seconds each. Sambo deftly combines and recombines a set of recurring sounds—tolling bells, bits of operatic recordings heard from a distance, hammered metallic sounds reminiscent of a foundry or factory, the low buzz of a bass clarinet—in layers suggesting extension in physical space. The recapitulation of sounds within the suite gives it the feel of an uncannily familiar dream made up of repeating and evolving soft-edged images.

Distante, D’Amico & Forestiere – Aphasia (2016)

Summing up his aesthetic, pianist Jack D’Amico describes his music as ranging across a continuum of song, noise and silence. Aphasia, his trio collaboration with trumpeter Giorgio Distante and drummer Walter Forestiere, does indeed integrate all three elements into a thoughtful amalgamation of avant-garde timbres and cohesive rhythms standing in the shadows of silence. Ironically enough, the release is named for a medical condition involving language impairment—ironically, because the music here demonstrates a fluency in the vocabularies and grammars of different strains of contemporary improvisation.

Distante, D’Amico and Forestiere, all of whom are from Southern Italy–Lecce, Naples and Bari, respectively–share eclectic backgrounds. With roots in classical, jazz and contemporary idioms, their work has leveraged improvisation and the use of new technologies to enhance sounds both individually and in the aggregate. So it’s no surprise that Aphasia’s four tracks move between electric and acoustic contexts with a transparency that reconciles these two often distinctive milieux.

The opening and closing tracks both center on a sound that recreates, while simultaneously refreshing, the electric piano vamps and steady grooves of early jazz-rock. Aloof’s minor key vamp falls into a beat accented in sevens, while being punctuated by the stab and fade of D’Amico’s chording and Distante’s spare melodies. Aphasia plays a spacious, shimmering electric piano and ruminative trumpet off against the album’s most assertive drumming. The two middle tracks, Regret That and Micro-Macro, work together like a suite, Regret That’s closing drum-trumpet duet leading naturally into Micro-Macro’s opening with an introspective cadenza for trumpet alone. The former piece is built around D’Amico’s classical-modernist pianism, the scraping of the strings inside the piano offset by Forestiere’s well-placed, discreet drumming, which eventually brings the piece into the solid structure of a deliberate 4-4 time. The latter piece sums up the various elements making up the album: Pensive solos for trumpet and piano in which individual tones are given room to breathe; surprising timbres for drums and objects; and the trio’s collective coalescence into a sturdy rhythm.

Mauro Sambo, Marco Colonna & Ivano Nardi – …non così lontano dal cuore (2016)

“…non così lontano dal cuore”—not so far from the heart—is a long, uncluttered and atmospheric improvisation from the trio of Mauro Sambo (electronics, electric guitar, piano, shakuhachi and double bass), Marco Colonna (alto clarinet) and Ivano Nardi (percussion). Over the course of the forty-one minute-long piece Colonna supplies lithe, serpentine melodies that frequently echo or counterpoint themselves thanks to Sambo’s looping and electronic manipulation. The interplay between the two musicians largely centers on the timbral contrasts and overlaps of distorted electric guitar and thunderously resonant piano chords on the one side and the now rounded, now overblown and raw-edged sounds of the clarinet on the other. A high point is a brief duet for the buzzing, sustained notes of the reed instrument and the shakuhachi’s skittishly voice-like melodies. Throughout, Nardi provides sympathetic and sensitive support on percussion.

Pellerin, Boss & Magliocchi – The Sounding Door (2015)

The twelve relatively brief pieces making up The Sounding Door, a trio work by Guy-Frank Pellerin, Matthias Boss and Marcello Magliocchi, represent a variety of inspired chamber improvisation grounded in the textural multiplicity afforded by similarly pitched but timbrally different instruments.

Although each participant is a multi-instrumentalist—Pellerin plays three different types of saxophone as well as bone flute and clarinet; Boss contributes violin, flute, and voice; and Magliocchi plays guitar, percussion and a sound-producing sculpture created by M. Andrea Dami—the tracks are never crowded but instead leave space for each individual instrument to develop its voice in tandem with the others.

Most of the pieces focus on the interplay of Pellerin’s reeds and flute with Boss’s violin. The juxtaposition of the violin with the soprano and sopranino saxophones creates a musical tension built on the simultaneous convergence of pitches and divergence of timbre, which often serve to emphasize the brightness of the violin. By contrast, the track Incertitude Rêvée puts the violin against the clarinet’s lower register, the latter taking on the unlikely function of a pseudo-cello in an updated continuo. Un Bicchiere di Spumante features plucked violin and baritone saxophone against a shimmering background of cymbals and other metallic percussion—quite possibly a case of the sculpture audibly asserting itself in the mix.

José Guillén – Órbitas (2015)

An orbit entails a fine balance between two objects—one trying to pull in another that in turn is trying to escape that pull with forward motion. Through the tension between these invisible opposing forces an equilibrium is struck.

The play of invisible forces between two orbiting bodies provides the conceptual background for José Guillén’s Órbitas, a concise collection of six electronic pieces. Each composition is made of a base recording to which a second track is improvised and overlaid. The layered drones, chords and tones approach and recede from each other, seemingly moving in and out of proximity; this, combined with the rising and falling dynamics, evokes changes in an orbiting body’s altitude. Guillén’s choices of sounds and textures reflect the workings of a subtle sensibility.

André Darius & Paul Mimlitsch – Renga (2015)

Renga is a form of linked, short verse written by two or more poets together. André Darius and Paul Mimlitsch creatively interpret the idea of the collaborative series of brief pieces with their duo release titled, appropriately enough, Renga. The fourteen short tracks—each averaging about two minutes in length—are improvisational miniatures for Mimlitsch’s bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet and Darius’ electric upright bass and voice. The music is largely a kind of constantly moving, engagingly free lyricism with frequent excursions into pure sound and timbre, particularly on the tracks featuring Darius’ vocalizations. Mimlitsch’s reedy low register growls and ruminations contrast nicely with the brighter sounding yet similarly low-pitched electric upright bass.