One of the annoying things about listening to vinyl all week is that I can’t play the music I have been listening to at home also in the car like I usually do. So, driving home the six miles from Julie’s house late tonight I had to put on the radio, and in particular the pirate drum ‘n bass station I have somewhat inexplicably been listening to a lot of late. So the drive home was soundtracked by fast, loud, nameless rhythmic music that had me bouncing around in my car seat a little as I drove through the fog. A bit odd then to get in and immediately drop the needle onto the stylus of a record of an acoustic improvisation trio, but there you go.
The album in question is a vinyl only release on the Monotype label by the trio of Werner Dafeldecker, (double bass) Axel Dorner (trumpet) and Sven-Ake Johansson (percussion) named Der Kreis Des Gegenstandes (The Circle of the Article?) The album contains four tracks, two on each side, and each of them is credited to one of the trio, with Dafeldecker taking the credit for two of the pieces, each of them slightly shorter tracks at the end of either side. Now, exactly how this music is composed, assuming it is, I really have no idea. Nothing on the sleeve or the Monotype site reveals anything at all, and, quite frankly this sounds like an album of improvised music. If the addition of a composer’s name to each piece wasn’t there, then in no way would I have thought there was any degree of composition involved here. So, beyond being a little confused / intrigued, I really can’t add any more about this. It sounds like an album of pretty good acoustic improvisation.
One ends up wondering though if perhaps improvisation of this kind may actually have reached a stage where it could easily be composed and we wouldn’t notice the difference. In a review I wrote for The Wire that was published yesterday (of an Evan Parker / Okkyung Lee / Peter Evans CD) I pondered over how important it is for improvisation to try and do something new in this day and age, concluding that as long as the music in general is being pushed along and developed by somebody, somewhere (which I personally believe it is) then good solid examples of enjoyable, engaging, if far from groundbreaking improvisation are perfectly welcome to fill in the ground behind them. Perhaps this album feels to me like one of those “filler” discs. Der Kreis Des Gegenstandes is a fine listen, maybe highly predictable in some ways, given its use of growly, textural sounds punctuated by carefully selected percussive strikes, but its a really nice listen, a fine forty minutes or so of music to dig your ears into (though I still get so annoyed at having to get up after twenty minutes to turn the disc over- why is this on vinyl?) But then maybe this album isn’t so predictable after all. Maybe the music isn’t completely improvised. Maybe it is a very cleverly composed comment on improvisation’s familiarity. I doubt it, but you never know.
So things purr and scrape, hiss and rub and occasionally bang and squeal through these pieces, all at a slow, steady pace somewhat in stark contrast to the drum ‘n bass from my car journey home tonight, but rarely silent. So we hear familiar quotes from Dafeldecker and Dorner (the long slow bowed notes, that machine gun trumpet rattle etc) and probably from Johansson as well, but I know his music less well. There is a nice sense of spacing to the music, with sounds allowed to breathe but then also combined with others neatly to create new sounds again. The arrangement of material may indeed suggest composition, but if so I suspect only the placement of elements has been prescribed. It would be, I think, impossible to notate the sounds used here. It all feels intuitive, if restrained and thoughtful. Stylistically, perhaps the more recent albums of Dafeldecker’s Polwechsel group spring to mind, but then hang on, the majority of that group’s out put is composed…
So my apologies for focussing on this issue rather than delving much into the material itself, but I am intrigued by this music, and in particular by how my perception of it is changed, or at least, thrown into question by the inclusion of a composer’s name by each of the track titles. The fine line between composition and improvisation is one that has been considered and discussed to death, and in the opinion of many, actually erased long ago. I find it interesting however that I struggle to settle into any one form of listening here simply because of this issue again. Still, a nice listen, and a great (Dafeldecker) cover photo that looks all the better blown up to 12″ sleeve size.