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at72   Berlin Series No.2            split CD

Christian Kesten & Mark Trayle duo: ‘F23M-12: Field with Figures No.1-4’

1.   10:18

2.   16:45

3.     6:49

4.     5:05                                                                           youtube extract

Annette Krebs solo:  ‘rush!’

5.  Version #1 (with taped noises outside studio)      13:22

6.  Version #2                                                      15:34       youtube extract

mark trayle

Mark Trayle

This is the second split disc in the Berlin series of CD’s.  The second half of the disc is a typically engaged solo from Annette Krebs, one of the key figures in Berlin’s music scene for the past 20 years. Using electric guitar, electronics and taped voices, Annette creates two versions of the same piece - a dramatic and challenging work which, as ever, pushes at the boundaries of what is possible and what is expected.

The sketches, detailed worknotes and diagrams that underlay the making of ‘rush!’ can be seen on her website here  They offer a fascinating glimpse into the way Annette develops her music.

“Important motivations for my music are curiosity and a drive to research. I like to work with combinations of materials and questions which for me haven‘t yet been answered in a convincing way, and which therefore challenge me.

Having explored and thematised the guitar for the past 20 years - until now just amplifying it, without using effects or digital filters - I now know its potential, its range of colours and noises, and their possible combinations very well.  Also, I feel that I have extensively developed the possibilities of my current instrumental setup - which consists of amplified prepared guitar, selected objects, mixing desk and tape - in many pieces and projects. Now I have new ideas, which I can no longer realise with this instrumentation. So I have taken a decision to adapt my setup to these new ideas, instead of continuing with my existing setup and so being partially restricted by it. That is why rush! could be the last solo for my "old" instrumentation.”                     

Annette Krebs,  February 2014

Christian Kesten

The first half of the CD is a meeting of long-time Berliner Christian Kesten (voice) with Californian Mark Trayle on electronics. The interview with Kesten below explains more.

Interview with Christian Kesten

First of all could you say a little about your musical background? In what kind of music did you start out, and have you always been based in Berlin?

I was twelve years old when we moved to Berlin. I would say that the creative atmosphere in the West Berlin of the eighties had some influence on me in the sense that I was very open to and had some desire for modern literature, modern art, modern music, and theatre: I saw Peter Stein’s Orestie at the Schaubühne when I was fourteen or fifteen, a seven-hour-long play. The Old Men’s Choir in particular was very fascinating for me, an early experience of sound in space and composed words.

As a child I learned piano and classical guitar, later even violin a bit. I played in several bands during my adolescence and wrote hundreds of songs. Singing was always something that was very natural to me, though I always hated opera.  I studied music then at what is now called UdK. I maybe rather suffered from the conservative spirit there in the beginning. But fortunately Dieter Schnebel was teaching experimental music and experimental music theatre. This was not my first encounter with the experimental though. For example, at eighteen I had written a “neo-dadaist” poem, using concrete poetry in different languages, sound poetry, and specific, repetitive speech melodies. A friend wrote a trombone part to it and we performed it live on the radio.

Working with Dieter Schnebel became a main focus in my music studies, and studying with him soon turned out to involve performing his works. I performed his Maulwerke for the first time when I was 22. That was in Tokyo. Soon after, we premiered Zeichen-Sprache, a cycle for voice and composed movements. Schnebel made a clear distinction between his private composition students—which I didn’t dare to be—and his teaching at school. To get a frame for my own work, I founded the autonomous performance art class, in which students from different departments—visual art, theatre, music—of the UdK met. I created my solo work -cycling there, a piece for paper and plastic bags: through the course of the performance I build up a sounding installation site, telling true stories now and then. At this point I was searching for the interdisciplinary at the UdK, for example joining Achim Freyer’s class as a performer for a theatre project, and contributing to a language composition. And also Schnebel’s projects on Cage or on the Fluxus movement were very important. Cage’s Song Books and Schnebel’s Maulwerke were our main sources for extended techniques and experiments with voice.

I was deeply into Cage, his works and writings, and considered him to be more radical than, for example, Schnebel. I finished my studies with a musicological thesis on “Silence in the works of Cage and Feldman”. Cage’s notion of silence, and its implications on the perception of space, how sounds occur in space, its implications on the perception of activity and non-activity, the disciplined actions of producing sounds, deeply marked how I think or experience music.

So was this all happening separately from the improvisation scene within Berlin at the time? Or were you already collaborating with figures from the improv world when you were involved with performing Schnebel and Cage and so on?

It was happening quite separately, simply because I never understood myself as an improviser. However, some friends moved towards improvisation and started creating what would later be called ‘Echtzeitmusik’, so I knew of it. But “improvisation” was never a relevant word to describe my work. The few collaborations at that time, the nineties, were based on scores. It was later, around 2000 and after, when more collaborative projects were initiated. But we came together on the basis of common aesthetic desires—reduction, silence, non-pitch-based sounds. To what extent the work was improvised or composed was not important. I understood everything as a composition because you can everything bring down to a concept or an open score.

That’s interesting. And does that continue to this day? Would you still not think of your work with Mark Trayle as ‘improvisation’?

When the gentlemen from Sonic Arts Union—Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, David Behrman—were asked in a discussion at the MaerzMusik festival about a possible relation to the Berlin ‘Echtzeitmusik’, they said: ‘But we don’t improvise.’ I think someone made the mistake in calling ‘Echtzeitmusik’ improvised music. That’s a misunderstanding, I believe. Most of it is based on concepts. And on the other side, because of its openness the experimental canon is far closer to music which calls itself ‘improvised’ than they might think.

Through the years I’ve become less strict, and if someone wants to call what I do ‘improvised’, I can (partly) accept that. In the case of the work with Mark, that’s probably my most ‘improvised’ project so far. The process of editing and choice turns the recorded improvisations into fixed pieces, as Christoph Schiller put it in an interview elsewhere on this website. That might go without saying. I’d be happy if someone would tell me at what point the distinction of being improvised or not could matter. I wonder.

Yes, it’s a distinction that has less and less relevance within experimental music, I think. But can you tell us how your work with Mark came about? It isn’t a duo that I’d have anticipated – musically or geographically.

Mark and I had met during my stay in Los Angeles in 2007. I was at one of his concerts. I immediately liked his work, and there was a lot of, I hope mutual, sympathy. But it’s true, we didn’t immediately think that we could work together.

In 2010 Mark visited Berlin, and we wanted to invite him to our concert series ‘Labor Sonor’ at KuLe. Mark asked about Berlin musicians who he could play with. It was Andrea Neumann and Arthur Rother, my co-curators, who suggested that Mark and I could play duo. As I said earlier, I was never into spontaneous collaborations, so it took them a bit to convince me. But I carefully listened to Mark’s work and slowly became sympathetic to the idea. Our short e-mail correspondence beforehand is probably worth mentioning. Mark wrote, ‘I don’t remember ever improvising with a vocalist before.’ I wrote back, ‘I may sound very instrumental.’ And he wrote, ‘Good point.’

We met in the afternoon before the concert. After two minutes of playing, Mark stopped and re-organised his sounds on his computer. (He played another set with Magda Mayas and Chris Heenan, and used completely different sounds.) It turned out to be a great concert, which we both liked very much. And happily the audience, too. [It’s on vimeo -]

After that we thought that we should record. I was even thinking of travelling to California, but when Mark came to Berlin briefly in 2012, we booked a day at KuLe, and did it.

Yes, you do sound almost uniquely ‘instrumental’ as a vocalist, which I personally like more than the expressionist style of vocalising that’s common in improvised music at least. Has your vocal style changed much since you worked with Dieter Schnebel on Maulwerke, or is there a lot of continuity in the way you perform and the kind of sounds you work with?

Dieter was one of the first who worked with breathing sounds. The piece Maulwerke is a good exercise in vocal articulation. It doesn’t give you concrete sounds, but it rather teaches you a sensitivity or awareness of all that is possible. So there is probably a sort of lineage in terms of training or formation. But although I work mainly with breathing sounds and tongue slaps, my sounds have developed a lot since then. And also the way I use the sounds is completely different. My breathing sounds are even, rather static plateaux, often held for quite a while. I understand each sound as a singular event, which occurs and is placed into silence, or space, or time. I try to avoid process, narrativity, or things like climaxes. And although music proceeds in time, I aim to create music which feels like a field or a space where we as performers - and also the listener - can possibly move within it.

But then there are fields inside the field. Analogue to or associated with Barnett Newman’s ‘colourfields’, I attempt to create timbre or Klangfarben fields. So, for example, I will focus for a while on certain material, which I only vary in subtle nuances, and then I step into a new field with different material. In the duo with Mark the fields consist of layers, which meet and intertwine and shift like tectonic plates.

Finally, going back to the experimental music scene in Berlin in general: from the outside it seems to be really flourishing in strong and varied ways. From your perspective within, does it also feel particularly lively and productive at the moment?

Yes, indeed, I think it is very lively and productive. If you have a look at the calendar of almost every night there is something interesting happening. There are always great things at ‘ausland’. The people from ‘quiet cue’ are very active with concerts and installations. ‘N.K.’ is doing a series on space and site-specific compositions this year. At ‘Labor Sonor’ we are exploring what happens when originally not-notated music by composer-performers finds a re-interpretation through someone else, and with transcription and notation possibly coming into play. Every Sunday you can listen to a new acousmatic piece at ‘ohrenhoch’. Just to highlight a few. And besides these venues there are groups and individual musicians doing series, like Konzert Minimal playing Wandelweiser composers, or Lucio Capece’s concerts exploring perception and spatial music. ‘Certain Sundays’ invites composers to present their work with open discussions. Also the gallery space ‘Errant Bodies’ is having more and more events that are worth listening to or thinking about. And these are only the things that interest me. I’m sure you can find a lot of other interesting paths meandering through Berlin.

This is all happening on a very small scale. I’m surprised how idealistic one can be. There exists some funding system, but it is far too little. So there is a network of composer-performers, collaborating, exchanging ideas, supporting each other, doing house concerts or discussion rounds. Some new people come, some stay, some leave. Maybe compared to the nineties or early 2000s, we are in a more reflective phase at the moment. An exploring reflection, not only intellectual, but immediately turned into productivity. I’m curious as to what this leads to.


“The second release in Another Timbre's split-disc Berlin series, two very challenging works.

I'm only minimally familiar with the work of both Kesten (voice) and Trayle (electronics, guitar) and had little in the way of expectations. The piece, in four parts, is very jagged in some respects, especially the earlier electronic portions, the sounds arrayed in unusually "awkward" sequences--I should rather say unanticipated as, over its course, a kind of implied pace, if not rhythm, makes itself felt. Kesten's contributions are extremely subtle; generally, the only way to distinguish them (not that it's necessary) is to infer by exclusion and assume what remains must be him--the sustained breathing sounds. Often, those sounds act as a kind of tinge on Trayle's more aggressive noise but then they'll suddenly sync up, attain equal "weight". When they do, it's a very beautiful, if icily alien effect. The work trends toward slightly quieter climes, the second part engaging in some sound-play that's a bit goofier than I'd have wanted to hear, though the latter two sections settle down into some fine areas, still prickly--sharp pings and harsh breath, for instance, morphing into rough-edged siren-like sounds--but interspersed with softer, if slightly sour moments, really fine. My own perceptions shifted substantially from listen to listen, always picking up different relationships, different senses of structure--this is a good thing! A tough, bracing piece, I like it.

Krebs, on the other hand, I've been following pretty thoroughly over the years and my impression at the moment is that "rush!" (two versions presented here) is her most solidly realized work yet. The elements will be more or less familiar to listeners who know her work: isolated words (or fragments thereof), urban field recordings, guitar-sourced sounds. In earlier works, there was often an intriguing and, for me, beguiling awkwardness in structure, sometimes not entirely working, other times seeming to work despite itself. Here, she's just barely smoothed the edges and, while retaining a very personal feeling of pace and progression, imparting a real, flowing solidity to the music. Her choices are dreamlike, sometimes disturbingly so. The second version includes several of the same elements but also makes use of protracted silences that somehow increase the dreamy aspect, the voices, radio grabs and other sounds appearing suddenly--and briefly--out of the dark. The scattered instances of what I take to be a deep, bowed guitar lend a beautiful, mournful cast. Really strong work, perhaps my favorite thing thus far from Krebs.”

Brian Olewnick, Just Outside

“As its title indicates, The Berlin Series no. 2 is the second in an ongoing series from Another Timbre featuring musicians who are based in the German capital. Given that Berlin has become a magnet for improvising musicians from across the globe, the quality and diversity of its improv scene have steadily come to rival those of London. In both cities, the vast numbers of improvising players, and the ease with which they can meet, provide fertile ground for collaborations and bold experimentation. Already, this series from Another Timbre is capturing the vibrancy and buzz of Berlin, as typified by the current disc.

As for other releases in the series, it is shared between two contrasting and compatible sets. The first is a duo between the voice of Christian Kesten, a Berlin resident, and Californian Mark Trayle's electronics and guitar, a pairing that dates back to 2010 when Trayle visited Berlin, with this recording coming from 2012. On first hearing, the four tracks, entitled "F-23M-12 Field with Figures 1-4" seem to be dominated by Trayle's electronics as the most obvious sounds are the familiar blasts and washes of white noise and single tones, without a trace of conventional singing or improv vocalising. Gradually, the subtlety of Kesten's contributions emerges, as it becomes increasingly clear that some of the aforementioned sounds are of human origin rather than electronic. So, some of the white noise lacks the hard edge of electronically-generated sound because it is a convincing imitation of it by Kesten. In addition, he contributes a range of mouth music that is complementary to Trayle's sounds, including audibly hissing breath, kissing sounds, explosive pops. Most impressively, it all manages to slot together to create a coherent soundscape that just keeps on giving — every listening of it revealing new delights. It makes edgy, uneasy listening, but is endlessly fascinating.

The second set is solo by the Berlin veteran Annette Krebs and is instantly recognisably as such. Two separate versions of the same piece, "Rush!", feature Krebs trademarks including her electric guitar alongside electronics plus taped voices, field recordings and silences. The two tracks are not designed to be heard on an mp3 player with headphones in a noisy urban environment, as they carry Krebs' instruction that they are "to be listened to alone in front of two loudspeakers". Such listening gives weight to every element of them, focusing attention on the care that Krebs has invested in their construction. Diagrams on Kreb's own website give an insight into that care, with the whole thing mapped out like a game of chess. The end result is a complex stereo soundfield in which sounds move around, punctuated with occasional interjections by male and female (Krebs herself?) voices of single words — "rush", of course, but also "negotiate" and others — as well as fleeting vocal sounds plus field recordings. As ever with Krebs pieces, it is tempting to search them for meaning or a narrative thread — but, ultimately, submersion and submission are far more pleasurable! Suffice to say, just as fascinating as the first set... With the third, fourth and fifth albums in this series featuring such illustrious names as Axel Dörner, Robin Hayward and Chris Abrahams, Another Timbre's forthcoming releases list will continue to be worth watching well into the future.”

John Eyles, Squid’s Ear

“Le label another timbre continue sa série consacrée à la scène expérimentale berlinoise avec un nouveau split : le duo Christian Kesten (électronique) & Mark Trayle (voix), suivi d'un solo d'Annette Krebs.

La première partie de ce split CD est intitulée F23M-12: Field with figures et il s'agit d'une suite de quatre pièces par les deux musiciens expérimentaux Kesten & Trayle. Une suite très sobre et épurée qui est loin des clichés de la noise et de la musique improvisée. Avec des instruments très différents, Kesten & Trayle fabriquent des nappes assez homogènes : bruits blancs discrets avec souffle humain, notes tenues à la voix et drone au synthé analogique, légers bruits de lèvres contre larsens discrets. Tout se fait dans la douceur, dans la sobriété, il n'est pas question de textures ou de techniques remarquables, ni de formes très développées, il n'est pas question de drone non plus, mais le duo avance progressivement en accordant toute son attention sur l'écoute et l'interaction entre les deux médiums (électronique et cordes vocales). Le duo avance sur des territoires abrasifs et détendus, proches du silence et du bruit blanc. Ce qui ressort, c'est une étonnante homogénéité, mais aussi, et c'est le plus frustrant, c'est la gestuelle et le corps des musiciens qui ont l'air importants et qu'on a du mal à clairement distinguer. Quatre pièces qui donnent envie de s'intéresser à ces musiciens, mais surtout de les voir en action.

La seconde partie de ce split est donc un solo d'Annette Krebs intitulé rush! Il s'agit de deux versions d'une même pièce où sont utilisés une guitare électroacoustique (préparée), des bandes et de l'électronique, le tout assemblé par ordinateur. Je n'avais pas entendu de disque aussi singulier depuis bien longtemps à vrai dire. Singulier et déroutant, un peu à la manière de Marc Baron (auquel j'ai beaucoup pensé en écoutant cette pièce de Krebs). rush! est vraiment déroutante car c'est typiquement le genre de pièce dont on se doute qu'elle est écrite avec beaucoup de précision, que chaque élément répond à un questionnement, et pourtant on n'arrive pas vraiment à saisir ni la forme ni le sens. A chaque écoute, j'étais pris dans des sentiments ambivalents : ça me fascine et je ne comprends pas, et je ne sais pas si ça me fascine parce que je ne comprends pas ou si je ne comprends simplement pas pourquoi ça me fascine.

Quoiqu'il en soit, Anne Krebs propose avec rush! une pièce d'environ un quart d'heure qui se démarque par son atmosphère très particulière et non-musicale. Les deux versions sont enregistrées en studio,  les interventions sonores (plus que musicales) sont très brèves et minimales et sont séparées par de longs silences. Les sons sont limités à des interventions d'une seconde - un mot, une note, un bruit, un autre mot  d'une autre voix d'une autre langue, un bruit - et sont très espacés dans le temps. Ils forment comme des entailles dans le silence, comme une sculpture ultra minimaliste. La différence entre les deux versions tient au fait que Krebs sculpte soit un silence numérique (version numéro 2, l'originale) soit dans des sons extérieurs enregistrés sur bande (une sorte de field recording volontairement mal capturé, une pure ambiance sonore urbaine et citadine avec traffic routier et cris de bébés). Dans les deux versions, les interventions surprennent toujours par leur brièveté, par leur surgissement inattendu, et par le fait qu'elles paraissent finalement beaucoup moins intéressantes qu'un silence digital ou un bruit de fonds qui pourrait être considéré comme gênant.

Annette Krebs sort des dogmes, des idiomes, et des clichés avec une composition électroacoustique vraiment singulière, belle, et remarquable. Vivement conseillé.”

Julien Héraud, Improv-Sphere

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