Angharad Davies violin
Tisha Mukarji piano
Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga zither
1. Glacier 10:41
2. Meltwater 11:05
3. Moraine 16:02
Recorded in London, December 2011
Interview with Tisha Mukarji
First of all could you tell us something about your background: how you came to music, and to improvisation in particular?
I started with the piano at an early age, and soon after the point when I could sit properly on a bench without the aid of a phone book, and with the encouragement of my piano teacher, I went on to start a classical training. My arrival into experimental music (since in retrospect I see it as a musical journey) has followed a rather circuitous path.
I was always curious about how the piano works and excited when the piano tuner came to visit. Later I reflected that pianists, compared to other musicians, are the most removed from their instruments and have little, if any, knowledge of how the piano works. So this gap pushed me to pursue an apprenticeship with a piano tuner.
So now I had some knowledge of fooling around inside the piano and one day in a practice room someone who had overheard me mentioned John Cage and from that day onwards I pursued independently a study of Cage and his contemporaries.
At that point in my life I was moving around a bit, and had landed in Damascus where I was trying to find people to make music with. One thing led to another and I met up with the people from Irtijal (The Free Improv Festival in Lebanon): Sharif and Christine Sehnaoui, and Mazen Kerbaj in Beirut.
I think they were in their fourth year of the festival and they invited me to come and play. It was a great meeting and since Damascus isn't far, I went on quite a few musical trips to Beirut to meet and listen, play and enjoy their company, as well as the other players who were present there.
So I definitely see my time in Beirut as an entry into this improv scene, one that opened up a lot of other meetings. The second kind of defining improv moment was when I left Damascus for Lisbon and met and played with Ernesto Rodrigues....but that's another story.
A compact version of this would be that I started listening to and reading about contemporary music and then met practitioners, which was an important point because personal study needed to be activated by encounters with improvisers (who actually all had different sorts of musical backgrounds).
I hadn’t realised that you’d entered the improv scene through such a circuitous route. It’s great that a scene that is so marginal (geographically, not musically) was able to kickstart your interest in improvisation. And now, just a few years down the line, you’re based in Berlin, which is like Improv Capital. That must be quite a contrast.
Yes it’s a bit strange when I think of it, but then again it fits me. It couldn’t have been any other way. I had this practice room at the French Institute in Damascus and I was working on music and improvising with very limited access to what other people were doing, and then I met Mazen and we talked about concrete music (which I was very interested in at the time) and he introduced me to the rest of the “crew”, and although they were mostly self-taught musicians and really coming from a jazz scene so to speak, we were all excited about the possibilities of practising music and playing music differently. I think this story really highlights one of the beauties of a community that goes across borders. Today if I were to go to Tokyo or Brno I would be connected to a group of people through this music. Another historical parallel would be the Fluxus movement, which perhaps was one of the first truly international communities of artists, musicians, poets and so on.
As for Berlin, it’s true it is an “Improv capital” but strangely enough I hardly ever play with people here, perhaps only once or twice a year...go figure. But I certainly do soak up the concerts. It was a necessary move for me as a musician, an artist, and just someone who wanted to stand still for a moment without falling into isolation. I’m very happy I don’t have to travel so much now to meet people or listen to concerts.
That’s interesting because I was talking to another musician recently who moved to Berlin a few years ago, expecting to be really active and busy, but actually found it quite difficult to fit in and build connections with the hundreds of other improvising and experimental musicians there. Perhaps sometimes- or for some people - it’s easier to work productively in smaller communities: Barcelona, Beirut, Bueonos Aires or Boston rather than Berlin.
Anyway, we should be talking about ‘outwash’: of course I know that you’ve worked with Angharad before, but what about Dimitra? How did you come to meet and work with her?
I met with Dimitra two years ago. She was in Berlin for some days and Lucio Capece was organising a haus konzerte and asked me to play. I think the set up was Dimitra, Robin Hayward, Lucio and myself....it was a nice gig. During the evening I started to talk with Dimitra and invited her to come and do a recording session with me. Actually at that moment I was recording some material and working on unbalanced in (unbalanced out). So I had this space free and thought it would be nice to do a duo....
I would say that this is a typical Berlin kind of meeting between musicians. You contact people for a coffee and well why not a little session of playing....
OK, so what about Angharad. I know that you'd played together a bit before you produced 'Endspace', but how and when did you two meet up, and why did you decide to work together more?
I think this was in 2006 - although I first met Angharad when I played in the LMC Festival in 2005 - but it was on my second trip to London (Mark Wastell had invited me to join him in a quartet for 2 concerts) that I met Angharad and also gave her a copy of a self-released solo CD called Short Pieces. This was May 2006, I believe.
The idea of recording together was Angharad's. I think she liked my CD and wanted to try something out, so I said I’d come to London for the LMC festival that year for a visit and that we should combine the trip with some recording days. Sebastian Lexer was also quite important since he organised a space at Goldsmith's and all the recording set up, which was brilliant.
That was the first day of recording and playing together as a duo - later the same day we also recorded a quintet with Nikos Veliotis, Rhodri Davies, and Andrea Neumann, which was fun - lots of strings...
I don't think that the decision was made to really go for a record together at that time, everything was still quite open. But then a few months later Angharad invited me to play in a trio with her and Andrea Neumann so that allowed us to play again, and I think at that point it was becoming clear that we had two languages that combined well together, and also that we both were happy with a playing style that left a lot of space to one another, and left a space open for sounds to develop.
Following this,we decided to meet again in a few months to do a second recording session, out of which came Endspace.
You talk about a playing style ‘that left a lot of space to one another, and left a space open for sounds to develop’. That’s a pretty good description of both ‘Endspace’ and ‘Outwash’. There’s a quality of openness and a relaxed feel to the music in both albums. But do you find any significant differences in style or feel between the two?
Hmm…you know I had played both with Dimitra and Angharad separately so I felt quite relaxed doing the recording. It’s true that at some moments I felt completely in sync with Angharad and it was rather like our duo plus a guest, but as the session continued I think we went somewhere else. With Angharad I have developed, or rather we have developed, an understanding of each other’s music which creates a certain freedom of playing. It’s a freedom not to make music or not to play so much, to allow sounds to decay.
The trio gave me more space in the sense that the pieces didn’t have to be so compact. With Endspace I felt that our playing (and the way we edited it) had a lot to do with punctuation and phrases, whereas with Outwash I think it’s more about sentences. There’s more time taken to follow through musical ideas. I think the structure and playing on Outwash has a lot more fluidity to it; there are hardly any breaks or sudden changes in it, although there are shifts. Perhaps this is inherent in having three voices- I’m not sure.
So aside from music, what else do you do there in Berlin? Are there other art projects you're involved in?
Well, I'm also an artist and although I consider it a completely separate activity most of my work deals with an exploration of silence. I think here I can mention that I'm not so interested in having a discourse around music, that music shouldn't say anything. To clarify, music - especially the music that is happening now - should definitely have a critical discourse that deals with it, that is concerned with listening to it. But music itself should never hold a message, since music never does. It is always perhaps the gathering around music, the commissioned compositions that generate a type
But with art one can deal with concepts and ideas in a more explicit manner. So silence in my art work is more a question of absence in all of its senses.
“So tonight a CD on the Another Timbre label by the trio of Angharad Davies, (violin) Tisha Mukarji (piano) and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither). Outwash was recorded in a church London last year. I attended a concert by the trio at the same venue a few hours after this album was recorded, and should probably state that I consider all three musicians to be friends, along with the label owner, but that’s all the required caveats here, I wasn’t present for the recordings themselves and have no other connections.
This trio seems to work as a natural extension of Davies and Mukarji’s long standing duo, who released an earlier album on Another Timbre as well as a barely distributed, self made CDr last year. The music is all essentially acoustic, with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga adding eBows to her zither to give an additional warmth and slight electronic feel to the music. It is beautiful music too. It ranges between the quietly pointillist, almost percussive sprays of the opening Glacier to the more laminal, spacious expanses of Meltwater and Moraine. Throughout there is a clean, exceptionally well recorded clarity to the three instruments, with all three always recognisable and a sense of sharp, precise definition between the various sounds. The feeling is often of contemporary composition, perhaps because of the string based instrumentation and Davies’ familiar violin sound, but also perhaps because the music, which is all improvised, does have a feeling of confident precision about it, albeit one that has a definite fragility. I am reminded of spider’s webs- beautifully, expertly crafted with never a strand left in the wrong place, held together with perfect balance and yet so delicate that it could all fall apart with the minimum of disruption.
The balance in the trio is wonderful, with each taking it in turns to add rhythmic parts, with patterns often appearing in the music as it gradually revolves, but with each of the group choosing their moment to disrupt things. Mukarji’s piano adds a wonderful depth to the music, often dipping into deep, booming wooden strikes to offset the lighter touch of the shorter strings, and Lazaridou-Chatzigoga adds a glowing warmth to proceedings, her sounds softer and rounder than the grainy textured masterstrokes of Davies’ violin. It is never too busy, never too talkative or aggressive and yet also never drifting into unnecessary white space. I am reminded of The Sealed Knot in their prime, pre-electronic guise. Like the best illustration, nothing is overworked, few lines are used, and yet none of the vital details are missing. There is little more for me to say. Outwash is just a very beautiful, expertly crafted forty minutes of music, as good as any improvisation I have heard yet this year.”
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“I suppose one of the "fears" I have when slipping in a disc like this, with this kind of instrumentation (violin, piano, zither) is that it might be overly plinkety-plonkety (forgive the technical term) and, at the very beginning of the first track, I thought that indeed might be the case. Foolish me. The trio executes a fine balance between the kind of thin, airy sound I might have expected and a rich layering of extended tones, a very beautiful interplay with the shorter, spikier offerings surfacing like pebbles (or irregular gaps) in the kind of moraine flow alluded to in the disc's title. That image is actually quite effective, I find: "material carried away from a glacier by meltwater". The references to tonality posses just the right tartness so as not to become overly lush, the structures, that "laminar flow", are very well laid out, occupied in always intriguing and varied proportions by the scratch of the violin, the insides and outsides of the piano (deeply tolled every so often, acting as a base current) and the rubbings, pingings and buzzings of the zither. The more I listen, the more I'm impressed by simply the array of sounds, the almost bewildering variety and apposition, all within a calm, serenely flowing environment.
Something about this works for me on every level--I could listen for far more than the 40 minutes presented here. Excellent recording.”
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“Lately I’ve been reading Seth Kim-Cohen’s excellent book In the Blink of an Ear, which argues that post-Cagean sound art has been short-changed by an unwavering adherence to Pierre Schaeffer’s “sound-in-itself” approach, and that the discourse surrounding the sonic arts should more appropriately be placed within a larger social, philosophical, and political context. Another Timbre is a label that seems to be heading in the “expanded” direction that Kim-Cohen advocates. They’ve released countless above-average recordings, most in the quiet, detail-oriented vein of modern free improvisation. A lot of this music shares characteristics with the “EAI” genre, but it is often much more than that, thoughtful music that it would be unfair to pigeonhole into one arbitrary subgenre or another. Outwash continues in this tradition.
There’s a cool, late-night atmosphere to Outwash, something fragile about its constitution, like the careful formation of icicles. And perhaps ice lends the right idea: “Outwash”–as well as the glacier-themed track titles themselves—are perfectly suited to the music within, slow fingers of sound that seem to reach out tentatively from something big and still just outside of earshot or awareness. Violin, piano, and zither both make the music and don’t, so far removed are they from typically safe musical deployments. Davies’ violin is a sparse but crucial component, a presence that never really dominates the music but would leave an enormous void if it were missing. Lazaridou-Chatzigoga is reminiscent of Davies’ brother Rhodri in many ways: she approaches the zither much as he does the harp, plying unnatural sonorities from the instrument using objects on the strings or e-bows. Both seep around the murky din of Mukarji’s prepared piano, its hollow resonances ringing like struck pillars of ice.
In an interview on the label website, Mukarji likens the music to full sentences, as opposed to the clipped punctuation or phrases of some improvisation. It’s a metaphor that ties in nicely with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics and her interest in how we glean meaning from combinations of signs and symbols. But in what at first seems a strange turn, Mukarji later states that music “should never hold a message.” Maybe in the context of Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s day job this is true—it takes a whole different realm of semantics to address Outwash. But a lack of some linguistic message doesn’t equate to a lack of meaning, and this is where Mr. Schaeffer gets tossed out the window: music may not be a language, but it’s also not just sound and sound alone. There’s something rich and meaningful and wildly difficult to articulate about improvised music; maybe some warm and revealing thing about our humanity that we understand at the gut level. We feel these convergences of sound to be rife with meaning, that they are inextricably entwined in our webs of culture and experience.
Cold as this glacial music may be, these three ladies have truly conjured that ineffable, soul-warming something, and Outwash is one of the most captivating records of the year.”
Dan Sorrells, Free Jazz
“Even using Bose noise cancelling headphones, the Reductionist tending Outwash wasn’t made for the commuter run; in a more sensible listening environment, its concentrated Zen virtues come into focus. It features three acoustic improvisations recorded at a London church by Angharad Davies (violin), Tisha Mukarji (inside piano) and Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither), who adds e-bows to suggest a slight electronic feel. The piano’s periodic deep tolling seems to act as a perfomance anchor, while violin and zither weave their spell in higher registers. Here there is a sense of organic unity - that everything had to be just as it is, rather than just happened to be so. The result is economical yet intuitive improvisation - perfectly judges, yet alive in the moment.”
Andy Hamilton, The Wire
“Outwash est une série de trois pièces enregistrées dans une église londonienne. Trois pièces interprétées par trois musiciennes originaires de trois pays différents: Angharad Davies au violon (Angleterre), Tisha Mukarji au piano (Syrie) et Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga à la cithare (Grèce) - je vous laisse le plaisir de compter le nombre de cordes utilisées pour cette performance.
Un disque pas très long, assez simple en apparence, mais tout de même très beau et vraiment intense. Angharad Davies et Tisha Mukarji ont déjà eu l'occasion de collaborer ensemble, mais je ne pourrais rien dire de cette expérience antérieure que je n'ai jamais entendue. Sur outwash en tout cas, la musique de ces deux artistes est plutôt discrète, minimale, ouverte et aérée. C'est donc sans peine que la musicienne Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga parvient à insérer dans cet univers sa cithare préparée aux couleurs toujours épatantes. Ceci-dit, les techniques étendues ne sont pas au centre de ces pièces, même si chacune des musiciennes utilisent quelques préparations et techniques étendues - notamment à la cithare - il s'agit plutôt de matériaux linéaires ou répétitifs, de nappes très fines et de courts motifs aérés et espacés. Le trio joue beaucoup sur l'espace, sur le silence et la réverbération des sons au sein de l'église, mais aussi sur des notes très faibles, presque silencieuses mais rarement fébriles. Sensibilité, délicatesse et poésie sont certainement les termes qui caractérisent le plus la manière avec laquelle le trio traite le son et l'espace.
Une musique vraiment très fine, une musique qui nous plonge dans une sorte d'univers onirique et merveilleux. Un voyage lent et minimaliste certes, mais qui peut s'avérer lyrique et intense grâce à sa finesse et sa précision. Et si ces pièces sont intenses, c'est également dû à l'attention avec laquelle s'écoutent ces trois musiciennes créatives et extrêmes - à leur manière. Une attention qui respecte le discours de chacune d'une part, et d'autre part, une attention très sensible à chaque possibilité - pas nécessairement actualisée - qui peut émerger de leur interaction.
Une très belle collaboration d'où émerge un paysage poétique, minimaliste et innovateur.”
Julien Heraud, Improv-Sphere
“Cet enregistrement, constamment baigné d'un léger bruit de fond qui révèle la situation urbaine et la température dans lesquels il a été effectué, permet d'entendre précisément l'espace qui unit les trois musiciennes. Dans une oscillation permanente entre l'entêtement et l'aventure, c'est à dire entre microcosme et macrocosme, entre l'objet musical et ses alentours, à la lenteur apparente de cette musique répond une action constante de l'écoute mutuelle, comme si les musiciennes étaient à la fois en attente et sur le qui-vive. Il y a ici une science précise de la respiration, où l'air mis en vibration éloigne ou rapproche les matériaux tour à tour savamment proposés ou jetés furtivement dans une permanente démarche expérimentale : on ne sait rien de ce qui va advenir et l'on constate que chacune peut compter sur l'autre dans un jeu qui masque la virtuosité de l'écoute mise en œuvre et si nécessaire à son mouvement. Au gré de trois pièces enregistrées le même jour et où il est question de glacier, de fonte et de moraine, l'oreille découvre une musique doucement brusque, délicatement verticale dans laquelle chaque élément se détache, libre de sa distance d'avec les autres et qui reste vivant à chaque instant, prêt à apparaître, se transformer et disparaître non sans avoir bousculé avec la détermination de sa simple présence le réel sonore qui se déroule. Les trois musiciennes ne tentent pas de bloquer ce réel en fixant les objets qu'elles découvrent. Elles savent accepter la perte prenant toute fragilité comme une aubaine.”
Baku, Revue et Corrigee