A Messier object is a name given by a once prominent astronomer for objects often seen in the sky that were mistaken for comets. Frustrated by them, he made a list of them so that they could be ignored in future. The four musicians here each use instruments that perhaps many would think shouldn’t really be instruments. Andrea Neumann perhaps comes closest, utilising the extracted insides of an old piano, but as Klaus Filip uses a laptop computer, and Toshimaru Nakamura threads the screech of feedback through a mixing board, so Ivan Palacký puts an old knitting machine to use. Perhaps these musicians’ instruments should be added to a list of almost, but not quite instruments. The disc they have produced however, an album released on Meenna of two tracks, one recorded in Prague in October 2011, the second a day later in Vienna is a real delight, proper instruments or no proper instruments.
All of this group are old friends, and I think all have played together before in smaller units, with several duo albums having sprung forth from various combinations in the past, but this could be their first set of recordings as a quartet. All four have also played their part in the reductionist approach to modern improvised music as well in the past, but here, while the lessons and qualities of such sparse music have certainly been learned and assimilated into Messier Objects there is no holding back in these recordings. While its far from a case of frantic gabbiness, often the music here emerges as accumulated clusters of aggressively confrontational sound, a mix of the soft, the jagged, rusty and sharp and various levels in between, but the real pleasure here is how each musician knows their role at any one time, and the music curls together more naturally than we normally expect to hear in this area of music. The sensation of togetherness, not just of of mutual exploration but of a shared sense of where the music should be going is really remarkable here.
Klaus Filip, despite having the just about limitless potential of digital processing power at his fingertips limits himself musically to sine tones, some on their own, some clustered together. On these two pieces he stays in this area, and his sounds lay behind all the other activity, as we have come to expect. However, Filip is not just a colourist, filling in the negative spaces between the other musicians. In this sort of setting I have come to think of him like the air conditioning in a room. Perhaps his input may not always be immediately obvious, but when he plays cold, the entire room shivers, making everyone do things differently, and vice versa when he turns up the heat he brings a claustrophobic intensity to the music that pushes everyone into tight areas. Its hard to separate the contribution of Neumann and Palacký, as each works with metallic objects fed through electroacoustic processes, but they trade sounds superbly, nobody ever forcing things where the others don’t want to go, and yet still adding the occasional vicious shard, intermittent full stops added to the extended sounds of others. nakamura really shines here, as he often does. He sounds utterly inspired by his collaborators, thrusting walls of feedback through tight gaps in their sound when you least expect it, holding back and lying low when others have things to say.
The two pieces here are sublime. The Prague recording, I think captured in a live performance clocks in at over forty minutes. The second, a studio recording from Vienna is abbreviated to sixteen. If the first flows better, growing organically in ways that established improvisers that know each other well can achieve, so the studio piece is more thoughtful, full of many quiet, brooding passages that often explode, sometimes into sudden sections of abrasive angularity, sometimes false starting completely before sliding back to a slightly shifted calm. This music encapsulates, for me personally, where improvisation is currently at its best. This is music that understands its history, has learned from the insect-like charging about of its distant past, and also from the chilled emptiness of its more recent exploits. It has dropped all the rules about something should sound, and instead has taken the best of of all approaches and opening the music back up to personal interactions between individuals. Great music indeed.