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at29        küchen - rowe - wright

Martin Küchen   alto saxophone

Keith Rowe   electronics

Seymour Wright   alto saxophone

total time:  35:40

recorded in Midhopestones, near Sheffield, June 2009

youtube extract


“Another Timbre's new series of discs on the guitar in improvised music gives us two alto saxophonists at the table of the veteran guitarist Keith Rowe. Seymour Wright has previously played with – amongst others - Eddie Prevost, so we are roughly in AMM-territory. And it suits Martin Küchen excellently, one of the very few Swedish saxophonists who works without dramatic gestures, focusing on small sounds and a deconstructive music. The dryness of his playing has been its real coherence and strength (and this is meant as praise).

Keith Rowe's guitar is on a table surrounded by radio equipment and various other electronic devices. It is a sound body, a bringer of unexpected sounds, especially those which disrupt ordinary rhythms and expectations. Rowe's music is not open in the usual sense. He is absorbed in his own soundworld, exploring and following through different pathways. This can clearly be heard here: as if in a trance he offers up a few notes that actually sound like a guitar, then listens, and then tries again, this time involving a radio tuned to whatever programme is on so that a voice draws in and drifts through the electronic sounds. So the saxophonists can appear like intruders, reworking the long tones of their instruments into short pops and scratches so that it's hard to tell whether the sounds I am hearing are coming from reeds or the body of the guitar.

Rowe's presence is good for the saxophonists; they can allow themselves to become infused within his sound world. They drop inside the body of their instruments to marvel at its hollow, lonely sound. Together they construct a sound tunnel within which Rowe can play out his fragmented dadaistic games. And they take liberties, detonating and challenging Rowe's self-imposed limits. A continual process in which melancholy breaths form little scraps of melody until a flow is suggested, teasing, irritating and touching but never trapped by Rowe's electronics, moving around as if by coincidence. It is a heady mixture: an utterly abstract music which is broken up and yet still flows over me as a listener in a safe and cohesive way.

But I can also hear Rowe's absolutist approach to music. No compromise, no bargain, no ingratiation. A music that applies the same harshness and severity both to the outside world and to its constant flow of commercial music. Rowe is a musician who is equally critical from an ideological and a moral perspective. The music must never be compromised; it is broken, fragmented and pulled around constantly, sometimes bouncing out into the outside world.

The two saxophonists broaden his soundworld, subjecting it to the same process of critical interruption to which his streams of sound often subject the outside world. It's a process of give and take, occurring in slow motion, needing time to unfold. And this process of three musicians carefully negotiating with each other produces one of Rowe's most absorbing discs, and a great moment for Martin Küchen. It's an album where friction and heat are the key words.”

                                                                                                                Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music

“Rowe's ongoing "battle" with the saxophone continues, perhaps an updating of the Doneda/Leimgruber collaboration, "The Difference Between a Fish" (Potlatch). Here, however, he's in the company of younger musicians who, at least on the surface, are somewhat more in tune with his concerns and the result is decidedly happier, if not earthshaking. Both Küchen and Wright retain enough recognizable saxophonics to present a challenge to Rowe and the odd, reedy shriek or bellow surfaces now and then, but by and large they sublimate those urges, operating near one or another periphery of their horns, with attached, vibrating metals in play as well as the growls, breaths, and buzzes one would expect. Rowe is quite recognizable himself, especially with the hand-held fans and their telltale buzz-saw emanations; this may well have been during a still ongoing phase where he's re-examining approaches from the recent past, ones he'd abandoned for a few years. In any case, these are all rather technical concerns, and if one simply lies back and concentrates on the music, ignoring its sources, it's a satisfying affair. I don't hear the same level of concentration on Rowe's part as I do when he's collaborating with, say, Sachiko M, more that he's content to sink into the existing pool of sounds, prodding gently at times but more often being accommodating. This leaves the saxophonists to push matters along and they do with both care and garrulousness.

It's a good performance and had I been in attendance, I'd have left satisfied. I do think it reveals a bit more on repeated listens, especially the denser interplay between Rowe and the more metallic expostulations from the saxophones, some luscious texture in there. If there's a problem, it might be that for all the lovely portions, the whole feels a tad loose. A minor quibble, though. It's well worth hearing for the contributions of all involved.”                   Brian Olewnick, Just Outside

“Curiously, this untitled CD is released as part of Another Timbre's Guitar Series. True, Keith Rowe  has a long and distinguished career as an improvising guitarist, dating back to the mid 60's and before. But over recent years he has steadily reduced the role of the actual guitar and correspondingly increased the role of electronics to the point where they are now dominant. At the time this recording was made, the only vestigial trace of a guitar in Rowe's set up was a finger trainer, a device used by classical guitarists to train their fingers. It was joined by various pedals, contact mikes, shortwave radio, face fans and assorted paraphernalia; hence Rowe is credited with "electronics" rather than "guitar."

Rowe is joined by alto saxophonists Seymour Wright and Martin Küchen on the album's one 35-minute piece. Given Rowe's belief that the room is an important component of any performance, it is important to note that this recording was made at the church of St. James the Lesser in Midhopestones near Sheffield in June 2009, not live at the concerts the trio played that month in London and Leeds. Rowe has said that in concert there is a sense in which the audience actually produces the music, so that raises the question of who produces it when three musicians are alone in a large resonant space such as a church.

The three begin tentatively, with lots of silence punctuating their occasional brief quiet sounds. If anything, they sound very small in the space, not knowing whether to try and fill it, or how. Gradually, momentum gathers as the sounds become less sporadic and the players begin to respond to each other. Plenty of Rowe's trademark sounds appear, most noticeably his hand-held fan and shortwave radio. The responses from Küchen and Wright are subdued, with their emphasis less on blowing than on electronics and tinkering sounds. In this respect, they are drawn into Rowe's orbit and his approach to making sound. Uncharacteristically, despite that finger trainer, there is a greater role for guitar sounds in Rowe's playing than of late, with the occasional strummed chord appearing. As the piece proceeds, the two saxophonists become more outgoing, not playing "solos" but progressions of notes that act as backdrop and accompaniment to Rowe and each other.

Depending on the volume at which it is played, this can actually feel like two different albums. At normal playback volume, the majority of the sounds are compatible with the kinds of ambient sounds found in daily life and so they easily merge in or are camouflaged; occasionally a more prominent sound is clearer, leading to reactions such as: "Is there something wrong with the fridge?" or "What are those neighbors up to?" At higher volume, the album's sounds emerge clearly from the background and so they can be better heard in their own right and the players' interactions can be appreciated fully.”

                                                                                                              John Eyles, All About Jazz

“Automatically it is Borbetomagus who come to mind when you hear the unusual combination of saxophone – guitar – saxophone.  These three instruments are equally maltreated by the three improvisers here, though their techniques are quite different, with a full-frontal onslaught being  replaced by strategies that are as oblique as subtle.   

Inevitably you draw connections between the three musicians and the culinary image on the cover:  a piece of roast beef, a spoonful of mashed potato and a watercress leaf.  But who then is the carnivore?  And who plays like a potato?  None of these questions is answered in the almost non-existent liner notes:  the title 'additional notes' stands above an empty double-page in the cd booklet, speaking volumes about the desire to preserve the mysteries of this holy trinity.   You are left to try to work out for yourself who is who and who does what in this complex entanglement of sounds in which multiple levels of interferences are both generated and scrambled.  The veteran of electroacoustic improvisation, Keith Rowe (guitar) is surrounded by two alto saxophonists of the rising generation:  Martin Küchen, a member of the Swedish free music scene for some ten years, and Seymour Wright, with whom he has worked here or there, and who is releasing his third album on Another Timbre.

It is somewhat misleading to define the identity of the instruments used as they are eviscerated according to surgical techniques that require both the right tools and the most precise instructions.  And this is true not just for Rowe (which you'd expect), but also the others, who employ electric tools, sharp objects, and – most importantly – radios, which play a crucial role here.  The radio waves are evidently British, to judge by the snatches of voices heard amidst the white noise, the fragments of baroque music, and even the sensual voice of Sade (the pop singer, not the Marquis) which briefly occurs at 25:47.  These chance fragments count as focal points amidst the unstable rustlings, the striking of metals, little jackhammers and other dangerous-sounding noises which can be tamed within a second.   

The constant overlaying of shifting materials, the crossings of sounds moving in different (though never opposing) directions, and the building of small temporary moments of climax create a strange unity which is deconstructed as soon as  you try to examine it.    As if under the effect of a spell, a captivating musical discourse emerges from from the chaos.”

                                                                                                                Jean-Claude Gevrey, scala tympani

Three new releases on Another Timbre, with its quickly growing catalogue of improvised music. The first release is a recording on June 14 2009 at the church of St. James the lesser near Sheffield by Martin Kuchen (alto saxophone), Seymour Wright (alto saxophone) and the 'famous' Keith Rowe (electric guitar). This is quite some intense playing here. These thirty-five minutes contain some extreme material - not extreme as overtly loud (save for the last few minutes, with some piercing tone material), but an extreme exploration of the sounds that one can produce with such instruments. Its hard to recognize the instruments - especially the saxophones, but also Rowe's guitar treatments is excellent. Through they explore their instruments for all those qualities which one never thought they would have, but also these three keep an open ear as to what the others are doing and respond to that. Certainly not easy music, but one that needs attention. If you do that, it will reveal some great beauty.”                                               Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“Keith Rowe has had an uneasy alliance with the saxophone: while there have been some intriguing matchups (a duo with Evan Parker and a trio with Michel Doneda and Urs Leimgruber, both on Potlatch) he's usually found more fruitful settings with other instrumentation. On paper, a collaboration with young alto players Martin Küchen and Seymour Wright should be a winner, since both work at the lowercase end of saxophone improvisation. The 35-minute improvisation, recorded at the Church of St. James the Lesser in a small town outside of Sheffield, builds from breathy hisses, shredded reed overtones, wafts of radio, and the restless amplified shuffle of Rowe's excited strings. The three focus on the scuffle of fans and e-bow against strings, fluttered and frayed harmonics and reed overtones, creating stratified textures, vibrations, and buzzing pools of activity. Rowe's radio interjections are unusually aggressive here, inserting snippets of classical music, pop ephemera, and disembodied voices. Wright and Küchen act as colourists, their timbres only hinting at identifiable reed sounds for much of the piece, though when they shift to quavering notes and drones the results are highly engaging.”

                                                                                             Michael Rosenstein, Paris Transatlantic

“The sleeve design is spartan, with information as to the musicians, date and location of recording absent from the sleeve booklet, which instead contains a couple of photographs by Lee Patterson. These are close-ups of food, or food-like substances: that adorning the front cover depicts a pink smear, which could be ice-cream, or some less palatable ooze, a shiny yellow glob (mustard?) and what looks like the dark-green corner of a leaf. If we want, we could read in a correspondence between the placing of these three objects and the role of the three musicians within the performance – sitting on the edge of the frame, separated from each other though still largely inhabiting the same space; apparently all very different, but all having something in common (even if that something is only finding themselves within that same space). Such a reading would, unfortunately, be a little overly schematic – I hear the music, for most of the disc at least, more as an all-over mesh than as a work which especially privileges differentiation between individuals. And, it seems, in mockery of any overly pedantic or analytic attempts to read the music, the inside sleeve contains the words ‘additional notes,’ printed in black bold capitals over a dark grey background. Just these words –no written notes, no portions of informative text are forthcoming. No need for extraneous philosophical musings or recording details, then – no need even for track titles; this recording is what it is – shut up and listen. Perhaps, also, these ‘additional notes’ pun on the ‘[musical] notes’ that did not find their way into the performance, for Küchen , Rowe and Wright favour a play of un-transcribable, noise and timbre, with a distinct industrial edge.

Rowe’s de(con)struction of the guitar we know about, and his partners here must undoubtedly have been influenced by that ethos: though ostensibly ‘saxophonists’, it would be very hard to identify them as such on a blind-fold test. When one hears brief, muffled, watery sections of circular breathing, or sudden shrill shrieks, it comes as a surprise to hear the recognisable sound of an actual instrument –and even these are only recognisable to those for whom extended techniques have become a ‘normal’ part of the instrument’s range. As to what things exactly (besides the conventional instruments) make the greater part of the sounds we hear, one might argue that such curiosity is something of a quibble: what matters is the quality of the sounds themselves. Nonetheless, it’s very hard, perhaps almost impossible, to think of sounds in such a disembodied way (how does one get one’s head around the notion of a ‘sound-in-itself’?), and the element of ‘what makes what sound’ remains important. Furthermore, there is a point to be made here about how this performance is centred so much on mechanics. In other words, the specificity of the devices used, and the way in which they are used, is important, despite what might strike an unacquainted listener as an element of randomness. There is interplay here between the conscious control of resources – the carefully deployment of particular elements at particular times to shape the texture – and a deliberate use of equipment which will create sounds beyond control (the space of the unexpected). Radios are the most obvious and well-worn example of the latter: and so we hear Rowe’s bursts of classical music, the intrusion of the idiomatic, the sense of the overheard – and both Wright and Küchen’s preference for using radio in conjunction with saxophone (for instance, placing it in the bell of the instrument to create a particular vibration). But the decision to deploy a burst of music or speech or white noise from a radio is not an arbitrary one; a person makes this decision, in relation to the sounds surrounding them, and the action thus taken might even be interpreted as having a moral edge, within the context of the human interaction taking place through the medium of musical improvisation. This is the case not only for the use of radios, but battery-powered shavers, alarm clocks, and whatever other devices are being employed; and so I can’t help but hear the afore-mentioned specificity of devices as having a dimension beyond the merely musical. I don’t think it’s too facile to say that the music sounds ‘mechanical’, due to the use it makes of various machines/ instruments/ machines-used-as-instruments. In itself this might or might not be a ‘comment’ on the industrialisation of society or the role of electronics in everyday life. But it does simultaneously mitigate against the glass-cage separation of the exalted instrumentalist-performer from the minutiae of our experience of the world at large (particularly, the world in its sonic dimension), whilst retaining an essential ‘alien’ quality (and an element of musical expertise in the manipulation of the sound devices). Even to those familiar with the work of these particular artists, then, and even given that those people will probably find no particular surprises as such here, this must remain ‘something rich and change’: a work of transformation, at once flirting with banality (via the sub-conscious hum of Radio 4 voices) and, in the final drone section (which is laced with the tiniest fragments of melody), willing to grant moments of genuine emotional affect.”                                                                        David Grundy, eartrip magazine

“About the furthest sonic distance that can be imagined from a standard guitar and two saxophones CD, this noteworthy session is mostly concerned with the matchless musical magnificence that can result from the juxtaposition of unique and unexpected timbres.

British guitarist Keith Rowe, who appears at the Music Gallery on November 30 in the company of two different, string-playing sound explorers, has for years been investigating the possibilities of the electric table-top guitar prepared with add-ons and gizmos. What he does with dual alto saxophonists Martin Küchen and Seymour Wright here is subvert the expected sound of his instrument – and theirs. Radiating outwards an inchoate collection of broken chords, ratcheting strings and grinding friction, he alternately supplements or showcases the saxophonists’ tongue-stopped squeaks and shrills. Snatches of static-laden music or verbal phrases he serendipitously locates on an affiliated short-wave radio help convert this one improvisation into a constantly surprising, layered narrative, replete with concentrated drones and pulsed timbral flutters.

A climax of sorts occurs after three-quarters of the journey, when a sudden burst of sampled pop-rock guitar excess is swiftly burlesqued by Rowe’s string scraping and intermittent, reverberating distortions. This is followed by watery multiphonic runs from one reed player and a steady, unaccented line from the other. Ring modulator-like clangs eventually prod tightened saxophone breaths to expand into mouthpiece oscillations and a final, cumulative dissolving drone. Despite the title, there is no need for additional musical notes.”                                                      Ken Waxman, Jazzword

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