Discography Details

THE INTERNATIONAL NOTHING
MAINSTREAM

kai fagaschinski:
clarinet (right)
michael thieke:
clarinet (left)
guests:

margareth kammerer:
voice&guitar (on 5)
derek shirley:
double bass (on 7: right)
christian weber:
double bass (on 7: left)
christof kurzmann:
remix with additional voice (on 8)

recorded by michael at KuLe (1-4,6), at maggy's flat (5), at derek's flat, and by christof at his flat, all in berlin between july 2003 and june 2005
mixed by michael and kai
mastered by martin siewert at motone sound services, vienna
cover designed by tanabemse
ftarri/tokyo (JAP) 2006
wwww.ftarri.com
1. einfache Freuden 7:37
2. we already know... 6:03
3. wenn alles weh tut und nichts mehr geht 8:31
4. feathered machine song 7:18
5. and the morning 5:50
6. rollig 6:34
7. lovetone 9:16
8. hauntissimo (for Lucy & Richard Stoltzmann) 4:47

Press

A subtle, precise album from Berlin based clarinettists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, packed with soft, furry sounds and glowing multiphonics. The opener „Einfache Freuden“ („Simple Delights“) is a sustained exploration of pianissimo reed playing; it luxuriates in the bristling ‚difference tones‘ generated by discords or the hamonics arising from unison. Overtones gleam and fade as the held notes gently swell and clash. Everything here is composed but deeply informed by improvisation, plus (obviously) a profound acquaintance with the clarinet. This type of writing can prove tricky for a composer who doesn‘t play the instrument in question - possessed of the ideas but not the technical know-how to achieve them, composer and performer alike can wind up frustrated. By writing their own material, Fagaschinski and Thieke engage directly with the sound that they sculpt so exquisitely. Five duets are intercut by a song from Margareth Kammerer, whose vulnerable voice evokes Billie Holiday. This is recorded in Kammerer‘s flat with the windows flung wide open to admit birdsong. Double bassists Derek Shirley and Christian Weber join for the „Lovetone“ quartet, and Christof Kurzmann wraps things up by singing over his remix of the duo material. Overall it‘s a proud example of the new Berlin music, convivial, intense and light-hearted at the same time, and effortlessly blurring Improv into composition.
Clive Bell, THE WIRE (UK) 01/2007

By rights this shouldn't be in the Jazz / Improv section at all (though to be honest I've long since stopped worrying about where to draw exact boundary lines), since, as the accompanying press bumph makes clear, each of the eight tracks on the cheekily-entitled Mainstream (it isn't) is carefully composed. But the two men behind the project, Berlin-based clarinettists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, are noted improvisers, and Ftarri is an offshoot of the Improvised Music from Japan label, so you'll stand a better chance of finding a copy of this by looking in the Improv bin than in Contemporary Classical. The name they've chosen for their group is either depressing or ironic, or both – a sly comment on the music's wilfully obscure niche market or a nod to the network of lowercasers strategically positioned around the globe (Berlin Reductionism + Tokyo Onkyo + New London Silence = International Nothing?)? – but the music isn't. It's a vibrant (in several senses of the word) if at times deadpan exploration of the tonal combinations and combination tones of two clarinets, and it's refreshingly free from the plink plink fizz of extended technique fluster and bluster. Just tune your instruments carefully, hit those pitches dead on, and leave your listeners to thrill to the acoustic beats. Personal fave tracks: "wenn alles wehtut und nichts mehr geht" and "feathered machine song". Talking of songs, the album actually contains two: On "and the morning", Berlin's answer to Karen Dalton (without the dental problems), Margareth Kammerer, adds vocals and guitar, and Christof Kurzmann provides the odd nightmarish berceuse "hauntissimo" that closes the album. Neither are ever going to make it into the Top 40, so don't be fooled by that album title, but they do stick in the mind, almost annoyingly so. On "lovetone" – now there's a Top 40 title for you – the clarinettists are joined by bassists Derek Shirley and Christian Weber for a grisly Polwechsel-meets-Scelsi workout. Great stuff. All I need to know now is why the cover is adorned with a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, a walrus and an armadillo
Dan Warburton, PARISTRANSATLANTIC (F) 02/2007

Music by Kai Fagaschinski has been reviewed before, for instance the Los Glissandos CD on Creative Sources (see Vital Weekly 480) or his work with Bernard Gal (see Vital Weekly 506). Here he presents a work with Micheal Thieke, who is a member of Hotelgäste (see Vital Weekly 494) and who has otherwise strong ties in the world of improvisation. The curious thing is of course that both play the clarinet. Since 2000 they operate as a duo, and after a while of improvising, they now want to play as if they sound like one instrument instead of two. On 'The International Nothing', they have five tracks of this kind of playing together, which are great works of sustaining sounds. Introspective, quiet, minimal. Great pieces. They also have some tracks with guest players, such as a piece with Margareth Kammerer on vocals and guitar or a piece with the double basses of Christian Weber and Derek Shirley and I must say that they sort of break the tranquil character of the other five pieces. It's not that they are bad, but are perhaps too distinctly different from the other pieces, which form a very homogenous part of this CD. Throughout it's a very good CD of music that crosses the line of composition and improvisation.
Frans de Waard, VITAL WEEKLY (NL), 01/2007

The first release on this promising offshoot label of IMJ features the clarinet duo of Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke presenting eight largely composed pieces, five of which feature only themselves while three others make use of a handful of other musicians, sometimes with odd results. The five duo pieces are a little bit of a type in some respects though well varied in others. As he’s been doing for a while now, Fagaschinski seems very preoccupied with the reinvestigation of more “traditional” clarinet sonorities and he and Thieke do so with a vengeance here. The first sounds you hear, on “Einfache Freuden”, are the paired reeds, one full and burred, one breathier, tracing long lines in closely spaced pitches, splintering out into adjacent areas, recombining a bit later. It’s a lovely effect, slightly reminiscent of Alvin Lucier’s experiments with sine waves and pitched percussion though there’s no tinge of the laboratory here. They have a special fondness for dwelling in the deeper, woodier regions of the clarinet’s range, luxuriating in lengthy swells of foghorn-like dimensions. This and the succeeding two pieces, especially the third track, work wonderfully, each coming at the situation from somewhat different angles. “We Already Know…” begins with a gentle series of “melodies” not terribly different than what you might have heard at one time from Julius Hemphill, before splaying out into a thoughtful, perhaps mournful rumination. That third piece, whose title has something to do with “pain” and “nothing more” (someone help me out here) has a strikingly beautiful theme, simple and pensive, even romantic in a way I’ve heard Fagaschinski's music sound in concert. The duo basically works the thematic material through subtle variations, especially in tonality, for the length of the composition. Simple and very moving. Things get a bit rocky from this point. The two remaining duo pieces, one an exercise in high warbles that recalls Evan Parker at its onset, Braxton at its denouement, the other a study in steady pulses and closely aligned pitches, neither quite as compelling as the first three (though each decent enough), bracket a song featuring the voice and acoustic guitar of Margareth Kammerer. “And the Morning”, in which you can hear some enjoyable ambient noise, has something of the character of a Robin Holcomb work, though not an especially impressive one. Her guitar strumming, especially as it grows more forceful, doesn’t add anything of interest and the words, unfortunately for this reviewer in English, are better left undeciphered. That said, the piece has a nice overall sound; I wouldn’t be averse at all to hear further stabs in this direction. I just don’t think this one works. Girding their loins for the stretch, “Lovetone” adopts the excellent idea of combining Fagaschinski and Thieke with two bassists, Derek Shirley and the increasingly ubiquitous Christian Weber. The sheer lusciousness of the two arco strings with the clarinets goes a long way toward ensuring the success of the piece though its structure, a series of slow episodes that evolve into a delightful offsetting of low rumbling basses and ethereal high reeds, is lovely on its own. “Mainstream” closes with another wild card, a jaunty number (you can find premonitions of its thematic material in earlier tracks) titled “Hauntissimo” where they’re joined by Christof Kurzmann whose vocal contribution will be enjoyed by those who also liked the close of “schnee_live”, as I did. While there is a misstep or two to be negotiated here, there are several really fine works, though hardcore eai-ists may find much of it a tad too songlike. But for those listeners unfamiliar with Fagaschinki’s work and who have an appreciation of the clarinet as such, “Mainstream” wouldn’t be a bad place to begin.
Brian Olewnick, BAGATELLEN (USA), 01/2007

Zwei Klarinetten in multiphonischer Konsonanz und mehr. Kai Fagaschinski (*1974, Dannenberg) & Michael Thieke (*1971, Düsseldorf), der eine bekannt mit Projekten wie Rebecca oder Los Glissandinos und No Furniture, die beide nicht zufällig auf Creative Sources heraus gekommen sind, der andere mit Unununium, Hotelgäste oder Nickendes Perlgras, taten sich vor gut 6 Jahren zusammen und verschoben ihren Fokus im Lauf der Zeit von diskreter Akribie auf vollmundigere Klanglichkeit. Als ob sie wieder die ‚einfachen Freuden‘ des Sonoren erkunden wollten. Und andererseits die Reize angenehmer Gesellschaft. ‚Lovetone‘ spielen sie im Quartett mit den beiden Kontrabassisten Derek Shirley und Christian Weber. ‚And the morning‘ klingt durch die Stimme & akustische Gitarre von Margareth Kammerer, ihrer Partnerin in The Magic I.D., ganz wie ein Kunstlied dieses zusammen mit Christof Kurzmann gebildeten Quartetts. Und der wiederum gestaltete abschließend den Remix ‚hauntissimo‘ ebenfalls mit Gesang als Wiegenlied. Die fünf reinen Klarinettenduette bezaubern mit gezogenen, harmonisch schimmernden Tönen, die von Clive Bell im Wire passend mit ‚furry‘ beschrieben wurden, und mit Klangfarben, die eher an Orgelpfeifen, Bass- oder Blockflöten und Mundharmonikas erinnern. In den rührenden ‚Morning‘-Song mischen sich Vögel mit ein, die die kunstvoll evozierte ‚Natürlichkeit‘ bezeugen. Das Quartett vergewissert sich anfangs summend seines gemeinsamen dröhnminimalistischen Nenners, einem geblasenen und gestrichenen Unisono, bis die Klarinetten nach oben, die Bässe nach unten ausscheren, Weber zupft ein dunkles Pizzikato und die andern Drei beben in einem gemeinsamen Vibrato. Von einem Schwarm von Klarinetten begleitet, sprechsingt Kurzmann, ‚Kylie‘ Fagaschinskis Kopilot im Raumschiff Zitrone, dann noch sein Lullabye. Echter als echt. Solche Väter braucht das Land.
Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY (D), 02/2007

Japonský label Ftarri, odnož Improvised Music from Japan, vyslal do světa první vlaštovku, ovšem pod Ċíslem 222. Jelikož futari znamená dva lidé a v ediĊním plánu na příští rok je plánováno vydání dua Nakamura/Dörner, je zřejmé, jakým směrem se tento nový label vydává. Duo berlínských klarinetistů Kai Fagaschinski a Michael Thieke tvoří na větší Ċásti mainstreamu minimalistické kompozice v duchu Passing Measures Davida Langa. Krystalicky Ċisté barvy tónů naberou na výškách i naléhavější dynamiĊnosti ve Ċtvrté skladbě (feathered machine song), aby v následující byly zabarveny hlasem a kytarou hostující Margareth Krammerer. Pak se posluchaĊ opět ponoří do jemných vln tónů protahovaných až na samotný okraj možností, jež klarinet skýtá, aby v předposlední skladbě (lovetone) prošel basovým stereem hostujících kontrabasistů. Na závěr alba se k duu ještě přidá se svým laptopem i hlasem dlouholetý spolupracovník Christof Kurzmann a k vysoké kvalitě zvuku této desky přispívá také technická spolupráce Martina Siewerta. Pro milovníky mainstreamové hudby pak už jen zůstane otázkou, proĊ Ċtyři tlustokožci na obalu?
Petr Vrba, HIS VOICE (CZ) 01/2007

The gentle irony of the CD’s title gives a clue to the decidedly non-mainstream music within. Released on the fledgling Tokyo label ftarri, The International Nothing is the minimalist brainchild of clarinetists Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski. Pieces are warmly meditative, growing out long tones and multiphonics whose pipe-organ texture slowly changes dynamics and sonorities in an organic way. The Berlin-based duo delve into compositions that grew out of extended improvisational experiments whose results were mined for those nuggets most rich in developmental possibilities. What captures the ear here is their impeccable attention to detail, especially the resulting frissons that come when microtonal shifts give rise to beats and resonances that well up and recede in dreamlike waves of sound colour. Particularly intriguing is Feathered Machine Song, full of bird chirps and fluttering note groups. The duo is joined to good effect by Margareth Kammerer on voice and guitar, Derek Shirley and Christian Weber on bass, and Christof Kurzmann on voice on three tracks. Recommended.
Glen Hall, EXCLAIM (CAN) 03/2007

Das Nichts besteht hier aus zwei in der Improvisationsszene respektierten Klarinettisten (Fagaschinski und Thieke), die im Klangergebnis (trotz in Jazzmanier ausgewiesener Kanaltrennung) als Einheit wahrzunehmen sind. Die intendierte Nichtunterscheidbarkeit verschwindet nicht hinter Beliebigkeit, sondern bildet, ähnlich dem guten alten drone-Ansatz, die Projektionsfläche für Unebenheiten in der Struktur, für den Symmetriebruch. Nicht instrumentales Virtuosentum, sondern mutiges Vorwärtsdrängen in unerforschte Klangfelder heißt also das Motto. Als Gäste setzen u.a. Margareth Kammerer und Christoph Kurzmann auf dieser Basis ihre Akzente - Mainstream wird es natürlich auch dadurch nicht. ****
Karsten Zimalla, WESTZEIT (D) 03/2007

"Mainstream" raccoglie una serie di composizioni per clarinetto di Kai Fagaschinski e Michael Thieke; nella gran parte dei casi i pezzi esplorano le inflessioni più austere dello strumento attraverso lente modulazioni di note sostenute e strutture ripetitive, cantilene al limite del meccanico e microvariazioni a costruire un'esperienza percettiva non esaltante. Al di là delle preoccupazioni strutturali e formali dei due musicisti appartenenti alla scena 'avant' berlinese, il disco non restituisce molti stimoli all'ascolto e si assesta monotono su grigi scenari- anche l'innesto della voce di Kammerer, in 'and the morning', rimane appiattita su sonorità povere di spunti. L'eccezione sta nel pezzo finale del disco, 'hauntissimo', un remix ad opera di Christof Kurzmann in cui l'austriaco canta una filastrocca con una voce metallica ma attraversata da barlumi di dolcezza che, nel suo ripetersi meccanico, un po' prende in giro e un po' sdrammatizza (rendendola molto meno pretenziosa) la composizione di Fagaschinski e Thieke. Il pezzo di Kurzmann è da 8 (e le ultime incatalogabili creazioni dell' austriaco sono assolutamente da tenere d'occhio), ma non basta a portare il disco al di sopra del (5).
Daniela Cascella, BLOW UP (I) 03/2007

Che Berlino sia oggi una specie di capitale europea, se non mondiale, delle attività musicali – e artistiche in generale – sembra essere ormai un fatto indiscutibile, altrimenti non si spiegherebbe la confluenza verso quella città di musicisti provenienti dai quattro cantoni. Ed è quindi logico che molti occhi siano puntati su quanto avviene nella capitale germanica, la quale non manca di ripagare l’attesa attraverso pubblicazioni di grande spessore che, spesso, vedono la collaborazione incrociata fra vari elementi che bazzicano quella comunità, andando così a costituire una fitta rete in grado di intrigare fra le sue maglie anche l’appassionato più sfuggente. Kai Fagaschibski e Michael Thieke, entrambi clarinettisti, non vengono certo trattati in queste pagine per la prima volta, e non dovrebbero rappresentare un’incognita neppure per i nostri lettori meno abituali. Per la consistente scia che si trascinano alle spalle rimando alle sintetiche biografie presenti nei loro siti, limitandomi a ricordare come i loro interessi vagabondino dalla new thing meno primitivista alla musica creativa dei primi anni ’70 del secolo scorso e dal minimalismo più riduzionista all’elettronica-elettroacustica con tendenze minimali. Questo duettare di clarinetti – legno e aria – rispetta tali influenze, andando a definire un microcosmo poetico, soffuso e delicato, che però è in possesso di una propria forza e di una innegabile geometria, a partire dalla scelta di disgiungerne il suono nelle due uscite dell’impianto stereo (Fagaschibski a destra e Thieke a sinistra). Anche in Lovetone, dove alla coppia si aggiungono i contrabbassi di Derek Shirley e Christian Weber, viene seguita la stessa procedura, mentre la song And the morning ed il lied Hauntissimo (for Lucy & Richard Stoltzmann) si adeguano necessariamente ad una forma geometrica triangolare: nella prima la voce e la chitarra di Margareth Kammerer ci trasportano verso sciccherie in bilico fra old-jazz e cantautorato di classe mentre il remix e la voce di Christof Kurzmann definiscono una gig ‘morbidamente’ teutonica (vi giuro ch’è vero!!!). Ed infine il fascino esercitato da “Mainstream” non può che invitare a quell’opera di ricerca già insita nella struttura reticolare descritta ad inizio recensione. Di Margareth Kammerer e di Christof Kurzmann dovreste ormai sapere quasi tutto, mentre un primissimo approccio può riguardare i contrabbassisti Derek Shirley (canadese e residente a Berlino, dove collabora a vari progetti) e Christian Weber (svizzero e molto attivo, visitatene il sito www.christianweber.org, che abbiamo incontrato anche nell’ultimo splendido “Out” dei Day & Taxi)… ma è meglio fermarsi qui altrimenti si corre il rischio di andare troppo lontano. Un’altra annotazione per constatare come anche da quelle parti (a Berlino) non sia comunque tutto rose e fiori, almeno stando al fatto che i due clarinettisti si sono dovuti rivolgere ad una casa discografica giapponese per poter pubblicare questo notevole CD……… E, ancora, un’ulteriore domanda: ma si tratta proprio di mainstream? E cosa vorrà dire il nome che i due si sono scelti? E i quattro esempi faunistici della copertina, tutti a rischio di estinzione, non saranno una metafora sullo stato odierno della musica? Troppe domande senza risposta, e forse è meglio tornare all’unica certezza rappresentata dalla bellezza – direi pura – di questo CD. Allora, per dirla alla Jonathan Richman, ‘one more time…’.
SANDS-ZINE (I) 03/2007

"Mainstream" is the result of the search for the "delicate pleasures one might not associate with clarinet duos" by Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski. Contrarily to what one could expect, the compositions are more timbrally defined than oriented to the exploration of the cavities and valves of the instrument, representing a cycle of pretty minimal structures where the clarinet tones work "together and against", often hinting to new forms of songs. In a word, we hear more notes than air this time, but those notes are persuasive on the psyche in different ways. Straightforward lines become an airplane rumble in "Love tone", where the duo is aided and abetted by the double basses of Christian Weber and Derek Shirley, while Margareth Kammerer lends her frail voice (and guitar) in the exquisite "And the morning", complemented by the background hush of the neighbourhood (several of the pieces were recorded at the artists' homes). Christof Kurzmann's voice and remix exertions are featured in the final "Hauntissimo". But, illustrious guests aside, it's Fagaschinski and Thieke's playing that really captures the attention, their analysis of timbral gradations showing the finest properties of thought-out-in-advance improvisation, which is probably the best method of taking virtual photographs of a pure creative act that ideally shouldn't even be recorded. But hearing the beating frequencies and cyclically regular howls generated by the couple is pure pleasure, which puts all this theoretical nattering away while inviting us to repeat the experience. Play it "semi-loud" for the best effect.
Massimo Ricci, TOUCHING EXTREMES (I) 04/2007

Practically doctoral theses on reed tone manipulation, these four CDs mostly parse the textures and timbres available from the most traditional of woodwinds – the clarinet. Furthermore, with the personnel on the discs Berlin-based, the sessions not only highlight the surge of creativity taking place in the formerly divided German city, but also demonstrate how diverse tone generation and interactions create widely disparate results. Three of the four CDs feature Düsseldorf native Michael Thieke, who moved to Berlin in 1993. Working in duo, trio and quartet formations, his discs range from all-acoustic Free Jazz (The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse) to minimalist Free Improv (the ironically named Maintream), with the third session (Where Should I Fly Not To Be Sad, My Dear?) slotted somewhere in between. First Time I Ever Saw Your Face is something else again. It lines up Dannenberg-born clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski – who also partners Thieke on Mainstream – with sound manipulator Christof Kurzmann. Vienna-born Kurzmann, who also plays clarinet on the CD’s longest track, otherwise mixes and contrasts Fagaschinski’s woodwind resonance with lloopp software, devices specifically designed for live improvising. There are other interconnections as well. Two of First Time…’s tracks feature the reedman improvising along with Kurzmann’s manipulation of a sample of Roberta Flack’s vocal version of the title ballad. Meanwhile Margareth Kammerer – who regularly performs in a trio with Fagaschinski and Kurzmann – sings and plays guitar on one of Mainstream’s tracks; while Kurzmann’s voice and remixes are featured on another. Another of the CD’s tunes adds two bassists: Derek Shirley, who is also in the band with Thieke on Where Should…, and Christian Weber, who holds down the bass chair on The Amazing…. That less than 38½-minute CD is a prime reminder that the reductionist ethos celebrated on the other CDs isn’t the only sound coming out of Berlin. Each of Thieke’s seven compositions is a prime slice of go-for-broke Energy Music. Besides highlighting his alto saxophone, alto clarinet and clarinet playing, there’s a place for his rhythm section mates as well. Proffering high-end rhythmic interventions is Zürich-native Weber – who among many others, has played with American saxophonist Charles Gayle and Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer; while the percussion add-ons result from the inventions of Nürenberg native Michael Griener, who has backed soloists as disparate as experimental trumpeter Axel Dörner and traditional jazz guitarist Herb Ellis. Bobbing, ebbing and flowing in the currents available from breath, strokes and motion, the co-op trio parties like it’s 1969, the zenith of outer-directed Free Jazz. Writhing and wiggling timbres that are wrenched from his body tube and bell rather than his reed and mouthpiece, Thieke’s multiphonic showpieces are still profoundly logical. It may seem as if he’s shoving more notes into an aperture than can comfortably absorb them, but unsurprisingly the shape of these instant compositions immediately distends to fit. Altissimo cries and irregular vibrations characterize his alto saxophone lines, which are then wedged firmly among the extended techniques of the other trio members. On clarinet his legato tone sometimes suggests the sort of absolute music he and Fagaschinski play in tandem elsewhere, or remain body-tube vibrations. On both reeds his most common strategy is to repeatedly parse particular note clusters until he’s wrung every last variation from them. As easily able to sound a shuffle beat as bounces and ruffs, Griener’s clattering cymbals often mix it up with Weber’s chiming bass lines; and, depending on the situation, rhythmic accompaniment also results from chain rattling or stick whacks that are as regular as hoof beats. For his part Weber’s walks as easily as he scoots up and down the strings and thumps percussively at points as conclusively as his sul tasto sweeps define other pieces. There’s similar variety of themes from near-mainstream to experimental on Where Should…. However bassist Shirley and drummer Eric Schaefer – also part of the band Nickendes Peklgras with Thieke – seem to take back seats to the improvisations of the reedist and Rome-native Luca Venitucci on accordion and prepared piano. A member of Zeitkratzer, Venitucci has also worked with daxophone inventor Hans Reichel and Japanese tape artist Merzbow. Some of the nine tracks here gain their ever-shifting coloration from the keyboardist’s mercurial playing. On accordion he produces ragged quivering peeps, with the rubato bellow textures adding rustic cohesiveness. Preparations are less audible except for a certain underlying connectivity, and a section on “if i think, again, of this place” where melodic counterpoint appears between mellow clarinet pitches and marimba-like pitter patter. Many more of the performances are shaped by Thieke’s zither, whose resonation resembles those you would get from violently scraping the teeth of a metal comb and amplifying the results. As the reedist’s textures vary from pencil-thin forced finger vibratos to short reed bites, often it’s a combination of these metallic teeth scrapes and organ-like bellow pulses that shape the tune. Agitato as opposed to the languid pace of many of the other tracks, “nach aussen gewölbte mönche” is an example of this with Venitucci-Thieke percussively in double counterpoint introducing irregularly paced drum beats that in turn regulate Thieke’s pitch-sliding alto saxophone quacks and smears to a fitting climax. Both Shirley and Schaefer make their presence known on “der verfolger” where an understated bass line and resonating tubular bells set the scene. Following an interlude where gently curving clarinet lines are ornamented by push-and-pull quivers from the squeeze box, the drummer’s buoyant pops interface with Thieke’s distinctive double-tonguing. Although there’s no keyboard in sight, the duo tracks on Maintream also suggest pipe-organ-style polyphony. That’s because the union of cohesive reed tones ululate with formalist layering. Capillary grace notes, chalumeau resonation and coloratura obbligatos are part of these exercises. At points, such as on “wenn alles weh tut und nichts mehr geht”, the dual clarinet polyharmonies are overlaid on top of one another so that they shimmer with additional multiphonics. Encompassing zart textures that reference both medieval-styled chanting and hypnotic pitch sliding, the mood is only shattered when reed bites upset the tone or the sharp intake of breath is heard. Elsewhere, organic pulsations ascend to squeaking altissimo only to slide down to almost hollow passages that sound as if air is being forced through PVC tubes. Working as a double duo with Shirley and Weber on “lovetone”, a fuller, more multi-layered sound is produced as sul tasto bass work extends undulating reed slurs in broken octaves. As the almost 9½-minute tune evolves from piano to fortissimo, a crunching bass lines helps isolate the two reed timbres, one of which gets higher-pitched, the other lower. Trimbral contrasts created by Kurzmann’s vocalizing in German and English and remixed sequencing may append further reed textures to the one track on which he’s featured, but the end product isn’t as developed as what the Viennese mix master does on First Time…. Additionally, while Kammerer’s singing on “and the morning” may adumbrate the delicate manipulation on First Time…, the trio work here sounds more decorative than anything else. Overall, her bossa-nova style guitar strumming and soprano voice may be harmonically compatible with the double reedists. But even when the instrumentalists go beyond those strictures and vibrate reed textures irregularly, it sounds as if the two are merely taking the place of acoustic guitar accompaniment than participating in a full partnership. A matched vocal-instrumental affiliation is more viable throughout First Time… however, because Flack’s contribution is sampled, not live and controlled as he sees fit by Kurzmann’s lloopp device. Both on the title track and on “Roberta (reprise)”, after a theme statement, her impassioned singing dissolves into sound atoms and is replicated then replaced by chalumeau tinctures from Fagaschinski’s clarinet. Even at those points, before Fagaschinski’s carefully measured arpeggios begin to fade, software mulches the split-tone smears and lip-bubbling textures into abstract droning signals, as non-instrumentally specific as they are non-vocal. Otherwise, the counterpoint here is between man and machine. Motor-driven pulses share space with lip sputtering, while single intakes of breath and mouse-squeaking reed timbres are displayed among triggered whooshes and flanges from the lloopp. Should Fagaschinski vibrate split tones, suggesting both high-pitched and low-pitched respired textures, then blurry intimations of backwards-running tapes from Kurzmann’s devices connect them into a single solid ululating tone. Clattering and twisted mechanized crashes and crackles provide the third voice on “Chow”, which finds both Fagaschinski and Kurzmann on clarinets. Harsh, slurring and with definite woody overtones, Fagaschinski’s reed-biting and tongue-stopping altissimo passages command centre stage as muzzy, disconnected lines from the second reed vibrate and sampled snatches of a child singing is also heard. Eventually the harmonica-like chromatic note patterns from the dual reeds are isolated from the spinning, interchangeable, software-created tones. Interactive as well as detached, Fagaschinski’s acoustic chirps eventually turn pastoral, the better to contrast with the post-industrial revolution polyrhythms of Kurzmann’s devices. Taking ostensive pop sources as raw material on which to build improvisations confirms that Berlin-based creators remain committed to finding unique forms of playing and composing. Each of these CDs demonstrates different, equally valid, strategies.
Ken Waxman, JAZZ WORD (USA) 06/2007