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cym_bowl is Günter Müller’s fourth solo CD. On cym_bowl he follows even more consequently the idea he already realized on his last album reframed; focused on the sound of one cymbal and one singing bowl; he feeded his iPods with dozens of variations of processed sounds. Afterwards he conceived with recorded material from sessions he improvised with processed cymbal and bowl sounds only the 4 pieces for his new album. cym_bowl could easily go as a symbol of getting lost in time.
Russia’s Mikroton label already surprised us with a few MP3 releases, and more here, but their main interest is branching out towards real CDs of which the first two are the initial results. The label kicks off with a strong releases by Swiss minimalist Günter Müller, once banging freely percussion but since much longer I guess known as a player of all things percussive and silent. Here he has four pieces for cymbals and a singing bowl, which are heavily processed into four microtonal works. If you wouldn’t know, it would be hard to trace the origin of the music back to the sound of a cymbal or a singing bowl. Its hard to think what kind of processing is applied by Müller, but you can rest assured it is quite a lot. The sound is rendered beyond recognition, and some sort of residue remains. Unlike say Thomas Köner’s early gong works, Müller is not entirely interested in playing the ‘soft’ card, his music is always audible. Audible yet minimal. In all four pieces things evolve slowly, but steadily. Slow changes, subtle movements (and differences between the movements of playing the instruments) make this a great work. It’s a pity there isn’t that many Müller solo works if you hear this, but when it comes, it’s great.
This, along with the subsequent disc, are the first two CD releases from the Russian label, Mikroton (after several MP3 issues). Müller, for this album, has processed a large amount of recordings derived from cymbals and singing bowls, molding and twisting them into a steady stream of vaguely cymballic sound. Listeners familiar with his work will have a reasonable idea what to expect: a pulse that’s at least implied (often overt), a blurring of edges, a generally warm tone even at its most industrial. Fair enough, but there’s something of a progression in play from the blandly attractive opener to the more troubling “Third Cym”, where Müller manages to evoke more than mere sonic effects.
Trotz der leicht ironisierenden Betitelung ist dies eine erstaunlich geschlossen und fast schon dunklen wirkende CD im Werk von Günter Müller. Zumeist als Dekonstrukteur der eigenenen Materialien bekannt, greift Müller auf Cym_Bowl ind die Gestaltung der Fläche hinein; man könnte hier glatt von Ambient sprechen.
“Cymbals and a singing bowl were recorded and processed during 2007-08, mixed, compiled and mastered in Autumn 2008 at Remisch Lupsingen. All music and artwork by Günter Müller.” The title too, presumably – looks like Günter has caught the underscore virus from Norbert Möslang (Lat_Nc, burst_log, Header_Change, Sound_Shifting.. though the infection probably dates back to poire_z) – a limp pun worthy of Emanem that does this subtle and intriguing music something of a disservice. Müller’s music in recent years has been somewhat overlooked by commentators (a slapped wrist here too – I haven’t been able to review everything of his that’s come my way, but I’ve enjoyed them very much), probably because there’s been so much of it: compilations, boxsets and DVDs included, he’s appeared on more than 80 releases since the turn of the century. Add to this the fact that, like his occasional playing partner down the road, Jason Kahn, he’s not a musician who sets out to reinvent the wheel with each subsequent release, preferring instead to concentrate on a small area of expertise – electronic treatment of sounds sourced from percussion – and fine-tune what has always been an impeccable ear for detail. One criticism I’ve seen levelled at him is that his music is, to quote the ever watchful Richard Pinnell once more, “pretty and (god forbid) relaxing.” “Pretty” is a rather damning-with-faint-praise adjective in my book, its adverbial connotations of “moderately” and “fairly” having rendered it more ineffectual and shallow than “beautiful” (it also conjures up images of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere which are best forgotten), but, leaving God out of it, I have no problem with “relaxing”, provided it doesn’t mean “switching off”. Of course, all you have to do of course is listen – and there’s a wealth of detail in these four tracks which, if played at the correct volume (quite loud), you’ll find immensely rewarding.
Mikroton: nouveau repaire pour minimalisme électroacoustique.Plus d’un an après son apparition dans la constellation des labels consacrés à l’electronica expérimentale, Mikroton semble plutôt bien se porter si l’on en croit la liste de ses parutions envisagées, presque aussi longue que son catalogue déjà existant. L’occasion de revenir brièvement sur les quatre premiers titres.Seul et même (?) homme aux manettes du label moscovite, Kurt Liedwart/Vlad Kudryavtsev entretient manifestement des liens privilégiés avec certaines figures de l’improvisation électroacoustique européenne, du côté de Vienne (Christof Kurzmann, Werner Dafeldecker) comme de la Suisse alémanique (Günter Müller, Jason Kahn). En effet, impossible à ce jour de trouver le moindre disque chez Mikroton qui ne fasse pas appel à l’un de ces quatre-là. Du coup, l’orientation artistique du label s’inscrit dans la continuité de celle de For4Ears ou Charhizma, la diversité en moins à ce stade encore précoce de l’éclosion.Parue en avril 2009, la première référence est signée Günter Müller qui, avec Cym_Bowl, réalise son quatrième disque solo. Percussionniste à la base, il emploie sur chacune des quatre pièces de l’album une unique source sonore : cymbale ou bol chantant (d’où le titre), qui, au final, se retrouve tellement altérée qu’elle en est absolument méconnaissable. Les qualités timbrales des instruments sont exploitées, transformées, amplifiées par un traitement numérique qui en décuple la puissance et en lisse les aspérités. Impassible et obstiné sans jamais être intrusif, l’environnement sonore forme le plus souvent une immense réverbération constituée de nombreuses fréquences qui évoluent très doucement et dont les interactions pulsatiles évoquent à l’occasion les saccades des pales d’un hélicoptère survolant les dunes d’un désert. On retiendra surtout « Third Cym » où une basse vrombissante maintient en effervescence une myriade d’événements infinitésimaux qui viennent buller à la surface et « Bowl » qui, tout en restant méditatif, offre comparativement une plus grande diversité d’atmosphères et une substance plus versatile. Enfin, bien que Müller utilise lui-même l’iPod dans son dispositif électronique, on ne saurait trop en décourager l’usage pour écouter sa musique tant celle-ci sollicite les basses fréquences et repose sur une perception spatiale du son.
Finding brain-teasing complications in Günter Müller’s sonic conceptions is a hard task, maybe impossible. Yet, having started as a “regular” percussionist, he’s made the most of an ever-noticeable sensitiveness in the treatment of both the percussive arsenal and the emissions coming from other sources (he was probably the first to utilize an iPod as a generator), thus giving birth to an innovative brand of intensely affecting electronic music, often spiced with EAI components. The Swiss composer is really one of a kind, and the fact that we almost instantly recognize those characters as soon as his records are spun is testimony to the status reached.As the title implies, this album was entirely realized with cymbals and a singing bowl, the initial three tracks and the last respectively informed by those instruments. The original sounds are rendered nearly unrecognizable after being subjected to a skilful studio therapy, which makes sure that all which is caught by the listener consists of a series of hypnotizing impulses, an imposing throbbing whose diffusion is enhanced by admirably unusual overtones. The unclear definition of the structure and the hazy features of these meticulous juxtapositions define any attempt to trace a profile of the compositional design as meaningless: we just receive the mass of sound as perceived, fully satisfied with its intoxicating permanence and incontestable beauty. A natural phenomenon to behold more than a simple musical piece.“Third Cym” is perhaps the most absorbing track on offer in terms of emotional content, containing the ideal doses of everything: pulse, luminescence, reiteration, capacity of progressive entrancement. But it’s the final “Bowl” that results as an extraordinarily congenial deviation from the “norm”, a vacillating harmony possessing a sort of vocal quality transforming it in a cryptic choral strain amidst bodiless echoes of lastingness, ending in absolute mystery following a shift towards the realms of incomprehensible droning, the whole underlined by various kinds of subterranean heterogeneity. A step in a different direction for Müller which we’d love to see deepened in the future, a disquietingly poignant episode pushing an already gratifying release into the ranks of excellence.That the pronunciation of the record’s name equals “symbol” is only a thought crossing my mind; it remains to be seen what the main designer is referring to, if that’s not a mere coincidence.
After yesterday’s exertions (I drove to Birmingham and back with my parents after just three hours sleep) I slept until gone midday today, and then sat around watching The Wire episodes until Julie came over to pick me up and we went and had dinner. Despite being on holiday then, and despite really needing to catch up with the wild forest of CDs strewn around this room, I didn’t get much listening done today until I got back home here an hour ago. Then I put on a release from the Mikroton label, a disc by Günter Müller that came out much earlier this year I think, but was only sent my way recently. Cym_Bowl is the pretty bad name of a new solo album by the Swiss percussionist come sound arranger / processor.Müller has probably come under more criticism in recent years for his solo work than any other musician in this area I can think of. The main argument tends to be that he has watered his sound down into a series of droning, computer created compositions, while he used to work more as a free improviser in collaborative settings. Certainly there does seem to be more of the type of recording we hear here than improvised from Müller these days, and certainly this album, like a few others before it is very different in style and structure to much of his previous improv work. So I can see that fans of his more rough and tumble improvised music (and you can count me very much in their number) might be turned off by the semi ambient nature of this kind of droning material, but I also personally think it is important to remember that this kind of material is purposely very different, and should therefore be considered on different terms, for what it is, not for what it isn’t. Many of the new generation of improvisers that became popular around the turn of the millennium have since (as is their nature as inquisitive musicians) moved on to other areas, and they all, almost uniformly have been criticised for not making music like they used to (Sugimoto) or at least not as often (Yoshihide). This always annoys me. For music that is meant to be experimental there is little acceptance of dramatic change. Not liking where these musicians have taken things is of course perfectly fine, but not accepting that change is essential is not. Taku Sugimoto and Günter Müller’s I am happy if you are happy was a great album, one of my favourites of its time, but I wouldn’t want to hear another album the same. Rant over.For me though, the problem with Müller’s more recent solo work however has been its feeling of just too much safety, its lulling, droning qualities have made it seem pretty and (god forbid) relaxing. Again, this may well be because I know his music in the past has contained a lot more of an edge, a sense of immediacy rather than the slowly evolving soundscapes we hear from him on this and other albums.I guess I can’t avoid that feeling. Cym_Bowl contains four tracks, the first three originated with recordings of a cymbal, the last a metal singing bowl. the recordings have then been treated, quite heavily in places on a computer, and layered and arranged to form these deathly slow mantras of groaning, swarming vaguely metallic drones, undercut by little loops of material that form a kind of unofficial pulsing rhythms. This album reminds me of a cross between Thomas Koner’s early droning experiments with treated gongs and the first, momentarily quite interesting Pole album, but perhaps unsurprisingly without the sense of discovery that initially came with those albums.There is in fact a lot of very lovely, intricate detail going on in these four pieces. The last track in particular finds itself revolving through some quite beautiful textures and dampened grey colours, like an aural kaleidoscope being turned slowly there are some finely moments that shift apart into less interesting areas, that themselves then evolve slowly back into more complex designs. the problem is, it does just sound beautiful, and it does just sound like virtual faders are being slid up and down to see what comes out of the fog. The album lacks any sense of purpose. Jason Kahn is a musician that having performed often with Müller has been tarred with a similar critical brush, but his recent music has had a depth to it, a real heart that has felt like real purpose is driving the music. Cym_Bowl, for all its beauty seems to lack this to my ears. It does come out sounding a bit like a track from the seminal Isolationism compilation from 1994, an album that felt crucial at the time, but has since been surpassed as musicians have found a way of using these sounds and techniques beyond these dark, churning ambient soundscapes.I wouldn’t describe Cym_Bowl as a bad record at all, and again it should be considered for what it is, a study of the sound of treated metals and how they respond when layered together. It is often very nice to listen to, encompassing in its room filling nature (it gets quite loud in places, a new element to Müller’s music I think, which works well) and makes good background music to a dark rainy late Autumn evening, but crucially it ends without me feeling affected, or challenged, or tired through having to listen carefully. The question I must ask is whether I would still be sat expecting to have heard more if this album had someone else’s name on it, someone without the same musical history. I suspect maybe I would not.This release is one of four sent to me from Mikroton, a Russian label I hadn’t heard of until recently that is putting out discs at a good pace, with more interesting stuff due soon. Its great to see, in these times of lower than ever CD sales new labels continuing to appear and work hard to get music out there. I will write about two of the other three here soon, a review of the fourth disc, the release by Kurzman/Dafeldecker/Tilbury/Wishart will hopefully appear in next month’s edition of The Wire.