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at41                 choices

Lucio Capece    bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, preparations, mini-megaphone

Birgit Ulher      trumpet, mutes, radio, speaker

1.  physical   9:13

2.  chance  28:09

3.  orbital     4:51

total time:  42:14

youtube extract


Interview with Birgit Ulher, February 2011

“I’ve always been suspicious of categories…

I don't care whether something is ‘reductionist’

or not as long as I’m convinced by the music.”

Listening to Choices there seems such a similarity between your and Lucio’s approaches to

your respective instruments, that it’s almost surprising that this is your first disc as a duo.  

When did you first play with Lucio?  

- In September 2008 I shared a concert with him at Alberto Ukebana in Berlin, where we both

played with other musicians. As we liked each other’s playing we decided to try playing together,

and did this the next time I came to Berlin. I felt an affinity with his approach straightaway and it

worked musically from the beginning.

You both use preparations to great effect, and at times Choices sounds as close to

percussion as it does to wind or brass music. Have you made a conscious decision to

distance yourself from the ‘natural’ sound of a trumpet?  Or do you sometimes play

‘pure’ notes in an improvising context?  

- I always had an affinity with percussion and used to play it for several years, though mostly just

for myself. I rarely play 'pure' notes in an improvising context because I think everything in this

area has been done already. I’m more interested in the subtle tonality and fine gradations

between sounds than in the obvious one, which is generally called tonality. The sounds have an

internal structure, and the preparations are used as resonating systems. For me this is the result

of many years working on the sound of the trumpet and not a question of how far I can get away

from its 'natural' sound. But it’s also been a conscious decision to work in the field which interests

me most. I’d describe this field as material research and the placement of sounds in a time


You trained as a visual artist, and are largely self-taught as a musician.  Does your background in the visual arts affect the way you approach your instrument?

- Absolutely. As a visual artist I have been into material research as well. In the visual arts it is much more common to work in very specific areas, while in music it is still common to play different styles of music. Maybe it has to do with the different tasks of composers and interpreters, which never existed in the visual arts. Morton Feldman has a great point on this in his essay 'The Anxiety of Art'.

Lucio has frequently been linked with the term ‘reductionist’, and on Choices your playing is very similar to his.  But I know it’s a term that you’re not altogether happy with.  What are your reservations about the concept?

- My playing on Choices isn't that far from my playing on my solo CD 'Radio Silence No More' and the CD 'Tehricks' with Gregory Büttner. I have always been interested in reductionism, but I don't like to be categorised by any 'ism'.  What I didn't like so much about the early Berlin reductionism was the strict concept and rules that came with it. On the other hand it might have been important at that time to make a radical break for creating something new. But I’ve always been suspicious of categories and somehow I don't care whether something is ‘reductionist’ or not as long as I’m convinced by the music.

Do you feel that in general there’s been a gentle stepping away from the extremes of ‘reductionism’ within improvised music in Germany over the past five years?

- Yes, it’s quite a while since the term reductionism was established and the work of the musicians who were mainly involved has developed in many different directions. Also the improvised music scene in Berlin has changed a lot.  Many musicians have moved there from all over the world and brought their own approaches, so there are lots of different approaches at the moment. In Berlin there’s currently a tendency to dissociate from the term ‘improvised music’ and work more on conceptual or composed pieces.

“The advantage of living in Hamburg is being able to concentrate on your own work without the distraction of hundreds of concerts happening every month.”

Berlin has historically been the centre for improvised music in Germany, and

you went there to record two of the tracks on Choices in Lucio’s studio.  But

the long piece on the disc was recorded at a festival in Hamburg, where

you’ve been based for nearly 30 years.  Do you think being outside Berlin has

advantages as well as difficulties for an improvising musician in Germany?  

- Yes, it does. Now I’m quite content living in Hamburg, but for many years I

thought about moving to Berlin, and would have for sure if Hamburg wasn’t so

close.  I’ve always played with Berlin musicians like Chris Heenan (who is part

of my group Nordzucker) and Ute Wassermann, to name just those I work with

regularly.   What I like about the Berlin scene is that improvised music is taken

and discussed really seriously, which isn't always the case in Hamburg. And

there are certainly many more interesting musicians in Berlin. But there are

so many musicians there that there’s more of a separation from other musicians,

which doesn't happen so much in Hamburg, because the scene here is very

small. Sometimes there’s a hype about certain ideas or concepts in Berlin,

which is quite uncritically taken over.

I’d be afraid of getting stuck in Berlin; you can play a lot of gigs there, and great

musicians come to town all the time, but I guess that while this would keep you

very busy, maybe you’d forget about working outside the city.

If you live in Hamburg you really have to work on getting around, otherwise you’ll

be stuck there with very small input. But the advantage of living in Hamburg is

being able to concentrate on your own work without the distraction of hundreds

of concerts happening every month.  And since the improvised music scene is

very small you get in contact much more with other scenes like electronic or

new music.  There’s been a lot going on here in the last few years, since we

founded an association for sound art, improvised, electronic and composed

music.  We found new ways of organising concerts like the ‘blurred edges festival’,

where one track of Choices was recorded.


“Ulher and Capece open a vast universe of sounds”

“On this album Lucio Capece plays bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, as well as various prepared things, and Birgit Ulher can be heard on trumpet and radio. Among many musicians Capece has collaborated with Radu Malfatti, and this may give you a hint of the approach – no firm conventions. The shimmer of the minutest sound is examined.

More and more Ulher proves to be one of the most remarkable trumpeters in the new generation of reevaluating instrumentalists, and when the two play together remarkable things happen. It is a music that comes in dense structures. For start, it can be heard clearly who is who. Actually, it can be heard all the way, but not in the way we are used to.

Inspired by each other the playing becomes a kind of echo-game. A call is matched by a truncated response. Where are you? - are you ... Affinities of sounds arises, captured and processed by the qualities and possibilities of their instruments.

The result is a slow and snaking stream of sound that also is remarkably rhythmic. Yet, how does this shimmer? It is streaming as a flow of light, where mirror images are complementing the reflections. The result is undeniably irresistible. It is an impressionistic art of sound without impressionism, where the only thing that is left is the light. The music of this duo is so dense that it reminds of the tension in the air that arouses by unexpected pauses. It sounds incredibly fresh and clear.”

Thomas Millroth (translated by Johan Redin), Sound of Music

The third album in the current series from Another Timbre features two wind instrumentalists who are clearly affiliated to the reductionist scene: Birgit Ulher on trumpet and Lucio Capece on saxophone and clarinet, both players also using numerous objects and preparations.  Many landscapes emerge, indeterminate sounds occur, while notes and orthodox instrumental techniques are suppressed; in short, Ulher and Capece open a vast universe of sounds.

Physical, which opens the disc, is based on a drone played alternately by Ulher and Capece, a drone which is as mechanical as organic, and which lets us hear wood, metal, breath and internal mechanisms.  Birgit Ulher imposes herself on this unstable drone (which evolves minimally) and spits, burps, whistles, coughs and splutters across the mouthpiece.  In short this is a relatively traditional duo, where one player is grafted onto the base, except that the tempo is bizarrely striated, and pitches give way to an indeterminacy of sound.  Ulher and Capece in fact demonstrate that a style of music is possible that exists beyond the chromatic scale while retaining past forms, even if the structure is a little heterodox on account of the numerous alternations, fractures and unexpected silences.

On Chance, which at almost 30 minutes is by far the longest piece, the soundscape has something desolate about it on account of the ubiquitous breaths which recall the winds of the apocalypse, and irregular metallic resonances that suggest abandoned industry.  The perception becomes more acute and it becomes very difficult to know who is doing what and how, and if the sounds are prepared or ‘purely’ instrumental, organic or mechanical.  Chance involves a vast horizon of unheard creative timbres which are assembled and interwoven, opposed and confronted, but always seeming to connect with the intentions of the playing partner.  The players’ listening is extremely attentive and sensitive, so that the partnership is very successful, this duo knowing how to seize chance opportunities (while using certain choices) and deploying all the qualities and talents of each player in such a way that one single musical personality is formed by the end without either player losing their personality in the musical dialogue.  

Birgit Ulher and Lucio Capece conclude with a short 5-minute piece,
Orbital, which completely assimilates instrumental and electronic sources (using radiowaves).  Capece discretely and affectionately allows certain unstable, fluctuating notes to emerge from his soprano onto the aggressive montone drone of the radiowaves in order to rebalance and harmonise the ensemble. A beautiful electroacoustic piece where the acoustic element knows how to tame the electronic, where the balance between the two becomes music, and which opens up and holds in suspense a new world made of new energies and timbres.  

Choices only rarely varies its level of intensity, but energy levels are constantly modulated according to the equilibrium created both by the duo and by the qualities of the timbres themselves (be they essential or accidental).  The three pieces stretch across very different durations, and this temporality also contributes to the diversity of the music’s energies.  These varying temporalities allow many aspects to emerge, from a sense of urgency to the slow, serene development of different timbres and a variety of energy balances.  Three strong, coherent and rich pieces which together install a new regime of sounds, of complex and lush timbres, a regime whose advent is desirable and even preferable.”

Julien Heraud, Improv-sphere

“When I was very young I would sometimes lie in the grass, one ear pressed to the soil, for a monoscopic view on life lived literally at grass roots, a telescoped perspective on a teeming world routinely hidden from view. The artists on the Another Timbre label, in the ways they make sound, bring a comparable perspective to the aural minutiae that brings music to life.

Another Timbre, as the label’s homepage succinctly puts it, provides an outlet “for improvised and cutting-edge contemporary music”. Common to all Another Timbre releases are quietness, gestural minimalism, and an emphasis – as might be expected – on the expressive potential of timbre (as distinct from pitch or volume, much less rhythm). The Another Timbre roster convenes at the Venn intersection where artists from multiple disciplines find common ground. Here, musicians with formidable ‘classical’ technique rub up against self-taught masters of new media, veteran improvisers from the electro acoustic, Onkyo or lower-case improvisation scenes, and specialists in aleatory music and cutting-edge composition. It’s a heady, rarefied zone where expression follows deep introspection, and the result is music for deep listeners. These aren’t recordings you can enjoy while vacuuming. John Cage appears to be one of the label’s touchstones, and many Another Timbre release can be heard as a responsive to Cage’s connection of spontaneity with pre-determination. The stunning “Lost Daylight” album, on which John Tilbury plays the piano music of Terry Jennings and, alongside Sebastian Lexer, John Cage’s “Electronic Music for Piano, 1964”, was a highlight of 2010, and made The Wire magazine’s top 10 recordings of that year. The four recordings considered by this article – all released in April 2011 – represent the more abstract side of the label’s output, all being more or less concerned with the refinement of the improviser’s art in the exploration of acoustic and electronic sound in all its fine-grained textural detail.

Lucio Capece, Birgit Ulher  “Choices”

“”Choices’ is a fine illustration of its creators’ individually stated concerns. Birgit Ulher is an improviser committed (according to a statement on her web page) to the development of a “grammar of sounds beyond the open trumpet”. Based in Hamburg, she also organises the cities’ Real Time Music Meeting festival for improvised music. Lucio Capece (on his blog) describes his art as “no narrative music (no start-no ending-no developments)…sound in its most granular characteristics and its extremes”. Across the duration of its long central live recording and two flanking studio takes, the “Choices” album is an even-handed work of close interplay between these two perfectly matched instrumentalists. They sometimes do little more than exploit the raw sonic potential of their reeds and brass. At other times the effects they produce are much more refined, noises shaped to sound out in playful rumination or pure abstract beauty. In either mode, the duo extract from their instruments all the various tonalities of a larger ensemble, exploiting percussive potentialities to remarkable effect and drawing upon a range of breath sounds from plosive and guttural to ethereal. They coax from their ostensibly limited instrumentation a more astonishing range of effects than many talented musicians can manage with sophisticated sound processing equipment.

Since I began this review another title featuring Capece, the Vladislav Delay Quartet’s début, has dropped onto my doormat. That title sees Capece playing alongside electronics auteur turned percussionist Delay, ex-Pan Sonic sound processor Mika Vainio, and acoustic bassist Derek Shirley. With its blending of dubbed out micro-house and acoustic jazz it’s quite a change of pace from the Another Timbre offering, but many of the core concerns are the same. It might be that I end up playing the Delay album more often, simply because it requires less focused attention , but “Choices” is the purer expression, and in its balance of simplicity of conception, its sense of purpose, and its high-minded musical idealism, in many ways also the more pleasing.”

Tim Owen, The Jazz Man

“I’m surprised that there haven’t been more improv CDs named Choices. After all, I guess that is what improvised music basically is, a series of choices made and resolved in the moment, one after another, each one informed by the last. This CD is quite unusual in its construction as it appears to be perfectly balanced somewhere between busy, active call and response improv and droning, minimalistic music. I say this because overall the music feels very linear, essentially moving from left to right along one long unbroken line. However there isn’t really any point that one sound is maintained alone for a long period of time. The final piece here is the closest that the music comes to a single sustained sound. Named Orbital, the track appears to be the sound of Ulher working with a detuned radio trapped somehow in the body of her trumpet to create a hollow, metallic blur of static and whine, over which Capece lays softly humming sax tones, drifting in and out. Elsewhere the duo slowly lay down passages of textured, softly coloured tone and rough edged extended abstraction that overlap with each other before dying away for the next to appear. Because the music moves slowly, and because individual sounds feel like they are held longer than usual, even if perhaps they aren’t, the feeling of a single drifting mass of sound is present, even though it actually changes frequently.

The sounds the duo use tend to purr and splutter and hum rather than wail and scream, and so the comments made about AMM by Evan Parker  occur to me here- Choices sounds linear, like a series of slightly different waves slowly breaking on the shore, one after another, never really increasing the drama but building interest through the subtle changes in colour and texture and in particular the way that the different overlaid sounds work with one another. In general they work very well as the two musicians are sensitive to each other’s playing, one adding a gentle murmur when the other is dominant and fractured, the other adding some grit to spice things up if it all goes a little flat.

The structure of these pieces remind me of much of the semi-ambient field recording/collage music that gets sent my way. As a composer of that kind of music mixes recordings together visually on a screen they slide long thin blocks of ‘visual’ sound over each other, some fading as others arrive, others staying in place so that two streams of sound can be heard at once. Choices takes a similar approach, but it all happens live, in the moment. Indeed choices are made about where to place these lengths of audio material, just as the computer-based composer might make them, but for these improvisers the composition is worked out, reworked and listened to live in the moment by the musicians. The choices then become one-off chances that cannot be recovered with a few clicks of the Back button. The music we hear lives or dies by the choices that Ulher and Capece make. There’s no questioning the range and ability of the two musicians- they can seemingly select which sound they choose to use in an instant, but the way that the music lives and breathes on the choices made in the moment, and the way these moments are slowed right down here, across all of three tracks just accentuates the choices of sounds made by the musicians. They are left exposed in the music, and then of course they fail as often as they succeed.

Choices is a nice disc indeed. It doesn’t spit fire like other great improv releases might, and it isn’t full of poise-ridden silences, but there is still plenty going on here and there is plenty of contemplation virtually audible in the music. I am reminded a little of the music of Jason Kahn, not so much because of the actual sounds used, which are on the whole acoustic and simply formed, but because of the way sounds are arranged, continually changing and yet giving the illusion of one continual stream. This is a CD that needs listening to with great care, not so much for the ebb and flow of musical conversation but for the laminal effects of how the sounds are arranged. Listening down into the music rather than following it along in a straight line pays back with the greatest dividends. Nice stuff then, one that will reward those that choose to really pay attention.”   

Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

“Three pieces, two captured in Capece's studio and one in concert, all in 2010. These two players use extensively their instruments as objects. Its not always easy to believe that these sounds are produced by these instruments, but its in the capable hands of Capece and Uhler that it works well. An excellent combination of improvised music and electro-acoustic sounds. Minimal, but never soft, or rather, much more noise based than I thought it would, anticipating their reputation. Much of that is duo to the use of feedback/sine wave like sounds which are a main feature on this release. A highly vibrant release, bursting with energy.”

Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“Choices dirait en haut-parleurs ce que même les intéressés n’avaient osé murmurer : Lucio Capece et Birgit Ulher sont faits pour jouer ensemble.

Formant un duo de souffles et de salives en embarcation divaguant, le saxophoniste / clarinettiste et la trompettiste – le premier embouchant parfois un mégaphone miniature et la seconde interrogeant un poste de radio et ces haut-parleurs cités plus haut – élaborent des trajectoires longues comme le pouce, donc : des trajectoires multipliées en conséquence.

Pour corser l’affaire, le bateau pop-pop quand ce n’est pas la barque qui craque. Et puis les vents s’emmêlent. Cherchant des solutions, Capece et Ulher fouillent, raclent, tournent en éperdus et finissent par tisser un fil de notes plus claires qui entrent en résonance et font contrepoids agissant. C’est donc le mouvement que le duo retient, la réaction en chaîne qu’il empêche. D’ondes premières en ondes ajoutées, Capece et Ulher – qui, l’un comme l’autre, ont connu déjà de beaux redressements en duos – s’accordent sur une autre et surtout singulière dérive.”

Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son du Grisli

“Choices (at41) ist nur auf dem Papier ein Bläserduett. Zwar sind Trompete, Bassklarinette & Sopranosaxophon im Einsatz. Aber wenn BIRGIT ULHER und LUCIO CAPECE damit spielen, ist 'Blasen' so weit weg von der ganzen Wahrheit, dass es fast schon gelogen ist. Es wird geblubbert, gefaucht, geflatterzüngelt, knarrig gebrodelt. 'Physical' ist ganz minimalistisch nur nach diesen Methoden erzeugt. In zirkular­beatmeten Dauermustern, in deren gepresstem Getucker und Gezucke auch blecherne Präparationen mitvibrieren. Das lange Titelstück macht einen windigeren und räumlicheren Eindruck. Die Technik ist dabei so extented wie zuvor. Blubbrige Impulsketten mit metalloid schnarrenden Nebengeräuschen. Man hört auch das schniefende Luftholen, das dieser perkussiv verunklarten Metabläserei den Treibstoff liefert. Knurrend, schnarrig schnaubend, klapprig, mit Kullerlauten und blechernem Schrillen zeigt sich dieser Beitrag zum Blurred Edges Festival 2010 in Hamburg ganz dazu geeignet, statt eines Totenkopfes eine Gießkanne am Nachthimmel über St. Pauli aufgehen zu sehen. 'Orbital', die zweite kleine Studioaufnahme, verhilft, wenn ich mich nicht irre, einem minimalistischen Dauerhalteton mit Radio zur Verlängerung seines Istzustandes. Die Stoßrichtung dieses 'Blasens' ist, wie mir scheint, weitgehend antillusionistisch, materialbetont, der Physik näher als der Musik. Wie eine Testreihe, die darauf abstellt, dem Teufel im Detail auf die Spur zu kommen.”

Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy

“Dalším dokladem skvostné italsko-nìmecké spolupráce je dozajista i album Choises basklarinetisty a sopránsaxofonisty Lucia Capece a trumpetistky Birgit Ulher. Oba umìlci si vystaèili s málem. Svùj arzenál sice doplòují preparacemi èi modifikacemi svých nástrojù a pøípadnì „hraèkami“ typu m

inimegafonu, ale síla zùstává v nich samých. Jednoznaèným støedobodem jejich opusu je rozsáhlá skladba Chance, kde oba nádhernì profuòují, bublají, jemnì vrèí, šramotí, vrzají, víøí, klopotají, klokotají, drnkavì prokluzují a zkrátka rezonují nejrùznìjšími zpùsoby. Temnota se zde snoubí s jasem a vice versa”   Petr Slaby

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