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.