© 2017

Jason Kahn / Günter Müller / Christian Wolfarth
Limmat
MIKROTON CD 7 | 2010

Edition of 500.

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1. Limmat 1
2. Limmat 2
3. Limmat 3

Jason Kahn analog synthesizer
Günter Müller ipod's, electronics
Christian Wolfarth percussion

Limmat is the second CD from Günter Müller, Jason Kahn and Christian Wolfarth, following their first album Drumming released in 2005 on Creative Sources. Recorded during one afternoon in Kahn’s Zürich studio, “Limmat” features three unedited improvisations melding microsounds, percussive mastery and swaths of noise and static into a mesmerizing whole.

Originally from Los Angeles, Jason Kahn has lived in Europe since 1990. He has performed or recorded with musicians such as Günter Müller, Norbert Möslang, Kim Cascone, Arnold Dreyblatt, Steve Roden, Dieb13, Richard Francis, Ryu Hankil, Jon Mueller, z’ev and many others. He ran the Cut label from 1997 to 2008, releasing 25 albums. Limmat is his second release on Mikroton, following an album Planes, a duo with Asher, released in 2009.

Günter Müller, formerly a percussionist and known for his unique explorations of the possibilities of drums and percussion using electronic devices and self-built instruments, now concentrates on his setup of two iPods and electronics. For thirty years he’s been a part of innumerable projects, including long-term musical dialogues with many musicians like Jim O’Rourke, Norbert Möslang, Andy Guhl, eRikm, Oren Ambarchi, Toshimaru Nakamura, Keith Rowe, Ralph Steinbrüchel, Philip Samartzis, Alfred 23 Harth, just to name a few. He also runs the critically acclaimed FOR4EARS, a label for improvised music. This is his second release on Mikroton, following his solo album cym_bowl, released in 2009.

Christian Wolfarth is a Swiss percussionist, active on the international jazz and improv scenes for thirty years. He studied with Billy Brooks at the Swiss Jazz School, with Pierre Favre at Luzern Conservatory and composition with Siegfried Kutterer. He’s played extensively with many musicians like John Butcher, Michel Doneda, Axel Dörner, Barry Guy, Charlotte Hug, Urs Leimgruber, Werner Lüdi, Evan Parker and is a member of such diverse projects as Mersault (a trio with Tomas Korber, Christian Weber), Tell (a duo with Joke Lanz), Vorwolf (a duo with Michael Vorfeld).

Reviews

Le Son Du Grisli, Guillaume Tarche:
Aux neuf instantanés nocturnes et effervescents saisis en 2004 pour Drumming (label Creative sources) répondent aujourd’hui trois longues improvisations gravées en mars 2009 par Jason Kahn (synthétiseur analogique), Günter Müller (ipods, electronics) et Christian Wolfarth (percussions), à Zürich – où coule, précisément, la Limmat qui elle-même reçoit les eaux de la Sihl [le détail est parlant si l’on se souvient que Kahn baptisa de la sorte un de ses disques solo pour l’étiquette Sirr].

La paire Kahn & Müller, lorsqu’elle profite de l’apport cardiaque d’un Möslang (dans mkm_msa, for4ears), peut délivrer un pouls grésillant recommandable sur tout dancefloor destroy, mais l’équilibre est tout autre en présence de l’élégant Wolfarth, non que ce dernier confère une touche plus humaine, concrète ou acoustique à l’instrumentarium électronique de ses comparses, mais il sait « faire levier » – et cela est particulièrement audible dans cet enregistrement – en soulevant couvercles ou cymbales sur de nouvelles ruches vrombissantes. Les pièces y gagnent souvent une belle profondeur de champ, tantôt se développant par phases, avec leurs fragilités (et plus d’hétérogénéité que dans le premier disque du trio), tantôt roulant dans le ciel de menaçants nuages en strates…

D’avantage qu’une simple continuation, Limmat offre à l’auditeur non seulement le plaisir de reconnaître l’univers granuleux qu’a su créer le groupe, mais surtout la satisfaction d’être de nouveau surpris.

Just Outside, Brian Olewnick:
As much as one tries not to, it’s virtually impossible, often, to read the names of the participants on a given release and not have any preconceptions about the likely contents. Happily, one’s expectations are occasionally confounded. Here, there’s far less of the, for lack of a better term, rhythmic burble I was anticipating, the kind of smooth-edged improv that’s poured out of the Swiss scene for several years. The music is far sparser, raspier and…gaseous than I anticipated. There’s a bit of a rhythmic undercurrent in parts, some soft drones, but in general, it’s an interesting, prickly soundscape where many of the elements are high-pitched and tingly, flitting about rather than flowing gently downriver. Good recording.

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
Right along the lines of Merzbow and Machinefabriek, we have Muller, Gunter, another one of those busy bees who releases CDs on end. Here with Jason Kahn (same story) and Christian Wolfarth. A trio of analog synthesizer (Kahn), Ipods and electronics (Muller) and percussion (Wolfarth) with a recording they made in Zurich last year. Sometimes I wonder if there is a concert recording that is not released by them? Sometimes I also wonder if there is someone who has all of these CDs by say Kahn or Muller? No matter how much I like these releases, and this new one is not different, there is a flood of releases like this by them, and perhaps they should be more critical as to what they release. Like said, this new releases is another fine example of what they do: playing stretched out, improvised music, with a lot of precision for the smallest details. Especially Kahn and Muller play such things with great care. Due to the electronic of their set-up, it doesn’t sound like improvised music.

Buzzing, drone like sounds, with electronics crackles on top. Wolfarth keeps his percussive sounds to a minimum too, gentle using only a small set up and he plays his percussion as it were an acoustic drone thing; rotating sounds on the cymbal, or on the bass drum. An excellent work indeed of highly dense music. But, and that’s the downside perhaps, nothing that we haven’t heard before by either of them. If you joined Vital Weekly say in the last month and you are clueless as who these people, ‘Limmat’ is a great place to discover them.

The Watchful Ear, Richard Pinnell:
Tired, run down, aching, weary bleurgh… but you knew that already. Tomorrow I get to escape from work for a day, but will be spending my time driving my parents about the country again. At least this activity usually results in me managing to write a little more. Having dispatched all of my assignments for The Wire this month then I have been able to turn my attention to the pile of unlistened to CDs and demo discs once agin, which after a few lean weeks in which I have been able to begin catching up on the backlog a little has suddenly gone mad again. Ah well. Tonight I have spent quite a bit of time wallowing in the new disc by the Switzerland based trio of Jason Kahn, (analogue synth) Günter Müller (ipods and electronics) and Christian Wolfarth (percussion).

It has been a while since I have heard anything from this little Swiss enclave of musicians, but Limmat, a new disc on the Mikroton label feels like a nice return. One of the criticisms aimed at the music of these and other related musicians was that much of their music sounded predictable and samey, even getting unfairly described as E-ZAI in some online circles. Whilst that moniker was over the top and unnecessary, there is some truth in the notion that we might know what we are getting from this group of musicians before pressing play, but then, this is really the case with a great number of musicians. While I have found Limmat a really enjoyable set of three tracks this evening, it is probably fair to say that the music sounds stylistically pretty much how I would expect it to. This doesn’t mean all that much though. On this kind of release the real pleasure to be had comes from following the interplay between the musicians, the tensions, the fights and the musical friendships. Whether the sounds of the musicians are familiar, whether we could guess who is making the music doesn’t matter so much, its how these elements are used that matters.

So Limmat contains three pieces that drift slowly from minimal clouds of gentle white noise through to bubbling, fizzing vats of electroacoustic activity layered together. If poor music made in this way ends up as a thick soup, Limmat is a steaming clear broth, and as we stare down through its surface the assorted layers of colour and texture glow through. All three of these musicians began life as percussionists, but here only Wolfarth remains recognisably so, and even his contributions here lean towards metallic groans a nd wails rather than anything faintly rhythmic. This isn’t the most original music ever made, for sure the combinations of grit and tone, texture and colour tread a well-worn path, but just as other instrumentalists manage to find new energy in their instruments as they collaborate with others, so each of these musicians seems to spark off of the others to bring an energy and spark to the music.

So I’m not sure what else there is to say. Limmat is the perfect album for me on tired evenings like this. It is an engaging listen (particularly via headphones as every detail matters) that works as an often feisty, insistent conversation, easy to delve into, perfect to consume on a purely visceral level. There are spikes in there, sudden fiery bulges and moments where it all drifts off into near silence but the secret for me comes through trying to pick apart the three musicians, work out which sounds are pre-prepared iPod loops and which are made in the moment via a twist of a dial or a bowed cymbal. Can we tell a musician’s personality from how they interact in a musical situation? Or can we only take a guess at the mood they were in on the day? Answering these questions, or at the very least pondering over their value is a rewarding experience, and Limmat goes some way to assisting us to do so.

Paris Transatlantic, Michael Rosenstein:
Barely a decade ago, albums by Jason Kahn, Günter Müller, and Christian Wolfarth flowed forth on a regular basis courtesy of Kahn’s Cut and Müller’s For4Ears labels. But things have been a bit quiet on the Swiss front as of late, so it is nice to see their names pop up on a collaborative release. This is the second one by this trio, the first being the somewhat ironically titled Drumming which came out about five years ago on Creative Sources. All three musicians started out as drummers / percussionists – though already when Drumming was recorded Kahn had already moved to laptop, Müller to iPod and electronics and only Wolfarth was still using acoustic percussion instruments, and only then as resonant surfaces to be bowed and scraped – and still share a sensibility shaped by the exploration of attack, resonance, and pulse from their work with drums and percussion.

Limmat explores similar textural / timbral territory as Drumming, but Kahn’s shift to analog synthesizer adds warmth, and there’s a move towards longer pieces, three extended improvisations rather than the short studies of the earlier album. The strategies are familiar, with hisses, cymbal shimmers, buzzes, static, chiming tones, and crackling electronics layered together in washing waves. Oscillating patterns are omnipresent, but there’s less overt pulse here as the music courses along, driven by the sparkles of detail moving back and forth between foreground and background, like sounds emerging from a field on a hot summer night.

Scala Tympani, Jean-Claude Gevrey:
C’est la douzième fois que les noms de Jason Kahn (synthétiseur analogique) et Günter Müller (iPods, électronique) se retrouvent associés sur un disque. Avec un tel passif, autant dire que l’on est en terrain connu et que l’on s’attend, une fois encore, à flotter dans les limbes brumeux d’un éther frémissant. Le très beau jeu de Christian Wolfarth vient pourtant modifier l’équation en apportant des percussions acoustiques bien choisies dont le grain se fond délicatement aux textures de ses partenaires et dont les rythmes souterrains ajoutent, par endroits, de la couleur aux nuances de gris. Après Drumming en 2005, le trio reprend du service et nous livre une suite de trois pièces électroacoustiques qui puise son nom dans une rivière suisse. Les analogies ne manquent pas entre le cours d’eau et le flux ininterrompu d’alluvions transportés par la musique : une sensation paradoxale d’écoulement et d’immobilité, une surface apparemment lisse sous laquelle on distingue des tourbillons au fur et à mesure que l’on s’en approche, des reflets changeants qui rendent la contemplation fascinante. La clarté de l’enregistrement bénéficie aux nombreux détails qui sont drainés par le courant et ne demeurent jamais figés. Les textures sont également beaucoup moins douceâtres que celles auxquelles nous ont habitué certains travaux de Kahn et Müller. Plus variées, plus imprévisibles aussi grâce aux peaux frottées, aux résonances assourdies du cuivre et de l’étain qui viennent contrebalancer les picotements électroniques, s’appuyer sur les mouvements d’air chaud, donnant du volume et de la substance à l’ensemble sans jamais le surcharger.

Touching Extremes, Massimo Ricci:
Ever since the very first instants one realizes of being in front of a special record. The way in which Christian Wolfarth’s cymbals instantly find an accurate point of resonance, taking the listener by the hand as a swimming instructor leads a little kid into the pool for the initial lesson, gives the idea of the performers’ collective predisposition to a complete permeation by sounds that seem to survive on elusiveness. And yet – thanks to such a caliber of receptive aerials – we see how the sonic matter changes its state, and those radiations are finally able to apply the sort of vibrational stimulation of which they’re capable. A mixture of physicality and ethereal stupor reminding what the actual nourishment needed for our day-by-day continuation is.

The gradual emergence of hard-to-pin-down elements on intersecting surfaces has always been a constant feature in both Kahn and Müller’s compositions. Through a customary array of analogue synthesizer, iPods and electronics they create successions of imperturbably wobbly, mind-calming undercurrents and relentlessly morphing shades. Reactive addressees will benefit enormously from those electroacoustic lattices, even when the superficial appearance declares an extreme sharpness as a fundamental constituent. The incisive quality of certain frequencies is paired with gaseous buzzes, balance-altering white noise, steady pulses and that kind of asymmetrical reliability typical of synthetic textures that reiterate their heterogeneous shapes on a regular basis, like in a huge loop.

Curved figurations of metals, rubbed drum skins and flickering glimpses of bowls maintain the concreteness active, preventing the music from shifting to a level of pure impression. The absence of dead-beat tricks and the awesome magnificence of many sections – the ghostly chorale at the conclusion of “Limmat 2”, or the bowed drones in Limmat 3” – are alone sufficient to declare this a winner. But there’s something inexplicable filling this work with psychological reminders, preparing us to face still-to-be-determined obstacles which – after this experience – seemingly do not appear insurmountable anymore. That’s what sends Limmat straight to the top of my current preferences.