© 2017

Michael Thieke Unununium
MIKROTON CD 31 | 2013

Edition of 500.



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1. Buy Berlin
2. Nachtlied (Für Theodor Kramer)
3. Silent Bob
4. The Joy, Joy, Joy Of Meeting Somebody New (Für Guy Maddin)
5. Insonnia A Termini
6. Dear Betty Baby
7. And Smile
8. Remember
9. Paroles Sans Papiers

Michael Thieke clarinet, zither, field recordings
Luca Venitucci accordion, amplified objects
Martin Siewert guitar, lap steel, electronics
Derek Shirley bass
Christian Weber bass
Steve Heather drums, percussion
Eric Schaefer drums, percussion

Walking through the night. I’m not even supposed to be here today, and so is Silent Bob.

New news of dying migrants. No attention for the paperless, what can the sailors do when the captain feels mean? Meanwhile Guy Maddin tells us his tales of amnesia, incest, death, and transfiguration decked out in low-rent expressionism and dime-store surrealism. Such a joy, joy, joy to meet somebody new. The insonnia of the homeless in the Termini train station addressing Heinrich Heine, trying to convince us to smile in spite of the faded flowers. And you, dear Betty?

It’s 5 am. Internally displaced people in Colombia and protesters in Rome buy Berlin on a website, and sing along with old street musicians at their long gone open air coffee shop. Gentrification, cheerfully whistling through swinging doors of court halls after real estate auctions. Field recordings or fake nostalgia?

Unununium’s colour is unknown, but probably metallic and silvery white or grey in appearance. Uses: no uses known.

We play Nachtlieder, and Theodor Kramer wishes a good night to… well, he has the better words.


Squid's Ear, John Eyles:
Based jointly in Berlin and Rome, Dusseldorf-born clarinettist Michael Thieke is possibly best known for his work alongside fellow clarinettist Kai Fagaschinski in The Magic I.D. and their duo The International Nothing, both made distinctive by the sound of the two clarinets. However, the success of those groups has rather overshadowed another group led by Thieke, one in which he is the only clarinettist — Unununium. That is also partly due to the scarcity of Unununium recordings; Nachtlieder is only the second release by the group, following Where Shall I Fly Not To Be Sad, My Dear? (Charhizma, 2005) — a gap of eight years, even though the follow-up was recorded in June 2009. In the years between the two recordings, the group changed significantly, the original quartet of Thieke on clarinets, alto saxophone and zither, Luca Venitucci on accordion and prepared piano, bassist Derek Shirley and drummer Eric Schaefer having been made up to seven by the addition of Martin Siewert on guitar, lap steel and electronics, second bassist Christian Weber and second drummer Steve Heather.

As well as the personnel, the music has also changed since the Charhizma album. Where that recording focussed on the front line of Thieke and Venitucci as soloists, on Nachtlieder the addition of Siewert's guitar is crucial, broadening and deepening the soundscape, thus affording the group more options and greater variety. The guitarist is able to single-handedly colour and shape a piece, as he eloquently demonstrates on the album's closer, "Paroles Sans Papiers", where his subtle chorded accompaniment completely defines its eerie atmosphere. Siewert does not dominate the album, but is crucial even when playing a support role as with his languid glissandi on "Silent Bob" or crashing chords opening "The Joy, Joy, Joy of Meeting Somebody New (Für Guy Maddin)". Despite Siewert's role, the Thieke-Venitucci combination has retained its power to enchant; the combination of clarinet and accordion produces a haunting sound, best demonstrated here by their melodic refrain on Mayo Thompson's "Dear Betty Baby".

The inclusion of that Thompson composition gives an indication of the group's eclecticism. Although Unununium contains three highly distinctive players, it does not have a signature sound or consistently play in one style. From one track to another, it is unpredictable what they will come up with next. For example, "Dear Betty Baby" is preceded by "Insonnia A Termini", a four-minute field recording of street noise with a hint of musical sounds gradually fading in during its latter stages, and is followed by "And Smile", which features a mix of sustained guitar tones, drums and electronic noises. Yes, just like Michael Thieke himself, this album is not consistent or predictable, but never dull either. Altogether, this enlarged version of Unununium is a potent and fascinating group. We must hope that we do not have another eight-year wait for their third album.

Just Outside, Brian Olewnick:
A really enjoyable and, in some ways, surprising album. Entirely coincidentally, it also offers an approach to song form that the Kammerer recording might have benefitted from. Thieke (clarinet, zither, field recordings) assembled a septet with Luca Venitucci (accordio, amplified objects), Martin Siewert (guitar, lap steel, electronics), Derek Shirley and Christian Weber (basses) and Steve Heather and Eric Schaefer (drums, percussion). Nine tracks, five by Thieke, three group improvisations and a cover of Mayo Thompson’s “Dear Betty Baby”.
The disc opens with a brief recording of a street scene (a mall? the track is called, “Buy Berlin”) with an accordionist lustily singing which segues easily into Venitucci’s own squeezebox on “Nachtlied”. Thieke seems to be picking up on some of the directions implied by his duo with Kai Fagaschinski, weaving melodic material into structures that refer implicitly to song-form, kind of an abstracted, more classical Radian (fitting enough, given Siewert’s inclusion). “Nachtlied” is like a very slow, tired and beautiful lullaby, low arco basses carrying nervous accordion and percussion, obscuring a melodic line that nonetheless makes its presence felt. Long, keening lines from clarinet and guitar are joined by percussive pulses in “Silent Bob”, referencing classic jazz rock (early Mahavishnu?) without descending anywhere near its bathos, subsiding into a gorgeous glow. When they veer into louder, closer to rockish free jazz (a softer edged Last Exit), as on “The Joy, Joy, Joy of Meeting Somebody New” (heh), they’re efficient but, to my ears, play against their strengths. The cover of the Thompson piece, which I didn’t know beforehand, is a great example of one way to accommodate a pop song-form without condescending or overly fawning. Beautifully arranged for layers of electronics and clarinets, a strong muffled pulse that sits just this side of a leaden backbeat, rich harmonies and and overall sense of simplicity and adherence to the theme, actually drawing more out of it than I heard while checking out the original on YouTube. It’s quite pretty, a kind of prettiness that someone like Bill Frisell could only dream of. “And Smite” gets into a little Badalamenti territory while the two closing improvisations again evince something of a Radian aspect, especially the drumming. All these references may give the impression of a lack of originality–in some sense, I suppose that might be the case, but the performance and conception is handled so well here, that, to my ears, it doesn’t matter.
A thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly accessible effort.

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
Thieke we had a few ago around here with his release with Biliana Voutchkova (improv musicians and their mad schedules, eh?) now he’s here with a release of his ‘compositions’ – as noted on the cover – with an ensemble he calls Unununium, in which we find Martin Siewert on guitar among others. Or perhaps they only play on three of the nine pieces? The cover isn’t all to clear to that end. The music was already recorded in 2009 and Thieke plays clarinet, zither and field recordings. It’s hard to say to which extend this is composed and to which extend this is improvised, hence my reservation. It might very well be that Thieke provides the outlines of what is played and the players have a certain freedom of playing. I don’t know. The music seems to be all held back, minimal in development and heavily on the exploration of instruments and sounds. It only bursts out on a few occasions and turns into a post rock jazz tune then. I quite enjoyed the more silent aspects of this release, but wasn’t blown away by those parts.

Improv Sphere, Julien Héraud:
Le clarinettiste Michael Thieke (clarinette, cithare & field-recordings) propose sur Nachtlieder une suite de neuf pièces composées en hommage au poète Theodor Kramer, et jouées en compagnie de Luca Venitucci (accordéon & objets amplifiés), Martin Siewert (guitare, lap steel & électronique), Derek Shirley (basse), Christian Weber (basse), Steve Heather (batterie & percussions), Eric Schaefer (batterie & percussions).
La grande variété des esthétiques est peut-être ce qui caractérise le mieux cette suite très cinématographique. C’est le point fort de ce disque, mais peut-être aussi sa faiblesse. Car d’un côté, les compositions de Thieke ne cessent de surprendre, on passe d’une composition plutôt rock à un morceau aux allures de dub, en passant par des marches militaires proches de la B.O d’un western sans oublier la présence des nappes de son abstraites et des improvisations proches du free jazz. Chaque morceau a son lot de surprises, le groupe de Thieke sait toujours surprendre. Mais en même temps, en tant qu’auditeur, j’ai mes goûts prédéfinis, et même si c’est bien réalisé, j’ai parfois du mal à prendre au sérieux un morceau naïf comme “Dear Betty Baby” de Mayo Thompson (qui pourrait être signé Morricone), ou les approches dub de l’expérimentation. Et c’est ce qui fait sa faiblesse à mon avis – sans remettre en cause la qualité de ces pièces, j’ai juste du mal avec certaines esthétiques.
Mais au-delà des effets de surprises constants, ce qui est remarquable, c’est certainement l’unité de ce disque et sa cohérence. Le groupe de Thieke a beau multiplié les styles, l’ambiance est toujours la même : une atmosphère sombre, nocturne, un peu poisseuse, un brin décalée, proche de certains disques de Fennesz ou d’Oren Ambarchi. Il y a toujours un quelque chose qui dérape malgré la solide section rythmique : une nappe bruitiste, un drone dissonant à l’accordéon, une clarinette qui explose. Les atmosphères se ressemblent, l’ambiance glauque et décalée présente dès les premiers field-recordings de “Buy Berlin” se retrouve au fil des pièces et au fil des esthétiques.
Nachtlieder s’écoute facilement, ce n’est pas de la musique exigeante, non, mais elle est tout de même créative. L’atmosphère de chaque morceau ainsi que le timbre du groupe sont vraiment originaux, les compositions sont solides, et l’interprétation est sérieuse et rigoureuse. Du bon travail, ça vaut le coup d’y jeter une oreille.

Soundofmusic, Magnus Nygren:
Ser man till skivutgivning tycks den experimentella Berlinscenen ha tappat rejält med fart. Men det är bara att surfa in på sajten Echtzeitmusik för att se att musiken fortfarande lever, och att musiker som Andrea Neumann, Magda Mayas, Robin Hayward i högsta grad är aktiva på Ausland och andra scener. Så även klarinettisten Michael Thieke som bland annat besökte Stockholm i duon International Nothing med Kai Fagaschinski för en tid sedan. Thieke spelar även i The Magic ID och med sitt Unununium släppte han en liten pärla till cd – Where Shall I Fly not to be Sad, My Dear – på bolaget Charhizma 2005.
Många av de små bolag som tidigare verkade i Berlin, eller gav ut skivor med i Berlin verkande musiker, har antingen slutat ge ut skivor eller gått i idé. Tur då att ryska Mikroton finns. De gav ut den fina Echtzeitmusik-boxen sammanställd av Burkhard Beins (201?) och har nyligen gett ut skivor av bland andra Margareth Kammerer. Och nu är det alltså Michael Thiekes tur med Nachtlieder med en inspelning från 2009.
Deltagande musiker som gitarristen Martin Siewert, trumslagarna Steve Heather och Eric Schaefer, basisterna Christian Weber och Derek Shirley och inte minst dragspelaren Luca Venitucci skvallrar om vad det i grunden handlar om: en ofta dronande musik som smyckas med detaljer från pedal steel, bälg, rytmik och annat. Alltså en form av tillståndsskapande musik. Något de även lyckas med i den finstämda men sorgsna poplåten ”Dear Betty Baby”.
Nachtlieder, nattsånger, är ett träffande namn. Än mer när man läser om skivan på Mikrotons hemsida. I en text talas om döende migranter, de hemlösa och tystnaden kring de papperslösa. Alltså långt ifrån den trygghet många förknippar natten med. Men det är inte en nattsvart musik, till viss del sorglig och ibland kaotisk med inslag av frijazz eller rockiga attribut som rytmer och energi, men inte dystopisk eller aggressiv. Den nattliga atmosfären gör sig påmind där saker får ta tid, det finns en ro, men också en oro. I ljudbilden finns likheter med exempelvis Martin Siewerts band Heaven End.
Thieke har en underbar ton i klarinetten men det är sällan han står i centrum. Talar man om instrument som sticker ut är det snarare Martin Siewerts pedal steel eller ackord på gitarren, Luca Venituccis dragspel eller de torra trumklangerna.

Monsieur Delire:
Je me souviens d’un album du projet Unununium de Michael Thieke qui remonte à 2004, et il s’agissait d’un quartet. Cette fois, bam!, le groupe a presque doublé de volume. À Thieke (clarinette), Luca Venitucci (accordéon), Derek Shiley (basse) et Eric Schaefer (batterie) s’ajoutent Martin Siewert (guitare), Christian Weber (basse) et Steve Heather (batterie). Ce à quoi il faut ajouter des enregistrements de terrain réalisés par Thieke et intégrés aux improvisations collectives et aux compositions. Cette musique s’installe autant dans les field recordings que l’inverse, ce qui tisse une ambiance captivante. J’aime beaucoup.
I remember a CD from 2004 by Michael Thieke’s Unununium project, and it was a quartet recording. This time, bam!, the band has almost doubled in size. To Thieke (clarinet), Luca Venitucci (accordion), Derek Shiley (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) are added Martin Siewert (guitar), Christian Weber (bass) and Steven Heather (drums). AND you need to factor in Thieke’s field recordings which are integrated to the collective improvisations and his own compositions. Music and field recordings play off each other, weaving a captivating soundworld. I like this a lot.

Skug, Curt Cuisine:
Auf CD No. 31 wiederum präsentiert Michael Thieke eine Handvoll »Nachtlieder« in einer eher Richtung Jazz zu vermutenden Instrumentierung (mit unauffälliger Rhythmusgruppendopplung), aber das Resultat ist weitaus grenzgängerischer als erwartet. Was hier am Anfang wie ein verwehtes Hafenrequiem anhebt, gleitet erst ab ins meditativ Verschrobene, um dann in eine noisige Hardcore-Ecke zu driften, aus der Thiekes Klarinette, Luca Venituccis Akkordeon oder Martin Siewerts Gitarre wie Bojenlichter hervorstechen. Man liest es an den Namen, eine internationale Besetzung ist hier am (großartigen) Werk. Da darf man sich auch eine relaxte Nummer wie »Dear Pretty Baby« achselzuckend erlauben. Sehr hübsch, sehr gelungen. Wie der Soundtrack zu einem sinistren Hafenthriller, allerdings in einer Béla-Tarr-Inszenierung.

freiStil, Andreas Fellinger:
Diesem avancierten Programmgedanken entspricht mustergültig das Michael Thieke Unununium (Michael Thieke, cl, zither, field-rec; Luca Venitucci, akk, objekte; Martin Siewert, g, e; Derek Shirley, Christian Weber, b; Steve Heather, Eric Schaefer, dr, perc). Die nachtlieder dieses progressiven Schmeltiegels wurden noch von Reinhard Kager für den SWR2 produziert, bevor er die Rundfunkstation wieder in Richtung Wien verließ. Mit field recordings wird dieses prächtige Album eingeleitet, anschließend passiert Hörenswertes zwischen Kammermusik, Postrock und strukturierter Improvisation. Die notierten Passagen stammen durchwegs von Thieke bzw. von der Band. Die einzige, nicht weniger aussagekräftige Ausnahme heißt Dear Betty Baby und rann aus der Feder des Red Krayola-Masterminds Mayo Thompson.

Современная музыка, Илья Белоруков:
Новые Mikroton’ы. Какие они? Первое, что приходит на ум при прослушивании – пост-рок. Никогда ранее релизы московского лейбла не звучали так музыкально, так правильно. Кажется, что заранее знаешь, что будет в следующем треке. Остаётся лишь получать удовольствие от самой музыки. Однако, это не всегда получается: мысль “Почему это выпустил Mikroton?” периодически возникает в голове.
Альбом ансамбля Михаэля Тике (Michael Thieke) – это коллаж из очень сильно отличающихся композиций самого немца или совместных импровизаций международного состава (имена можно легко найти на сайте лейбла, не буду их перечислять). Тут и полевые записи, тут и электроакустические дебри, тут и фри-импров. Но почему-то основными центрами альбома хочется обозвать как раз-таки пост-роковые темы. Всё, что до и после них, хорошо, но фоново, если не безлико. Эти же треки выигрывают за счёт красивых наслоений поверх отлично сыгранной ритм-секции: приём всегда срабатывающий. Но ведь “Ночные песни” и должны быть такими: тихими, в полутьме, расслабляющими и ненавязчивыми, лёгкими. Да, под этот альбом можно сладко заснуть, что я и сделал уже не раз.
Диск Маргарет Каммерер (Margareth Kammerer) вроде бы из этой же серии: полу-импров, песни, электроакустика, но пост-рок. Ну, конечно, это не Sigur Ros или Mogwai. Тут всё тоньше и деликатнее, играют-то мастера импровизационной сцены наших дней. Но почему тогда опять в голове это пресловутое и вроде обидное словосочетание “пост-рок”? Похоже, что я понял: дело в прилизанности записи. Всё плавно и комфортно, без острых углов и лишних экспериментов. Казалось бы, слушай! Но нет, непривычно, ждёшь от Mikroton совсем других вещей. А вот голос Маргарет, парящий над звуком группы, хрупок и прекрасен, спору нет.
Я бы рекомендовал эти диски начинающим поклонникам импрова, приходящим в эту музыку из рок-тусовок, коммюнити эмбиент-музыкантов или же неравнодушных к романтичной музыке барышень типа Джулии Холтер (Julia Holter). Mikroton’у: респект за то, что издаёт разную музыку и не боится этого делать, и дисреспект за то, что эти релизы чересчур правильно звучат, если сравнивать их с прошлыми выпусками.