Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
There is an interesting roundtable discussion with the members of The Sealed Knot in the on-line magazine Point of Departure. Their discussion gives some background information to the concert recording that has become ‘and we disappear’. You can read the roundtable here.
“The Sealed Knot is the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies and mark Wastell. In the early 2000’s the group spanned the two key sites of Reductionist Improv: London and Berlin. The musicians certainly cultivated dialogue between the cities, but, when I interviewed tham for The Wire around that time, they were already unhappy with tags such as Reductionism, lowercase improv or ‘the New London Silence’. There was a sense that the music was moving too swiftly to be caught by such labels.
It was also, even then, often too abrasive for the various quietist tags to stick. This harder, more outward-facing dimension of their work is strongly apparent in parts of ‘And We Disappear’, a single 40 minute piece recorded live in Switzerland in 2007. While the early work betrayed an interest in contemporary composition - the spaciousness of Feldman, or the textural vocabulary of Lachenmann - the more recent work is drawn to slow development and long tones.
At the heart of the piece is a series of jarring high-pitched tones from Davies, working with an e-bowed harp, and a long answering sequence of double bass from Wastell. Beins provides a sensitive, ever shifting setting for these sounds, housing them in an ambience that moves between recognisable percussion instruments and unidentifiable objects. A feeling of communication through shared spatial and temporal awareness comes to dominate the listening experience. The album doesn’t sound like three people engaged in virtuosic explorations of a particular instrumental vocabulary. Instead these are collaborative sound makers, loosely in the tradition of AMM, or David Tudor’s realisations of John Cage, forging music through whatever means meet the needs of the moment. While electronic music is an influence, it’s the joint involvement with the tactile demands of objects and instruments that gives this music its urgency.” - Will Montgomery, The Wire
“A fine live set, almost three year ago now, from a Swiss festival with Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects), Rhodri Davies (pedal harp and ebow) and Mark Wastell (double bass, bow, beaters). As in some of their previous work, one almost has the sense that the performance was composed, so cohesively does it play out. Beins is a master of injecting almost-rhythms into the mix 9perhaps abetted by the aforementioned beaters?) and the whole sound has a delightful sense of both space and propulsion, one instrument segueing into another, sending matters tumbling along. Wastell contributes some wonderful arco work, twined with Davies' ebow, getting into this luscious quasi-drone state, Beins' dry cymbals adding just the right amount of sandiness. It builds to a brutal roar about 10 minutes from the end then subsides into a gentle ambiance of bells and soft plucks. A stunning recording and, incidentally, approachable enough to qualify as one of those you might foist on a friend who's expressed interest in the genre.”
- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“The Sealed Knot are the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell. Without getting up from my seat to check I think I am right in saying they had released four albums before this one over what must now be a decade of playing together, albeit it infrequently. In fact, this new recording, suitably titled and we disappear was recorded at one of the group’s last concerts playing together back in early 2007. A couple of days after this recording, which was made in Switzerland I caught the group play what was their last gig together, over in Dublin. I wrote about that one The good news is that they are set to reform in January for a gig organised by Simon at Café Oto in London. The new group will see all three musicians playing either slightly or dramatically different instrumentation, so maybe this album will be the last chance we have to hear the trio as we have come to know them. In 2007, The Sealed Knot were probably the last exponent of the acoustic end of the so-called New London Silence group of musicians that rose into people’s attentions at the turn of the millennium. Later groups involving the same musicians included electronic elements, often with Wastell utilising his amplified textures, but like IST, Assumed Possibilities or Quatuor Accorde before them the ‘Knot relied heavily on the simple acoustic possibilities of the instrumentation to hand, and the close understanding between the trio.
Back in 2007 Beins played percussion, Davies harp (though electronic accompaniments, particularly eBows were a firm part of his set-up then) and Wastell double bass, an instrument he didn’t play anywhere near enough in my opinion. The Sealed Knot, by this stage were a ridiculously tight unit. The timing of the group, the understanding between its members was incredible, maybe as good as I have ever heard. Perhaps as a result of this symbiotic relationship the music they made had begun to rest heavily on rhythms and circular patterns, one member of the group repeating a sound and the others clicking into place with it, helping the music revolve in small interlocking circles. Sorry for the highly personal childhood flashback here, but at this stage the group reminded me of Freddy Phillips backing group for the opening titles of Trumpton.
and we disappear captures a characteristically sprightly performance from the group. The music contains little silence but plenty of space and delicacy. Although much more happens, and changes in shape and form come far more quickly I often think of Morton Feldman’s compositions when listening to this group at this point in their existence. There are the same irregular rhythms, the same attention to the quality of sounds and the way they decay, and that chamber music feel of acoustic instruments intertwining via simple systems to create little fragments of subtle beauty. Oddly though I am also reminded of techno music often as I listen to this recording. There are plenty of moments when a sound, or combination of sounds are left to run, usually in some kind of cyclical pattern, only for a further sound to suddenly be added to the musical system, like an 808 bass drum suddenly kicking in on an acid house track. That is how tight, yet excitingly sudden the music feels. On occasions there are new, more surprising elements added in. Davies’ use of the eBow brings something new compared to previous albums. One particular extended heavy tone takes the music off somewhere else, but his sudden cessation of its use clicks the music straight into a new rhythmic circle, the response of the musicians to the sudden removal of this sound really quite remarkable.
If you know the music of The Sealed Knot, if you purchased Live at the Red Hedgehog, the preceding album that was recorded just a few months before this new disc then you know what to expect from the group. There is little on and we disappear that we have not heard from them before, but that matters not. Great music is great music, and when a trio develop the degree of understanding apparent on this CD then I can lap this stuff up all day. However it is easy to see why the group chose to lay off playing together for a while after this last string of concerts though, and why the reformed group will play with very different instrumentation. All three of these musicians are renowned for constant change, and for not resting on their musical laurels. Perhaps as the group got tighter, and the music of The Sealed Knot became more recognisable things just got too easy for them, and rather than slip into a routine of regular appearances on the European festival circuit doing much the same thing each time it felt right to break things off and follow other threads for a while. While I support this move entirely it does no harm in my opinion to have this recording of the group in full flight spinning in my CD player right now. and we disappear is everything we expect it to be, gorgeously attractive, acutely sharp and a fantastic example of what can be achieved through the close interpersonal understanding between improvising musicians. A fine release indeed. Looking forward to what happens next.”
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“The Sealed Knot, the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies, and Mark Wastell, may be one of the definitive groups of the generation of European-based improvisers working at the start of the last decade. (When the group did one of their first tours around 2000, it was billed as "New London Silence meets Berlin Reductionism", as Wastell recalls with a laugh in his elsewhere on this site.) Ten years on, and not only have those terms been debated out of existence, but the nascent vocabularies they were attempting to label have been absorbed and reworked by a new generation of musicians. Of the four previously released Sealed Knot recordings, two were ridiculously limited editions and all are long out-of-print. This live recording, from the 2007 Ear We Are Festival in Switzerland, is a consummate example of the refined, spontaneously composed forms the three have mastered, working with a concentrated range of elemental acoustic properties of bowed and scraped cymbals and drum heads, bowed and beaten bass, and harp harmonics and overtones. Beins, Davies, and Wastell construct a entrancing sound structure, and are so synched in to the collective development of the piece that, at times, it almost seems as if they're playing from a score. There's a coursing undercurrent that flows both from the timbral colors of their respective instruments and the way they balance and control attack and sustain. Overtones and harmonic partials cycle against each other to create quavering oscillations, and the use of implied pulse is floated through in mesmerizing shadow waves. They also work with dynamics and volume, building a palpable sonic presence and then exploding it to place discrete gestural events against each other. The trio reconvened in January to celebrate the release of this CD. Let's hope that it doesn't take three years for the results of their recent meetings to make their way out. And that maybe their previous releases will find their way back into print.” - Michael Rosenstein, Paris Transatlantic
“Music performed by Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects), Rhodri Davies (pedal harp, eBow) and Mark Wastell (double bass, bow and beaters). The immediate feeling, as we’re listening to the splendidly rich pounding with which this single 38-minute improvisation begins, is that Wastell has replaced the sepulchral nature of the beloved tam-tam by taking advantage of the analogous qualities of the bass which - aptly stimulated via arco (... and beaters?) - enhances our will of comparing those stifled hits to sounds that might directly be connected to the vibrational/irrational essence of perception. The most in-your-face aspects of this set are probably represented by the myriads of overlapping cells engendered by Beins through his click-and-scrape abrasive artillery, with which he produces sheer ruggedness, static groundings or lopsided patterns. Davies stands behind glowingly terse materializations of an otherwise uncatchable evanescence, putting the unlimited duration of the bowed pitches at the service of the inherent concept while keeping an eye on an unfathomable harmony, only expressible by musicians in perpetual state of alertness. The paths followed by The Sealed Knot are completely visible, not hiding secrets or dangers, yet one constantly experiences a sense of ignorant frustration, a “there’s much more than this” belief emphasizing their rigorous instrumental interrelation. Obvious disparities turn into a marvellously harmonious corporeality, outward-looking intuitions leading us to a zone where details, names and sources don’t matter anymore. All we need is closing the eyes and welcoming the sublimation, ultimately lulled by a massive synthesis of auspiciously beneficial symptoms. The conclusive rarefaction – three men pushing gestural nakedness at the forefront in a parallel exhibition of dynamic control, before raising the intensity level for the very last time – is a virtual fusion of the inexistent extremities of an endless cycle.” Massimo Ricci, Temporary Fault
“The Sealed Knot is, perhaps, a real band. It a trio of Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects), Rhodri Davies (pedal harp and ebow) and Mark Wastell (double bass, bow and beaters). On February 2nd 2007 they played a concert in Biel, Switzerland. It’s cut as one piece so we have a concert like feeling to it. This is quite gentle music, moving elegantly between high pitched tones (e-bow and bow!) and the delicate precision which is used by Beins. Not object based improvisation per se, but all along a fine combination of both ends of what goes on in that respect. A highly delicate and refined interaction between three well accomplished players on the scene.” - Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
The following article by Ken Waxman deals with several recent discs involving Burkhard Beins, including and we disappear:
“Negotiating the chasm among noise, improv and notated music is Berlin-based Burkhard Beins, who over the past decade or so has solidified his identity as a sound artist as well as a percussionist. While not for the aurally squeamish – or the traditional jazzer – there are numerous exhilarating instances of timbre blending and sound collaging among this trio of discs.
Moreover these CDs also point out the increased universality of free music and free musicians. Although Activity Center – despite the American spelling of the second word – consists of two German players, it was recorded in Berlin and released on a German label. The Sealed Knot ties Beins in with two London-based string players: harpist Rhodri Davies and bassist Mark Wastell and is on a British label. Even more international, SLW’s CD is published on a Greek label, and joins improvisers from Germany (Beins), Wales (Davies), Italy (soprano saxophonist Lucio Capece) and Japan (no-input mixing board stretcher Toshimaru Nakamura).
Perhaps it’s their relative brevity compared to those tracks on the SLW disc, or perhaps it’s duet the multiplicity of voices involved elsewhere, but single, wide-ranging improvisations from either SLW or The Sealed Knot appear more impressive than Lohn & Brot’s five duo performances. Considering that the disc’s most lengthy track is almost as long as the entire Sealed Knot CD suggests the possibility of electro-synthesis overkill in this format.
Dealing with the SLW quartet first, it’s often easiest to distinguish the unfiltered timbres of Capece’s reed here then the vibrating tessitura of any of the others’ instruments. More importantly, as someone who has partnered with such unique sound producers as tubaist Robin Hayward, Capece’s discordant diaphragm trills or chirping split tones contribute as much to creating the inchoate miasma as the repeated signal-processed drones and reverb emanating from Nakamura’s apparatus. A long-time associate of saxophonist John Butcher, Davies moderates the expected textures that emanate from his chosen instrument with the sort of devices that amplify arpeggios one moment and transform them with rasping oscillations the next. Meanwhile Beins’ percussion strokes vary from opaque to transparent, depending on whether the existing interface needs sonic mystifying or edifying.
Overall, the improvisation builds a sonic edifice of mesmerizing, ever-shifting tones. From the start, distorted reed whistles, whirring string multiphonics and ratcheting percussion blows are filtered through envelopes of granulized whooshes and motor-driven buzzes. They emerge as tones that now possess both electrical and acoustic properties. These properties are put to good use as the static-infused friction engendered from the meeting of similarly unyielding objects further thickens the textures with concentrated string scrubbing, super-hard reed blows and pulsating cymbal strokes. Using protracted silences as place markers, the concentrated vibrations finally reach a climax of strident reed cries, blurry percussion turns, and single-string pops. Wriggling in different tonal directions, the piece finally resolves itself with barely-there metal scrapes and solid descending buzzes.
Concrete and fortissimo at the top, The Sealed Knot’s extended improv resolves itself in a similar fashion, but with more distinctive instrumental color from Beins, Davies and Wastell, who is also known to play cello, tam-tams, bowls and amplified textures. Here the thick strokes from his beaters join with Beins’ grating strokes to outline Davies’ tremolo string patterns that intensify and regularize as the exposition reveals air-leak inferences and buzzing reverb. As fragmented timbres are layered on top of shifting drones this extended interlude gives way to thumb-strummed string lines that are forced into silence by metal scraping friction and what might result if a constantly rotating motor was powered by the air from a Bronx cheer. Davies’ e-bow-created sustain is responsible for some of the undefined humming, while it’s likely Beins whose rim and slide scrapes produce steel-pan-like resonation. Fragmenting the dense textures in the penultimate variant, the resulting multiple thumps make it seem as if each player is vibrating a percussive surface – with variants on steel drums, temple bells and a drum kit. By the finale, the accumulated crescendo of fortissimo scratches and angled buzzing gives way to an outburst of staccato, fortissimo rubs and a final wood-extended bass string thump.
With both Michael Renkel and Beins manipulating a veritable warehouse full of string, percussion and electrified instruments on Lohn & Brot the timbres available are more varied than would be expected from only four hands. At the same time, especially on the longer tracks, additional input could have ratcheted these performances up a notch. Still the musicians’ sympathetic interaction, which dates back to the late 1990s and the 2:13 Ensemble, prevents the most egregious disconnects.
Most spectacular of the creations is “zone: produkt”. At mid-point its contrapuntal textures encompass motor-driven whirrs, resounding woodpecker-like raps, bell peals plus stretched plucks coming from a propelled zither or amplified stringboard. With each interlocking part both audible and atonal, and with the result pumping up and down in perpetual motion, it could be the sonic equivalent of an Alexander Calder mobile.
But this is just one part of the overall sound picture. Throughout the piece, complementary timbres appear then are superseded by squealed tones, granulized ruffs, jagged electronic pulses, relentless rubs or what sounds like dog panting. Eventually after a variant reaches a crescendo of harsh, flat-line pulsations, mallet pops and rubs, it then accelerates still further to reveal spinning and buzzing palindromes that change pitch, reflection and volume, but never speed. Later the contrapuntal clinks and clatters take on a Christmas bell-like rhythm of their own, only to be replaced by separated signals that are equal parts sideband power snorts and propelled cross tones.
Ingeniously where guitar-string strums and percussion ruffs would serve as a conclusion for others, Beins and Renkel instead ramp the tension up still further, concluding the duet with a block of solid sound that finally just dissipates. Shorter pieces sound rougher, if more focused. However, the CD’s other extended experiment introduces a different conception altogether: a gentling interface arising out of the confluence of cymbal sizzles, vibraphone plinks, bass string rubs and whistling trills.
Each of these CDs is a fitting demonstration of Beins’ skills and versatility. While the number of textures available multiples along with the quantity of musicians involved, the skill involved in noise-minimalist pieces like these is in preventing incoherence from overshadowing the sound strategies.“
Ken Waxman, Jazz Word
“CD and we dissapear přináší záznam osmatřicetiapůlminutové improvizace kapely The Sealed Knot ze švýcarského festivalu Ear We Are z února 2007. Protagonisty jsou zde hráč na perkuse a objekty Burkhard Beins, harfenista a zde i ebowista Rhordi Davies a kontrabasista Mark Wastell. To je naopak hudba pro velmi vyzrálé a potažmo otrlejší posluchače, kteří specielně od harfy nečekají klasický zvuk, což je u mistra tohoto nástroje v modifikovaných formách zcela signifikantní. Tady se na nás valí temná masa skutečně sofistikované ponurosti a mnohavrstevných sonických explozí. Vlastně chvílemi „heavymetalové“ erupce obrácené naruby a prošpikované filigránskými ornamenty. Tady bych výraz koláž rozhodně nepoužíval, je to valící se hmota, kde všechny nástroje ženou kupředu jednotnost v jednotlivostech. Davies je tu ostatně mnohem drsnější než kdykoliv jindy. Bez nějakých efektů velmi velmi horrové.” - Petr Slabý, Raw
Anyone who can provide a translation of the Czech review above, please get in touch
at23 and we disappear
The Sealed Knot
Burkhard Beins percussion and objects
Rhodri Davies pedal harp and e-bow
Mark Wastell double bass, bow & beaters
Total time: 38:30
recorded in Biel, Switzerland, February 2007