Tuesday 17th AprilApril 18, 2012
The last couple of days I have been listening a lot to Myelin, who are the duo of Birgit Ulher (trumpet with radio, mutes, speaker and objects) and Heddy Boubaker (alto sax and objects). The album is a nice disc of acoustic improvisation duets called Axon. Now, I often struggle to find new words about this kind of improvisation. The music consists of interchanged splutters and growls, and like so much music in this area I enjoy it for its conversational qualities, the interaction between the two musicians. I began to think about this a while today though, and began to wonder why musicians choose to converse with sounds rather than just have a conversation together. The answer is simple though, there is an unwritten language in improvised music that somehow extends beyond the simply literal. I have been fortunate enough down the years to know a lot of musicians and spend time with them before and after concerts, and it always amazes me how conversation can flow fully without ever talking about the music, right up to the point at which they start to play, and then a new language kicks in, something unwritten, undiscussed, and yet somehow understood by musicians that may not speak the same tongue normally, or who may not even have met more than an hour or two before they started playing together. Perhaps a particular duo, or a particular CD might present certain emotions through the music, perhaps anger, joy, tension, fear… all of these things can be felt in music if the players are good enough to be able to channel a part of themselves through in to the music, but sometimes, as with the music here on Axon, there doesn’t seem to be any one set of emotions or imparted sensations, rather a strong feeling of intimacy and friendship. Certainly, Ulher and Boubaker sound very close, both obviously sonically as they seem to restrict themselves to a tight palette of hisses, roars and flutters but also as if they are both reading from the same book, swapping lines at times, and sharing the same sentences, reading together elsewhere. Axon doesn’t make me feel happy or sad or angry or on edge, but it does make me marvel at the skill and understanding between these two improvisers as they weave their music together, so intricately that there is no way it could ever be unravelled again, and yet it all seems to happen with so little effort, without advance discussion, all so very naturally. Somebody recently told me that Heddy Boubaker has had to give up playing the saxophone for health reasons, and has moved to other instruments. I don’t know if there is any truth in this story, and apologise profusely should there be none, but if true I think it is safe to say that he will find other ways to communicate musically just as easily. The technical skill can be learned, but the ability to communicate musically in this manner is something very simple and yet not always grasped by everyone.
It is this simplicity, this incredibly difficult simplicity that makes me enjoy this are of improvised music so much. Axon isn’t going to rewrite any rulebooks, but it tells a fine story that I have enjoyed listening to a lot over the past few days. Its released on the Intonema label in a very nice sleeve.