Wednesday 3rd MarchMarch 4, 2010
So, a day late, here are my thoughts on Savagnieres, the duo disc released a few years back by Cristoph Schiller and Peter Baumgartner on the Creative Sources label. Apologies for writing about something that has been available for a while now, but it is certainly still available, and as it passed me by when it first came out I have no problem writing about it now. Savagnieres is one of two discs involving the Spinett player (spinettist?) Schiller that I purchased from him when I saw his live duo with Sebastian Lexer a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed his live performance a lot, and that coupled with the enthusiastic recommendations of Simon Reynell encouraged me to pick up the two discs, Savagnieres being the first of the two I have listened to.
I have written many times before that my natural taste in improvised music tends to lean towards a blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, and this CD is quite an extreme example of that musical configuaration. For those unaware of what a spinett is, it is best described as a small harpsichord, with Schiller’s personal instrument also modified slightly to allow additional preparations. Baumgartner on the other hand plays here using a laptop, but in a manner that is decidedly artificial and about as far away from the plucked strings and acoustic resonances of the spinett as is possible. While Schiller’s sound changes frequently, full of rattles, clatter, chiming strings and resounding hollow notes, so Baumgartner’s contributions to the five tracks on Savagnieres tend to be deep, semi-rhythmic pulses and drones that change only slightly over time and tend to add a colour and atmosphere to the duo, that Schiller than paints into with his smaller, incidental sounds.
Both Schiller and Baumgartner are Swiss musicians, who seem to have played together for a while. Their music then works well in combination with each other, but the differences between the instrumentation, the sounds made and the history behind each piece of equipment is considerable. While the spinett will have been in use as a musical instrument for several centuries, the powerbook computer has only really been considered to be a viable tool for creating live improvised music for the last fifteen years or so. The difference in sound reflects this. While the spinett has the depth of tradition buried in its sound, the laptop’s output carries a sense of power and persistent strength when compared to the fragility of its older cousin. So on Savagnieres the music portrays not only the electronic/acoustic contrast I enjoy so much but also a distinct feeling of old meets new, tradition meets new kid on the block.
It is this sense of contrasts that makes this CD work for me. On the first four tracks at least, Baumgartner’s sound is mainly made up of rich, partly droning layered synthetic sounds that lean towards circular, pulsing forms, usually quite slow in their rotation and relatively quietly played. Schiller thenÂ gives himself something of a free rein to dance around over the top of these coloured planes, sometimes adding just carefully chosen small sounds, sometimes scribbling quite wildly all over things. The five pieces here, numbered one to five each have their own character. In places the music has an echoey, chamber-like feel to it, whereas elsewhere it is upfront and in your face. What is impressive to me is the confidence in the playing of both musicians. Baumgartner here really sticks his neck out with some of his chosen sounds, from the heavy loops of the fourth piece to the distant vocalisation that whisper in the background of the last track, the only one not to contain purely synthetic sounds. He really pushes the envelope in places, challenging Schiller with some very bold sounds that will then hang in the same space for a considerable amount of time. Schiller then portrays his own remarkable dexterity with his unusual instrument (in the world of improvisation at least) by meeting the laptop’s clouds of sound head-on. At times it feels as if the musicians are arguing rather than harmonising, the dialogue heated rather than calm, but still these two musicians find a way to combine their quite different soundworlds in a manner that resembles much more than two unlikely instruments forced together.
Savagnieres is a great listen. Its hard to know how to describe it or what to compare it to. Baumgartner’s nearest comparison might be with Klaus Filip, but his sound is distinctly richer and mroe detailed than Filip’s and more reliant on the looping pulses found on this CD. Schiller has his own voice. Certainly his music could be compared to the playing of a multitude of inside-pianists, but the spinett’s sound is really quite different, smaller, more compressed and tinny, resonant at a much higher register. This is a disc of quite active improvised music, impressionistic rather than minimal, with the musical dialogue much more linear than directly conversational, Schiller somehow the soloist above a wide sweeping concerto. A nice, really quite original sounding release.