AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Biliana Voutchkova & Jeff Surak – The Truth About the Key [Relative Pitch Records]

The Truth About the Key is the sixth installation in violinist Biliana Voutchkova’s DUOS2022 series of duets with musicians of various backgrounds. Voutchkova, who resides half the year in Berlin and the other half on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, recorded these duets with American experimental musician Jeff Surak in Berlin, where Surak spent much of this past summer. It was a two-day session, the first day of which was spent recording musical and other activities at different places—location-based “guerilla” interventions, something of a specialty for Surak–followed by a studio session the next day. Surak, who’s credited with playing tape recorder and amplified objects, subsequently took the recordings and composed them into the three sound collages appearing on the album.

Safely Uncivilized captures an outdoor ambience pervaded by the sound of a police siren, the thrum of traffic, and snatches of conversation, which provide background for jangling metal in a four-beat rhythm and tremolo bowing on the violin. Unraveled Over Time combines the hiss and scuff of an imaginary untuned radio with Voutchkova’s pizzicato violin, followed by a charming personal travelogue/reminiscence narrated by Voutchkova. At twenty-six minutes long the title track is an abstract sound mass of variable densities bringing together sounds recalling a gamelan, crisply recorded pizzicato and lo-fi arco violin, colliding objects awash in echo, and a phone conversation—culminating in an abrupt halt.

Voutchkova’s repertoire of extended techniques complements the unpredictable and sometimes messy ambient sounds surrounding her as well as Surak’s noise-based sensibilities. They are an unconventional, and yet dissonantly harmonious, match.

Daniel Barbiero