Sunday 5th AugustAugust 6, 2012
Some straight down the middle improv tonight then courtesy of Christoph Schiller and Birgit Ulher’s Kolk album on Another Timbre. Schiller plays spinet, a modified, prepared version of the early predecessor to the piano, and Ulher plays trumpet, with a radio, speaker and assorted other items added. On previous albums I have written about Ulher places a tiny speaker inside the bell of her trumpet, so that it can play sounds (presumably here from the radio) as she also plays the trumpet more conventionally. In fact there is little conventional about how the trumpet is used here, and the same should be said for the spinet as the duo make their music through a search for new and extended techniques for their respective instruments.
This review began by calling the album straight down the middle improv, which I think is an accurate statement in light of all the assorted conceptually assembled or digitally compiled albums I have written about of late, but its a hard to one pin down as belonging to one particular area of improv over another. The opening track Auflast sits maybe where we might expect it, full of growling metallic trumpet sounds and scraping, tinkling and whirring prepared spinet, not necessarily fast and frenzied, and using unfamiliar, textural sounds over straight instrumental playing but essentially an evenly balanced improv session that is a nice, if perhaps unremarkable listen. The second piece here though, the much more spacious and fragmented Sediment is a more interesting affair. Here the duo exchange tiny fragments of sound, initially quite slowly and with space between each of them, albeit not long spaces. As the track develops it becomes a little more fluid, but essentially throughout the music is made up of short, sharp stabs of sound that when assembled together form some kind of pointillistic discussion that sits as a pleasing contrast to the opening track. The third piece seems to combine the two approaches, with Ulher putting the radio to use to feed white noise through her instrument as Schiller picks and scrapes at smaller sounds he sprinkles over the top, the track gradually breaking from this formula to slide into a vaguely rhythmic routine of combined abstractions that I would struggle to identify as coming from these two instruments if I wasn’t already aware.
The other two tracks here inhabit a more familiar territory- slow, spacious and generally quite restrained meshes of hissing, popping, scraping and chiming improvisation, the qualities of the actual sounds as important as their placement, the way the two musicians’ contributions combine more important than any individual instrumental showmanship. The interplay is frequently lovely, the subtlety in the musical conversation marked, the confidence in the musical solutions chosen here to the natural problems of free improvisation pronounced, but in some ways, this is your average, everyday album of strong improvised music. Its an album I enjoyed listening to quite a bit on this dreary wet Sunday. Its a good CD but its also one likely to be consigned to the shelves and remembered merely as a good album of modern improv than something to be taken down and played again any time soon. Both musicians are fine improvisers, and this album is a nice showcase for their collaboration, but given that CDs of improvised music continue to tumble out into existence faster than anyone can listen to them there might not be enough of a spark here to stop Kolk getting lost amongst the crowds, which is an unfortunate, if perhaps inevitable shame. Maybe one of the best AT cover images I have seen yet however.