Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
“There are some instruments, which, if you asked me to name my very favourite musician that played said instrument, I would struggle to be able to think of one name. The saxophone springs to mind, as does percussion, or electronics, there are so many great musicians working with these tools I just couldn’t be pinned down to one name. With the trumpet and violin however, I can do this quite easily. Although there are an awful lot of really great trumpeters out there, I don’t know if there is any one that has consistently given me so much pleasure as Axel Dörner. If naming one trumpeter didn’t take long, then its even easier to pinpoint a violinist. Angharad Davies has, for me, been the most consistently interesting violinist that has crossed my path over the last couple of decades. The difference between the two names above might be their recorded output. While Dörner has appeared on dozens of albums, Davies has appeared on far fewer, a factor being slowly corrected as time goes by, but I think it is still very fair to say that given her ability and standing in the improvised music world she remains under-recorded. So a new duo disc by this pair then, was always going to push the right buttons for me.
if you know the music of these two improvisers, then there are no surprises here. The music captures a recording made by Simon Reynell at a West London house in December 2008. It sounds as if the two musicians just sat down and played together, not attempting to adapt their style or technique at all, just playing to see what might happen, drawing on the experience they had of playing occasionally together over the last decade. So the individual voices are there, Dörner at his most muted and breathy, but also completely acoustic, Davies working (I think) completely with the bow, mostly on the strings, prepared at times with small clips, but also bowing the body of the violin so as to find grey tones to match the trumpet’s hiss and hum…
…and in many ways, that’s it, that’s enough of a description of what happens on A.D, as this new release on the Another Timbre label is named. I have a vision in my head that I can’t quite shake, of Dörner and Davies sat in the kitchen, sharing a pot of tea, catching up on each other’s news, before putting down the teacups and picking up their instruments to play together. I don’t see this vision as a negative picture, rather an image of how this music seems to extend normal conversation, its simplicity as a metaphor for verbal discourse betrayed by the ability of the music to go beyond what words might be able to describe- a certain “correctness” about how sounds fit together, a tension produced only by choosing the right sounds in the right places.
I can try and describe the actual sounds used, most of them quiet and non-dramatic in their nature, with the occasional outburst from either player. There is a lot of space, found either in the short silences that stumble into view from time to time, or just where the understated sounds still leave a lot of room for movement. We can always tell the violin from the trumpet, even when neither sounds like either, and so the sense of communication here, the feeling of two people building a delicate structure together in real time is very prevalent. So there are hisses, gentle roars, circular motifs and grainy purring, and that’s just the violin. There are three tracks, which sound to me like they all came from one session, with little gap in between, with the three pieces perhaps even chunks edited from a longer recording. Certainly the parts we hear are uninterrupted sections of music however, any edits just chopped material off of either end of the tracks. Across the three pieces there is a little progression in style and density. The second piece, (titled Stück Dau in amusingly German/Welsh manner) feels like it uses shorter, more markedly punctuational sounds, increasing the sense of urgency slightly, but still remaining calm and considered, as is the trademark of most of the album.
I have justified my enjoyment of CDs over the past year a number of times by just stating that they are great documents of the improvisational process, and here I will simply do this again. I can’t think of any other album at all that sounds close to how this disc sounds, the particular mix of textures and tones is unusual, and yet the sounds themselves don’t matter much- the way they are used, the skilful way they are instantly selected, and the choice of sounds not used are all what make this a fine CD and another real winner for Another Timbre.The trumpet always sounds well in the hands of Axel Dörner, who teams up with Angharad Davies, who plays violin. This is a more 'traditional' improvisation disc, if such a thing exists in the world of Another Timbre. Probably not. But here, at times, we recognize the instruments. The soft scraping of the violin, the trumpet sounds like one, but then, that's only on a few instances. By and large however, these instruments sounds like anything but a violin and trumpet. Especially Dörner is a key player in this corner of the improvisation world and knows how to create the most unlikely sounds from his trumpet - white static noise at times. And all of that without any type of electronic processing. This is also a great disc, also one that requires ones full attention, as at times things move beyond the threshold of hearing. Excellent, concentrated music.” Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“ Before hearing any of this series, based on their past performances as instrumentalists and improvisers, on paper the pairing of violinist Angharad Davies and trumpeter Axel Dörner looked as tempting as any. Each of them combines technique with the instincts and experience essential for improvising. The reality proves to be just as good as anticipated. They play it straight, with the separate sounds of the instruments being clearly distinguishable throughout and complementing each other to good effect.
Although distinguishable, each instrument produces some atypical sounds. In a stunning performance, Dörner coaxes an extraordinary range of sounds out of his trumpet, from breathy resonances verging on white noise through to low frequency sounds of tongue fluttering and metallic percussive noises. Davies matches him in kind (again, some of her high notes could be electronic) but, more importantly, she always manages a response that is timely and appropriate. The end result is two instruments meshing into a seamless whole; the parts can be heard but they are so sympathetically matched that the whole is greater than their sum. Cleverly, the track titles reflect this symbiosis, being written half in German, half in Welsh. Very fitting.
The best of the bunch? Close, but it is really too close to call. “ John Eyles, All About Jaz
“A.D. are the initials of Angharad Davies (violin) and Axel Dörner (trumpet), a duo who you think you have probably heard already, but haven't. The London-Berlin axis has always been a rich one in improvised music, and has given rise to many subtle and fitting collaborations, and this one might have taken place five years ago. In fact this meeting was recorded in December 2008 and the resulting music is absolutely exemplary of the overlapping aesthetics of the two musicians. The brilliance and luxuriousness of the instruments are deliberately set aside in favour of a more internal exploration, keeping a cool head and clear ideas. Proving once more his immensely impressive technique, Dörner concentrates on tiny areas of breath, whistling, saliva, sighs and whispers with a rigour that never lets up. As for Davies, she too exploits one by one the reduced surfaces of her instrument, brushing the strings to produce tonalities that border on ultrasound, stubbornly working with textures which, though fragile, never drag at any moment. The collaboration works in such a way that when one musician is anchored in one area, working to produce a theme, the other often imitates them or, alternately, sets up a counter-movement. I particularly enjoy « Stück Dau », which huddles in silence at the beginning and then unfolds wonderfully, tracing from the middle of nowhere an enticing pathway that leads ultimately into some kind of festival where it's as if the vibrations of atoms in orbit are made audible. Paradoxically quite conventional (from the point of view of the 'codes' of the genre), this performance, virtuosic in its sobriety, shines out above all through its finesse and clarity.”
Jean-Claude Gevrey, scala tympani
“Having both initials and sonic interests in common, Angharad Davies and Axel Dörner have made a disc: A.D. On it are mixed, as you’d expect, trumpet and violin; and, as you’d expect, a fantastic subtlety. The duo enters the duo cautiously: messages addressed through pneumatic tubes to which replies a string irritated by a bow; a long aleatoric whistling and then, suddenly, something that sounds like two bows hanging together. With these musicians then, the listener has to leave the world of suspicion, and enter that of a polite invective that is created patiently and effectively. Dörner rattles around there solemnly, while Davies finds a rather cantankerous way of accompanying him. And the result is totally ADmirable.”
Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son du Grisli
“...The last album is called "A.D." after the initials of the two musicians, Axel Dörner and Angharad Davies. Axel Dörner is probably the most famous instrumentalist on these discs, having recorded numerous CD’s including two on the electronic improvisation label Erstwhile. His work bridges several different musical styles. While free jazz kept the flame of improvisation alive, the responses of Radu Malfatti, AMM, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Sonic Youth etc. have led to a variety of new practices which go beyond the stereotypical reflexes. So think of Sun Ra and his moog, or the cello in the music of Albert Ayler, or the attraction of musicians such as Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman and George Russell to the works of Varèse, seeking through the vehicle of the bebop quartet the musical equivalent of a tiger as against the pachyderm of the symphony orchestra. There is something of the revolutions of the past to be found in the evolution of today’s music, in the meeting of players such as Keith Rowe, Axel Dörner and Kevin Drumm. There's Sun Ra in the polyphonies of Gruppen or Noise music, and plenty of genius in the electronic solos at the Fondation Maeght, which have come a long way from the swing of Herman Blount....
So ‘A.D.’ is a duet situated somewhere between minimalist electronica and free improvisation, with Dörner’s playing partner here being Angharad Davies, who has something of the same openness to musics of various styles and horizons, and who has also had a classical conservatory training. Far from traditional virtuosity, both musicians have a minimalist approach to their instruments similar to that heard on the Fabbriciani/Hayward disc. It is a music of small events and deep incisions, of large and little sounds, sometimes using notes of an identifiable timbre, sometimes silences, or just small gestures captured by the microphone. Indeed microphony is central to all three of these discs. Schaeffer in theory, and Stockhausen and Henry in practice, have perfectly developed the key role played by the microphone in contemporary music (think of the titles ‘The well-tempered microphone’ and ‘Mikrophonie I and II’). The microphone has become a microscope revealing sounds as a spectrum not abstractly on a screen but physically in the flesh. The extraordinary medium of the microphone has become a sensory bomb which achieves a magnificent reality in these three discs. Auscultation, a process of listening between humans and instruments, mediating between an electronic field and the infinite sensations of particles and organisms."
- Boris Wlassoff, Revue et Corrigee
“As opposed to the dubiously hermitic vacuous experiments we’ve grown up used to in this department – places where the wet hiss of an air current has really nothing new to transmit nowadays, and the crackling taps on the wood of an instrument have become parts of a universally known jargon – A.D. is an excellent outing, in spite of its continuance of the above mentioned sort of timbral exploration, which in this case benefits by a definite tendency to the development of sounds with a soul, not relying upon the plain concurrence of aurally flattering physical phenomena. These three “stücks” for violin and trumpet manage to nail the listener’s concentration via a hypothetical line connecting the head with a point situated halfway through a pair of speakers.
What sets the conversation apart from the average – not only saving the CD from being filed among yawners, but attributing a precise character to it – is the desire, by both participants, of avoiding stationary fulfilment. This is not your typical “let’s go in a large hall and let the overtones work” kind of gimme. Dörner may start things with toneless blowing (by now a dreaded occurrence by this reviewer), nevertheless one is sure that after a few instants a change is going to emerge; maybe a series of growlingly fluttery emissions will appear, soon to leave room to a couple of well placed regular notes. The man is still searching, if you get the picture. Davies’ field of investigation is ever respectful of the value of calmness, faintly caressing upper partials, flimsy overacute pitches and gravelly delicacy splendidly matching with her partner’s sturdier manifestations. And yet in several occasions the Welsh violinist deploys the details of a nude strength, sober signals describing the solid muscle and the textural fibre of a living organism that won’t be intimidated by anything.
A record defined by a perceivable backbone, beautiful as a vintage black and white photo of a starving war prisoner looking straight into the camera.” Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
The following long review by David Grundy appeared on his blog Streams of Expression:
“Simon Reynell’s practice with Another Timbre seems to be to produce, if not ‘art objects’ (a term which, for me, mitigates against the essential fluidity which creative improvisation, as a practice, cannot but be intimately associated with), nonetheless carefully-prepared albums, more often than not with fairly short running times (A.D. is ‘only’ forty minutes long), that encourage one to take a measured approach: to savour them, digest them, play them through several times over, think about them, mull over them, consider them in-depth. I personally do find laudable the desire to ‘get stuff out there’, the ubiquity of new releases; the use of the technology of the Information Age to push the underground from out of its ‘underground’ cliques into the bright lights of the World Wide Web. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that there are dangers here – particularly the subsumption of easily-available and constantly-multiplying content into an information overload, a realm of the infinitely-exchangeable, where there is no time to pay attention to any one thing in particular (one must always be schizophrenic, listening to Iggy and The Stooges in one browser window while ‘the latest “eai” ’ drifts by in another); where being captivated by everything, trying to catch hold of the flashing lights, the neon fire-flies flicking past, means that one ends up being truly captivated by nothing, burning-out, going blind through over-exposure, going deaf through the endless babble of talk and music, the air-waves and wires and wireless streams of sound all round us. Thus, Reynell’s new releases offer a kind of welcome permanence, or semi-(permeable?) permanence; though improvisation is all about transience, what we have here are recordings – arguably, different beasts to being in the presence of (the same room as) a live, actual, in-the-moment improvisation. This is not something to deplore, though perhaps Derek Bailey might have it otherwise “so you don’t have to give it your complete, full, unadulterated attention? […] That’s one of the things that’s wrong. […] If you could only play a record once, imagine the intensity you’d have to bring into the listening.” (From an interview with Ben Watson reproduced as ‘Appendix 3’ in Watson’s ‘Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation’). On the other hand, Bailey himself devoted much energy to running Incus records, so the notion of recording as death (or, perhaps, cryogenic freezing) does have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Indeed, to wish recording done away with is not only un-realistic, but, perhaps, actively harmful, given the role that recordings have had in shaping our musical consciousness (as educative tools, if you like, though not in a prescriptive way). Reynells is not simply presenting something ‘worthy of study’, like a painting or sculpture; A.D. contains no liner notes or information beyond the minimum track-listing, personnel and recording details, and so comes to the listener less burdened with pre-conceptions than a release already surrounded (smothered?) by textual discourse: liner essays, hagiographies, manifesti. Of course, given the means by which the free improvisation community receive and think about their music (online fora and review spaces), many listening to this record will be busy making comparisons with previous releases or evaluating reviews that they’ve already read.
That baggage will not go away – why should it? – and Reynells is obviously keen for the music to appear in some sort of contextual area. The last few releases on another timbre have come under ‘headings’ – ‘The Guitar Series’, ‘The Piano Series’ – and A.D. is part of a four-part selection entitled ‘Duos with Brass’. We are being specifically asked, then, to think about this music as part of the history of instrumental practice, rather than as something which is ‘just there’; one is reminded of the short (one sentence!) statement that accompanied Seymour Wright’s self-released ‘Seymour Wright of Derby’: “The music is improvised and about the saxophone - music, history and technique – actual and potential.” In the case of the ‘Duos with Brass’, the most pertinent lines of enquiry seem to concern the associations we make with regards to brass instruments (which have become very different listening propositions given the innovations of Dörner and the like), and the assumptions we make about how ‘duos’ operate.
As one might expect, on A.D., ‘duo’ doesn’t mean the obvious question-and-answer, statement-and-response, proposition and counter-proposition model. Rather, Davies and Dörner play together in a variety of different ways; always together because always in the same place (space), but patient enough to let one person say something ‘on their own’ before the other joins in, or before the other takes their own ‘solo’ (which is not really a solo as such, because it is unavoidably inscribed by what has gone before it –it is more like a palimpsest than a new line of writing). Dörner is not a ‘brass’ player as such here, though he makes much of breath, blowing burbling, subdued gusts of air; he’s as likely to let a sudden rasp of sound convince one, for a split second, that there is a percussionist in the room, or to make circular rubbing motions against the metal surface of his trumpet (as at the start of ‘stuck dau’). When he plays a repeated note ‘straight’ (in response to Davies’ own deployment of that note immediately before, rendered as a more breathy wisp of sound), the effect is as surprising as if a ‘regular’ trumpet player had suddenly employed an ‘extended technique’. And it sounds as if he realizes this – there follows a silence (a moment of contemplation, of stepping back?) – before the return of the extended techniques. That doesn’t necessarily means he wants to reject what he’s just done: after all, such thoughtful players do not play something frivolously, do not ‘toss something off’. One might even construe it – that repeated conventional note – as particularly beautiful, though it might be a mistake to single out particular moments as idealised, sentimentalised ‘oases’. What is certain is that, in such an environment, the simplest of gestures can take on enormous historical weight: ten minutes into ‘stück tri’, two violin notes become a melody, against which Dorner’s blastings, growlings, mumblings, quiet roarings, become ‘counterpoint’.
I realize that some qualification may be in order regarding wording: I’ve written ‘Dörner is not a ‘brass’ player as such’, when perhaps what I meant was , ‘a conventional brass player’; for, as these new releases want us to realize, the term ‘brass’ in contemporary free improvisation can mean something quite different than it did in the past. Of course, Dörner is perfectly capable of playing ‘normal’ jazz trumpet – and does it very well – but he understands (and wants us to understand) the instrument as more than just that – as containing possibilities which are as much ‘brass’, because they are integral to the physical make-up of the instrument, as more conventionally ‘brassy’ sounds. So too Davies, in relation to the violin, deploying various objects in the strings and playing all parts of the instrument, in what might be called a state of permanent questioning (though it does, obviously, establish its own vocabulary). ‘What do I think of this object as? What is this thing I have been taught how to play? What more can I do with it than I have been taught? What are the implications of my making ‘unusual’ sounds with it? What does it mean for a technique to be ‘extended’? ‘
Such thinking makes the instrument seem at once more natural and more alien than if it were treated conventionally: more natural because every aspect of its body, of its sound-making capacity, can be explored; more alien because it is suddenly full of new, previously unknown possibilities. In a slightly different way, the sounds produced on this record are as much ‘natural’ as they are ‘alien’: towards the end of ‘stück dau’, the two musicians create what sounds like a simultaneous impersonation of a gurgling baby and a particularly high-pitched, fluttery bird-song. And this means, despite the ‘limitation’ and ‘restraint’ which seem apparent throughout (the unspoken dictum against ‘emotive’ display, or the peacock-strut of conventional virtuosity), that there is an immense sense of possibility here: the creation of a sound-world which does not merely ‘reflect’ the non-human sounds already in existence in our environment (wind, trees, birds, animals), but which suggests them, alludes to them (whether as unconscious by-product or through deliberate intent); adds to them, expands on them, merges them with the mediations of wood and metal through the bodies of violin and trumpet, and the further mediations of these instruments through the body and breath, fingers and hands of the musicians playing them. One might reflect that it’s pretty hard to obtain entirely un-mediated access to ‘natural’ sounds, particularly if one lives in an urban environment; and one might even reflect that, given the necessary presence of a human ear to make those sounds exists within the spectrum of human thought and understanding, the concept of an entirely ‘natural’ sound (if ‘natural’ is understood as ‘non-human’) is a rather tricky one in the first place. So what the musicians are doing is akin to the way that we filter ‘natural’ sounds anyway; they are creating something which is at once ‘futuristic’ (‘far out,’ out-of-the-ordinary) and essential, even ‘primal’.
All that said, to construct a theoretical edifice about nature/culture (perhaps with reference to the increased use of field recordings within this kind of quiet, less obviously ‘interactive’ kind of free improvisation) might be possible, but is probably not desirable: Davies’ and Dörner’s meeting here doesn’t ‘pretend’ to anything (in a ‘pretentious’ sense), and might perhaps, be construed as particularly ‘un-fussy’, even as it is part of a (permanent) revolution in improvised music (whatever David Keenan might think about it). On A.D., the sounding (out) of the extra-ordinary is not ‘trumpeted’, blared-out with brassy abandon, but unfolded with quiet and focussed intensity. A neat parallel is provided by the track titles, which mix the German ‘stück’ with the Welsh ‘un, dau, tri’, in an acknowledgment of the musicians’ respective nationalities; in itself quite an audacious linguistic mash-up, this phrasal quirk comes across not as clever-clever inventiveness, but as a genuine, and welcome, surprise. So with the music: not workmanlike in the slightest, it retains the atmosphere of surprise – of magic – that great improvisation is still so uniquely capable of providing, even within the ‘confines’ of a by-now well-established and developed vocabulary.”
David Grundy, Streams of Expression
“Angharad Davies/Axel Dörner: A.D. Another Timbre at31
Benjamin Duboc/Itaru Oki : Nobusiko Improvising Beings ib01
Creating novel techniques for instruments as familiar as the trumpet, the double bass and the violin is difficult enough. However these duo CDs are doubly absorbing, since the participants have created individual inventions for one brass and one chordaphone while stretching outwards their expected timbres.
In a context such as this, Nobusiko is actually the more traditional of the discs. That’s because French bassist Benjamin Duboc habitually uses the stolid percussive qualities of his four strings to maintain a chromatic bottom. Meanwhile Japanese-born Itaru Oki, who has long made his home in France, bounces, splutters and spits out as many textures as can be imagined from his trumpet, flugelhorn, wood flute and plastic tubing. Duboc, one of the busiest bassists in Paris, may also be able to foretell and calculate many of Oki’s rubato moves, since both are members of NUTS, the excellent French Free Jazz quintet.
A.D. – evidently named for initials of both participants – is a different matter. Capable of also playing fiery Free Jazz, Berlin-based Axel Dörner’s unique reductionist and minimalist brass technique here meets another challenge when duetting with the equally obtuse and often strident tones of London-based Angharad Davies’ violin. Davies often works with similar sound experimenters such as electronics manipulator Benedict Drew and inside piano specialist Tisha Makarji.
In her three improvisations with the trumpeter here, she uses brittle scrubs and comprehensive spiccato lines to create resonations to meet Dörner’s air leaking timbres, slide-whistle like peeps plus growls that sometimes take on thunder-sheet like stresses. Separating these distanced plinks and plucks from different string positions and the sometimes continuous no-valve touching expelling of pure air are extended silences, which give both parties time for cerebral regrouping.
With much of interface discordant, abrasive yet languendo, it’s a tribute to the participants that the pieces move as linearly as they do, often helped by stop-start sul tasto swipes from the fiddler and narrowed multiphonic puffs from the brass man. At points in fact the technical skills displayed is such that while some timbres may be inchoate, they are created with such single-mindedness, that many can be ascribed to neither strings nor brass.
No such confusion exists on the other CD. That because sputtering and warbling bras textures, airy wooden flute peeps or tube reverberations can be easily distinguished from string maneuvering, no matter how strained or spiccato Duboc`s lines may be. Irregular harsh plucks are matched with rubato brass squeaks and steady walking with burbled hockets or hesitant tongue flutters.
Seemingly ambidextrous, if not multi-armed, Oki, on a piece such as “Ihoujin” thickens his shrill shrieks with multi-flute resonation and methodical bell-ringing as Duboc thumps the wood of his bass’s waist and belly. However on other tracks, such as “Harawata”, Duboc limits himself to sul tasto pops and background thumps with his string-set, while the trumpeter displays grace notes, strained triplets and squeezes out encircling grace notes to make his point.
Overall the CD builds up to the concluding “Siwasu”, where sul ponticello stops and focused strums not only mute Oki’s vociferous note squalling and emphasized split tones, but also move the duet more towards to more melodic textures.
Two string sets, two brass players, and two wholly different methods of creating notable improvisations are available on these significant CDs.” Ken Waxman, Jazzword
“I was sent 3 out of 4 new discs in the Brass Series on Another Timbre and I was
super pumped to hear 'em all. But holy fuck have I had them for wayyyy too long without
reviewing them. There's a perfect explanation, of course, and that has to do with
the nature of these records. These albums are restrained, delicate, subtle, and most
of all, quiet. They absolutely need 100% of your attention, not just to understand
what's going on, but simply to even remember that you put on a record in the first
place. I finally just said fuck it, tossed everything else aside, and sat down with
'em. This one being the first because the album art is so slick.
Angharad Davies & Axel Dörner take on a violin & trumpet, respectively, in ways that seriously test the limits of your imagination. Mentally compile an aural list of all the sounds you think could come from a violin & trumpet. Cube that number and you're in the realm of A.D.
So here you have two people weaving brass & string in the most organic of ways. Most of the time, if you're paying attention, you'll be able to differentiate between which instrument is which. But occasionally the two are so twisted & abnormal they become one haunted hissing sound.
I'm sure many people will feel many different things upon listening to these two go at it, but my approach is strangely scientific. In A.D., I hear this subdued havoc and my first reaction is to analyze the sounds, to figure out how the fuck they're being made, and it's usually by process of elimination. Demonic growling? Well, I'm also hearing some shrieking strings so it must be the trumpet. Stuttering dog whistle electronics? Can't be the brass because that's off doing it's own scratchy circular droning.
Davies & Dörner have a supreme dynamic; they clearly work really well with one another. Something tells me they also had a fucking blast making this record. The motorboat mouth bubbles, unnerving immanent disaster, the shoe shining brush, the percussive blats, swirling needles, it just sounds like they threw an old fashioned dinner party, retired to the drawing room when they were finished, and made minimal crazy avant noise. If that's not a recipe for awesome I don't know what is.”
Justin Snow, Anti-gravity Bunny
Angharad Davies violin
Axel Dörner trumpet
1. stück un 12:40
2. stück dau 15:04
3. stück tri 14:30
recorded in west London, December 2008
Discount price £5