Dating back to 1991, Andrew Voigt and Ed Herrmann’s Three Duets delves into some of the creative possibilities of the then somewhat novel pairing of saxophone and analogue modular synthesizer. Nearly thirty years after it was recorded, the set still stands as compelling music.
As musicians, the two have explored different paths. Saxophonist Voigt was a founding member of the Bay Area ROVA Saxophone Quartet—he’s the “V” in “ROVA”; at the time these improvised duets were recorded in San Francisco, he’d recently left the group after having stayed with them for a decade. Herrmann, in addition to being an improviser and composer, is a sound engineer and instrument maker who leads audio tours of Chicago. As these improvisation show, though, different paths can converge quite effectively.
Voigt and Herrmann’s collaboration tends to center on the linear mobility of pitch rather than on the more abstract qualities of timbre as such, although certainly there are moments where the quality of a sound becomes its preeminent feature. Assault of the Palindrome, the opening track, finds Voigt’s serpentine lines weaving around and between Herrmann’s uncanny simulation first of upper register plucked strings and then of a low-register, snapping elastic band. Deferring Delusion follows with the two instruments closely overlapping in sound and timbre and then dissolves into the rumble and hum of synthesizer overlaid with the soft twitter of the saxophone. For the third and final piece, Succumb to Mercury, Herrmann sets the textural atmosphere as Voigt explores a range of extended techniques.
Collision Stories are a quartet of San Francisco sound artists concocting an unorthodox mélange of sounds from an appropriately unorthodox set of instruments. Individually, the four—Jorge Bachmann, Bryan Day, Michael Gendreau and Mason Jones—bring highly varied backgrounds to their collective work. Jones, for example, is a guitarist; at the other end of the instrumental spectrum, Day coaxes sounds from handcrafted intonarumori made of metal measuring tapes, radio transceivers, springs and a miscellany of contact mic’d wood, wire and metal. Put together, the group’s sound, as captured on this CD of ten tracks recorded live and in the studio, is an aggregate of elements that are as unclassifiable as they are unidentifiable. Common to all the pieces is a sonic plasticity made of carefully juxtaposed and spaced timbres—sounds of obscure generation impacting each other and then dispersing in a heavily reverberant environment. This is sound that comes very close to the condition of abstract painting: irregular shapes of pure color held together with a finely-tuned dynamism.
The collaboration of acoustic strings with synthesizer can be a challenging. Both strings and electronics are capable of great timbral range, but of qualitatively different sorts. Combining them in real-time performance opens up many different possibilities, and therefore requires some judgment on the part of the collaborators. One such possibility is to set out a contrastive juxtaposition in which each contributor retains its characteristic voice. That is the possibility realized by synthesizer player Cecilia López in her collaboration with double bassist Amanda Irarrazabal and cellist Cecilia Quinteros in a set of pieces recorded live in Buenos Aires this past July.
Over the course of six tracks and 31 minutes, López, Irarrazabal and Quinteros work a creative parataxis in which strings and synthesizer occupy distinctive spheres. Both string players explore expanded sound palettes, but no matter how extended the techniques drawn on, the rasp or creak of bowhair on string, the snap of metal against fingers or wood and the physical thump and projection of pizzicato passages all serve to announce the quintessentially acoustic presence of double bass and cello. The sonic balance of these pieces tends to tilt toward the strings, but those moments when the synthesizer comes through are notable for introducing characteristically electronic colors into an otherwise predominantly acoustic weave of sound.
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.
Pianist Dmitry Shubin and drummer/electronics artist Alexey Ivanov begin the long single track Emphasis paradoxically, by introducing their instruments through an anonymous series of tappings on wood and scrapings of loose metal and taut strings. Eventually the identifiable profiles of piano and drums emerge in the muffled roll of sticks on drumheads, the surging crescendo of vibrating cymbals, and the reverberations of a piano chord repeatedly struck at well-placed intervals. As the piece unfolds, the initial ambiguity of the instruments’ identities finds a parallel in the larger ambiguity of their relationship to each other. For much of the track the usual relationship of piano as lead and drums as support is inverted, with Ivanov’s expressionistic playing frequently taking a salient position. Conversely, the piano often plays the role of a second drum, as Shubin’s attack, particularly in the upper register, emphasizes a kinship to the drums and serves to recall and recover the piano’s status as a member of the percussion family. Ivanov’s occasional electronic interventions serve to underscore the essentially timbral nature of the piece, which nevertheless comes to a close with the relative tranquility of drifting piano chords.
A city of cardboard is a squat made of discarded materials, an expedient settlement for living during economic hard times. Analogously, in this recording the duo Music for Hard Times (Tom Nunn on sketchboxes, resonance plates, music boxes, harmonic rods and other objects, and Paul Winstanley on electric bass guitar with extensions and electronics) build structures in sound out of homemade, jerry-rigged instruments. These structures are textural rather than melodic, consisting of drifting, atmospheric soundscapes in place of motifs stated and varied. As reflected in the seven tracks’ titles, the atmospheres are for the most part bracing—an icy wind modeled in scrapes and echoes, scratches and hums—but not without a certain austere beauty.
Recorded in a London, UK storage facility over the course of two days in winter and summer 2012, this stimulating set of eight live improvisations is a soundtrack of things confronted in their raw state.
Colin Webster draws a kind of elemental expressionism from tenor and baritone saxophones, making all the parts of the instruments audible as he figuratively disassembles and reassembles them as he plays. Through key clicks, overblown notes, air sounds and multiphonics Webster conveys a vivid picture of the player transmitting ideas directly through the instrument’s material. Complementing him is Graham Dunning’s turntable, feeding in Dunning’s field recordings via dubplate supplemented by a spectrum of pops, crackles and the mechanical groan of motors running down under pressure and then returning to speed.
Although fully improvised, the tracks all embody an inherent sense of composition that makes good use of variations in density and timbre through layering and sonic contrast.