Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
at42 ///grape skin
Michel Doneda soprano saxophone & radio
Jonas Kocher accordion & objects
Christoph Schiller spinet & preparations
first membrane 17:29
second membrane 21:33
total time: 39:30
recorded in Ligerz, near Biel/Bienne, Switzerland in June 2010
Interview with Jonas Kocher, March 2011
The sense of 'edge’ creates something that’s really fragile but also very much alive at the same time.”
So first of all the title ‘///Grape Skin’ is rather unusual. What’s the thinking behind it?
- The title has to do with the location where we recorded: a church surrounded by vineyards.
The church was a striking venue which affected our playing and became a kind of skin around the
music. It was Michel who suggested the title, and the three slashes remain a mystery for me.
Maybe they represent the three musicians?
Though you’d played with both Michel and Christoph in different contexts, the recording
session for ‘///Grape Skin’ was your first meeting as a trio. Yet what strikes me
immediately about the music is that it feels very assured and confident. Where do you
think this quality comes from?
- For me this trio was a quite natural thing and I too felt a sense of assurance, both at the time
and when I listened back to the recording. Everyone knew each other’s playing, and which qualities
each of us were likely to bring to the music. And we knew that we shared the same kind of
musical understanding. From the moment the trio was proposed I was convinced that the music
would be interesting.
“The church in Ligerz where we recorded has a very special atmosphere….
The feeling you have there is one of great openness.”
You said in a recent email that you felt that the location gave the music “a poetic feel”. What did you
mean by this?
- For me the church in Ligerz where we recorded has a very special atmosphere. Its location is amazing, up on a
hillside in the middle of a vineyard and with a great view over the lake at Biel and the island where Jean-Jacques
Rousseau lived for some weeks in the summer of 1765. The feeling you have there is one of great openness.
When you’re inside the church, you don't see any of this but the feeling stays strong in your perception. And
I think that you can hear that in our music.
The generous acoustic of the church influenced our playing too. We had to deal with space and silence. At the
same time the environment around the church wasn’t completely quiet, and sounds from outside entered our
music. At various times you can hear birds, passing trains and even a boat siren on the recording. Theses sounds
are totally integrated into our playing and are the elements that link us with the amazing surroundings outside
the church. These outside sounds give the music another kind of reality and for me a strong poetic feel.
Most of the music on ‘///Grape Skin’ is quiet, and a lot of it is very beautiful. Yet there’s an
edginess and unpredictability about it too that for me makes it much more interesting than placid
“music for meditation”. Is this sense of ‘edge’ something that you consciously aim for?
- The sense of 'edge’ that you refer to is something that all three of us share as musicians. When I play in duo
with Michel, this is a very important part of our music. I think it creates something that’s really fragile but also
very much alive at the same time.
“Playing electronics helped me come back to the accordion with new eyes,
ears and visions for the instrument.”
On your excellent solo cd ‘Materials’ (on Creative Sources) you played both accordion and electronics,
but on ‘///Grape Skin’ you just use accordion. Why did you choose not to use electronics in this
- The reason is simply that after recording 'Materials' I stopped playing electronics. Now I prefer to play accordion
in an ‘electronic’ way, as you can hear on '///Grape Skin', rather than adding electronics to my work. I stopped
playing electronics simply because I came to feel that the accordion is my instrument, the one I feel really close to,
physically and emotionally. I never felt that kind of bond, or the potential to develop a truly personal language with
electronics. And there are so many other people out there playing electronics that I didn't feel I needed to add my
voice to them.
So when did you first play accordion, and how long ago did you start improvising with it?
- I started as a child and afterwards studied accordion classically. I only began improvising with it seriously in 2005.
Before that I improvised almost exclusively with electronics. I somehow found it difficult to improvise with the
instrument that I’d studied with. I think I needed time to digest all the years of classical training. Playing electronics
helped me come back to the accordion with new eyes, ears and visions for the instrument.
For a long time there weren’t many people in improvised music playing accordion, but in recent years
several players have emerged (Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Luca Venitucci, Ute Volker, Esteban Algora, to
name just a few). Do you think it’s an instrument that’s well suited to improvisation?
- It's certainly an interesting instrument to work with in improvisation but it also has strong limitations. The main
one is that you can't work directly on the mechanics by which it produces sound in the way that you can with
most other instruments. You can use the body of the instrument, but it’s not very resonant; the sounds produced
on it are mostly dry. But despite these limitations I love working with the accordion. I think it’s a really interesting
mix between something human (it ‘breathes’ and is like a body) and something industrial (like a machine with lots
of buttons and electronic sounds that are like sine waves). And last but not least, the accordion has a very strong
and particular image in musical history that is interesting to play with. So for me the accordion’s a huge field of
experimentation, with lots of playing techniques still to be developed.
“as elegant, beautifully crafted and thoroughly modern an approach to improvisation as you are likely to hear this year”
“A particularly strong one from a trio with Doneda, accordionist Jonas Kocher, and spinet player Christoph Schiller. The session was recorded in June, 2010 at a church in Ligerz, Switzerland located on a hillside in the middle of a vineyard. Like the two releases above, the instrumentation is integral to the way this session unfolds. While Kocher had previously augmented his accordion with electronics, he's now sticking solely to the acoustic instrument, creating whispered drones and pulsing dark chords colored with the patter of keys and buttons. I'd not heard of Schiller before his stellar duo with tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch (part of Another Timbre's recent brass series), and his spinet, extended through the use of preparations and eBow, adds a steely, percussive resonance to the mix. Doneda sticks to soprano here, moving between multiphonic overblowing, pinched and clipped attack, and breathy exhalations. The two extended improvisations are models of collective listening, and as always, Simon Reynell captures the way that the musicians interact with the performance space with salient clarity, allowing ambient sounds from outside the church to drift and mix naturally into the music as it unfolds. Another winner from the ever-reliable Another Timbre, well worth searching out.”
Michael Rosenstein, Paris Transatlantic“
“The flux and reflux of this water, its continuous sound, swelling at intervals, struck ceaselessly my ears and my eyes, responding to the internal movements which reverie extinguished in me, and sufficed to make me feel my existence with pleasure, without taking the trouble to think.”
Substitute music for water and you've got a pretty good description of these two spacious, colourful and beautifully paced improvisations. Doneda (soprano sax), Kocher (accordion) and Schiller (prepared spinet) perform in the warm acoustic of the tiny church of Ligerz overlooking St Peter's Island in Lake Biel in Switzerland, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau penned the words about two and a half centuries ago.”
Dan Warburton, The Wire
“A few words about this strange trio to finish the spring series of releases on Another Timbre. Michel Doneda (who has been very prolific at the start of this year) on soprano saxophone and radio, joined by Jonas Kocher on accordion and Christoph Schiller on spinet (an obscure sort of harpsichord). We see at once that the instrumentation by itself abolishes many boundaries: if the spinet recalls early composed music, the accordion refers to popular music, while the saxophone and radio are associated with jazz and the twentieth century. The very title of the album ‘/ / / grape skin’ is as enigmatic and paradoxical as the combination of instruments and objects, since the skin of the fruit refers to the organic, real world whereas the slashes come from a virtual, digital universe.
Beyond these introductory comments, let’s look at the music played by the trio in the two pieces which are called "membranes". Needless to say, given the general aesthetic of the Another Timbre label, there is a great emphasis placed on timbre. The first part consists of long layers of often monophonic sound which are distinguished by register and pitch. These three layers are unified without ever becoming confused; even if the sound is very homogeneous, we can always distinguish the three distinct sounds (without necessarily being able to identify the precise source or the individual creating them). The sonic expanse is alive and changing, with each variation or fluctuation of one layer, each even slight modulation giving rise to a new texture without abandoning the existing soundworld. The smooth passing of time and the only slight variations in intensity have nothing boring about them; it’s as though we’re inside a body which from the outside appears to be inert, but observed from within we see its internal organic life, its flux and energies, its enigmatic rhythms.
The "second membrane" consists of much shorter interventions, which are more volatile and autonomous, but all also marked by discretion and restraint. If the layers have disappeared in favour of a more dispersed and voluble discourse, this has not altered the energy level of the trio; the texture remains similar and homogenous, like an overcharged echo of the first piece. If a certain calm and serenity are retained, the life of this "membrane" seems more chaotic but also more organic and real because various conflicts and agreements, tensions and resolutions, constantly appear, arise, resolve and disappear.
‘/ / / Grape skin’ refuses the barriers that are placed between eras, genres or traditions; all oppositions or confrontations are negated in favor of a cosmic music, timeless and eternal, beautiful beyond beauty, sensual beyond the senses, and intelligent beyond discursive reason. The music of this trio pays full attention to the other and to the universe, an attention to its potentialities as well as to its difficulties, and everything is arranged in accordance with a work which is more than collective (because it concerns not just the collective, but the cosmos).”
Julien Heraud, Improv-Sphere
A fascinating act, divided into two comprehensive improvisations for soprano sax and radio (Doneda), accordion and objects (Kocher) and prepared spinet (Schiller). Crepuscular tones abound, the musicians picking ways of emitting sounds according to a “let’s-put-this-in-and-see-how-it-works” approach rather than simply letting the instrumental unrest move around. The sections in which the three superimposed voices try to show some fangs – for example, after the third minute of “Second Membrane” – are indeed succinct outbursts immediately returning to the original dimness. The actual pitches are scarcely definable, a considerable part of the action happening in areas where hush, environmental resonance and treatment of the instrument’s intrinsic technicalities meet. Acumen and self-discipline are applied throughout, causing the music to turn away from typical EAI routines just in time. The accordion – more than the saxophone – shows a tendency to exhale heavily, and Schiller’s economical utilization of an uncommon resource makes sure that the quantity of percussive luminosity and scratchy details remains completely tolerable, never invading zones where those features are redundant. At the end of the day, this record fuses communication and painstaking investigation almost flawlessly. Love at first sight is unlikely, but several of its values are unarguable, substance systematically prevailing over aesthetical appearance.”
Massimo Ricci, Touching extremes
“Another fine release of improvised music on the Another Timbre label tonight then, and another CD that seems to inhabit a stylistic middle ground that takes on the best of the various approaches to this area of music while not being easy to define as anything other than improvised music. Actually the disc in question, a release by the trio of Michel Doneda, Jonas Kocher and Christoph Schiller named (peculiarly) ///grape skin could perhaps be categorised more accurately as acoustic improvised music, though certainly there is a feeling throughout the disc of electronic textures and stylings being mimicked to some degree, and Michel Doneda uses a radio alongside his soprano saxophone, though its contribution here is mostly an abstract, textural one.
The album contains two tracks, each lasting roughly around the twenty minute mark. The instrumentation here is a mix that probably hasn’t been heard on disc before- alongside Doneda’s chosen instruments Kocher plays an accordion and Schiller a prepared spinet. Whilst seemingly quite specialised, the range of tools used here actually provide the musicians with quite a range of sounds, and throughout the two pieces we hear everything from breathy escaping air of one kind or another to bowed strings, percussive clatter and chiming tones. There is a lot going on here, with the music sounding beautifully rounded and fully formed right from the start, suggesting that the trio know each other well despite this being the only release they seem to have made together.
The one aspect of the music that stays constant throughout is its slowness. The trio pay great attention to the quality of the sounds they play, with texture and timbre in particular really sounding important here. As the music progresses slowly the sounds unfurl across one another with a sense of real elegance. The way everything fits together is very beautiful indeed. The sensation of electronics is a strong one. The excellent second piece here, named Second membrane in particular uses a lot of long languorous tones and hums that are pockmarked by smaller sounds, with no one musician more responsible for any one aspect than the other as they take it in turns to fulfill the separate roles. The track ends with a single low note holding a line for a few seconds before fading out. I’m not even sure which of the trio is making this sound, though if I had to guess I’d go for Kocher, but the delicacy of this ending, the quality of the held note, and the inability to figure out where it comes from sum up this album for me. Its a beautifully played, very nicely balanced example of how good improvised acoustic music can be when its just done really well. ///grape skin is a really beautiful work, recorded really well (by Simon Reynell, in a church, but this time away in Switzerland) and its a shame to me that this music might not attract some of the younger followers of improvised music who may not know the names involved or baulk at the thought of three acoustic instruments. In fact this is as elegant, beautifully crafted and thoroughly modern an approach to improvisation as you are likely to hear this year.”
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“When I was very young I would sometimes lie in the grass, one ear pressed to the soil, for a monoscopic view on life lived literally at grass roots, a telescoped perspective on a teeming world routinely hidden from view. The artists on the Another Timbre label, in the ways they make sound, bring a comparable perspective to the aural minutiae that brings music to life.
Another Timbre, as the label’s homepage succinctly puts it, provides an outlet “for improvised and cutting-edge contemporary music”. Common to all Another Timbre releases are quietness, gestural minimalism, and an emphasis – as might be expected – on the expressive potential of timbre (as distinct from pitch or volume, much less rhythm). The Another Timbre roster convenes at the Venn intersection where artists from multiple disciplines find common ground. Here, musicians with formidable ‘classical’ technique rub up against self-taught masters of new media, veteran improvisers from the electro acoustic, Onkyo or lower-case improvisation scenes, and specialists in aleatory music and cutting-edge composition. It’s a heady, rarefied zone where expression follows deep introspection, and the result is music for deep listeners. These aren’t recordings you can enjoy while vacuuming. John Cage appears to be one of the label’s touchstones, and many Another Timbre release can be heard as a responsive to Cage’s connection of spontaneity with pre-determination. The stunning “Lost Daylight” album, on which John Tilbury plays the piano music of Terry Jennings and, alongside Sebastian Lexer, John Cage’s “Electronic Music for Piano, 1964”, was a highlight of 2010, and made The Wire magazine’s top 10 recordings of that year. The four recordings considered by this article – all released in April 2011 – represent the more abstract side of the label’s output, all being more or less concerned with the refinement of the improviser’s art in the exploration of acoustic and electronic sound in all its fine-grained textural detail.
Michel Doneda, Jonas Kocher, Christoph Schiller “///Grape Skin”
At least one member of the Grape Skin trio should be familiar to many Jazz Mann readers. Michel Doneda has been active on the European free jazz/improv scene since the mid ‘80’s, with many recordings to his name. A particular favourite of mine, “Open Paper Tree” (FMP, 1994) documents one of Doneda’s numerous collaborations with the remarkable Vietnamese percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, and stands as evidence that his interest in timbral expression is nothing new. On “Grape Skin”, however, that interest is taken to the extreme. “Grape Skin” repays attentive listening richly, in subtle ways. Its effects linger in the memory.
The “Grape Skin” sessions were recorded in the church at Ligerz, Lake Biel, Switzerland, in 2010, and no doubt the musicians were highly attentive to the venue’s unique acoustics. Michel Doneda plays his saxophone mostly without the mediation of a reed, though occasionally his tone blossoms with the clarity of a flugelhorn. Jonas Kocher’s accordion is characteristically played in low, sustained tones, rather like a softly bowed cello. Christoph Schiller’s approach to the spinet is correspondingly often very dry, emitting dry scraping sounds or the desiccated plinks of a music box. There are no grand gestures here. The music’s attractions are at the microscopic level, where only focus on fine-grained detail can effectively reveal vivid coloration and lively activity. The group sound is all exhalations, soft bumps, shiftings; the mere rumour of music; ghost traces. Into this etherized terrain the spatial/temporal echoes of Doneda’s de-tuned radio intrude with nostalgic resonance.”
Tim Owen, The Jazz Man
“Two pieces recorded live in a church in Ligerz, overlooking Lake Biel, Switzerland. This trio also thinks 'spatial', but not by using various speakers, but using the acoustics of the church, but also by allowing sounds from outside to come in. Birds, boats and trains can be heard and the three musicians respond to that, at given times of course. Like many on the Another Timbre label, the modern version of improvised music here, careful, patient, concentrated, and exploring the instrument as object. But all of this is done with a lot of concentration and tension. They manage at times to make their instruments sound like sine waves, or leap into near silence, forcing the listener to deliver the same amount of concentration to fully enjoy the music. Most rewarding microtonal stuff.”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“Vordergründig Sopranosaxophon, Akkordeon und Spinett, hintergründig Radio, Objects und Präparationen. Wobei sich bei grape skin (at42) der Vordergrund oft nur wenig von Hintergrund abhebt. MICHEL DONEDA und JONAS KOCHER sind dabei die Luftakrobaten, der eine mit gedämpften, atemhaltigen, teils auch schrill zitternden oder dunkel tutenden Blastönen, der andere als Phantom am Blasebalg. Er entlockt dem Gespenst eines Akkordeons die Klänge kleinster Orgelpfeifen oder einer Glasharfe. Der Stuttgarter CHRISTOPH SCHILLER, bereits mit C. L. Hübsch at-erprobt und auch schon eine Merkwürdigkeit auf Creative Sources, mischt sich dazu mit präpariertem Keyboardgezupfe und -geplinke, bei dem ich wenig, am wenigsten aber ein Spinett vor mir sehen kann. Aus der Stille in die Stille pluckern und knarren – jetzt drückt Kocher nämlich auch ochsenfroschige Ventile – züllen und knistern, schaben und plonken Spuckefäden, Luftblasen und Spinettsaiten, letztere teils wohl mechanisch angerissen. Unscheinbarkeit und Undeutlichkeit sind Stilprinzip. Es wird am Hemdzipfel des Chaos gezupft, aber äußerst vorsichtig und gut getarnt durch Camouflage, die sich dem diffusen Klangsaum des Heterogenen täuschend anverwandelt. Was diese Esoterik verbirgt, bleibt ebenso im Unklaren wie das, was sie aufzudecken hofft. “
Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy
“Tøi lomítka v názvu CD Grape Skin oznaèují tøi zúèastnìné – nestora souèasné francouzské alternativní scény, sopránsaxofonistu Michela Donedu, který zde preluduje i na rádio, švýcarského akordeonistu Jonase Kochera, jenž ke svému hlavnímu nástroji pøidává nejrùznìjší ozvuèené objekty a nìmeckého hráèe na spinet Christopha Schillera, který svùj nástroj „nepatøiènì“ preparuje. Atmosféru celého díla dodává skuteènost, že bylo nahráno ve švýcarském kostele obehnaném vinohrady. Odtud tedy i název Grape Skin, evokující slupky vína, pod jehož povrchem se skrývá lahodný mok. Je to jemná degustace poryvných tónù i paratónù, kde postupnì odkrýváme povrch až na samotná zrníèka. Subtilní nahrávka pohrávající si s transcendentnem i rurální podstatou našeho kontinentu. Doneda zde opìt potvrzuje smysl pro podprahové laufy svého nástroje, Kocher využívá nezvyklé možnosti svého nástroje a preparovaný spinet je kapitolou sám o sobì. Je to obraz zrání životabudícího nápoje a zároveò meditace vysokého stupnì. Rozhodnì neurèeno pro bujnou atmosféru vinobraní, ale pro naprosto niterní vnímání pøi lahvi nìèeho extra, kde vám chuové buòky souzní s tìmi sluchovými. Žádná juchanda, ale pøíležitost pro pøevalování na jazyku a resonanci v ušním bubínku v lehké koketérii s nirvánou.” Petr Slaby