Thursday 2nd SeptemberSeptember 3, 2010
I’m on a bit of a healthy eating kick at the moment, coupled with a “stop eating snacks at all time of the day” diet. So this morning, before work I was in a shop looking at different boxes of porridge available to buy for breakfast. Of the many options on the shelves, most tried to add a new twist on good old porridge, some adding fruit, some honey, one even mixing in chocolate and banana in the same box (ugh). In the end, faced by all this choice and variation I settled for plain old Scottish porridge oats, which I will enjoy for breakfast tomorrow.
Listening to the first International Nothing album last night may well have influenced my decision in the supermarket today. Sometimes it is the simple, subtle things in life that work best. Adding extra elements often just overcomplicates things and detracts from your enjoyment of the basics when they are just done really well. For me the album Mainstream felt like the shelves of porridge today, a really lovely, deceptively simple article spoilt very slightly by the addition of extra elements. The new International Nothing album, named, ironically, (and brilliantly) Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything is, for want of any other ridiculously overstretched metaphor, a great example of a really well made bowl of good quality, simple porridge.
So yes, the new disc is just the two clarinets of Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, composed, played ‘straight’ with little use of extended technique, and entirely reliant on the creativity of the composition and the skill of the musicians to capture the attention and go somewhere interesting. The five pieces here then work with converging and diverging harmonics again, but also there feels like there is a greater sense of structure to the compositions, perhaps more definition in them, and a greater variety in the use of space and time. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this music is how in-tune with one another Fagaschinski and Thieke are. There was once a time when I wrote somewhere that I could pick Kai’s playing out on any CD he appeared on, such was his own personal musical signature, but here I haven’t a clue which of the two clarinetists plays which note, and as the pair cross their sounds over often mid-flow I’m not even sure I always know if the musician that started a note is the same one that ends it. The sense of mutual understanding is present throughout what is a consistently impressive album that oozes a delicate subtlety that requires careful listening to get the most out of. Notes swell out of the silence rather than just begin, and they slip away with a similar charm. The attention to detail is remarkable, not only in this kind of exit and entrance technique, but in the accuracy of the combined tonal playing. Despite there being extended use of harmonic systems here I can’t find a single mistake, a single loose wavering note, a single missed entry point. In short, it is a beautiful set of five fine, compact pieces that have been executed very well indeed. Simple ingredients, well combined by very talented people. Fine music with no chocolate or bananas in sight.