2. Pebble Snatch
CATALOG: mikroton cd 56
RELEASE: March 2017
Burkhard Beins hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects
Lucio Capece soprano saxophone, soprano saxophone samples, wireless speakers
Martin Küchen tenor saxophone, flute, radios, ipod, speakers
Paul Vogel air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware
In October of 2014 Fracture Mechanics traveled to Ljubljana to play and record. The recording at Radio Student involved the transubstantiation of base liquids into nectar and thence by an alchemical process into music.
Fracture Mechanics, the scientific study of cracks in any form of material, is a well-chosen metaphor for the examination of music, sounds, shapes and their breaking points. The fact that this has given the word "fracture" a slight semantic degrading is of particular importance. Even more unorthodox expressions - such as "brötzmann-esque arousal" or "the buzzing valves à la Dörner"- will inevitably wear thin over time, so too the mechanics of sound - that is, the basic ideas about music and its performance must be subject to critical review and alteration. This quartet is particularly suited for such a task: Lucio Capece, Argentinian-Berliner perception worker (featuring on Echtzeitmusik Berlin and duo album with Chris Abrahams), Burkhard Beins, legendary echtzeitdrummer and Post-Punk fan (featuring on Echtzeitmusik Berlin, Glück's album, and Future Perfect with Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun), Martin Küchen, Lund based saxophonist and baguette baker (featuring on The Bakery, a duo with Keith Rowe), and last but not least, Swiss/Irish clarinetist and domestic glassware operator Paul Vogel (a new artist in our roster). Do not miss this excellent opportunity to become acquainted with some of Europe's most influential profiles when it comes to the treatment of drum-head friction, precise gurgling, conceptually static noises, analog synth putter, ultra minimalism, radio distortion aesthetics, and disassembled wind instruments.
The four-piece behind “Fracture Mechanics” compare their musical processes to an alchemy where base elements are woven into sonic gold. With a mixture of conventional instruments- saxophone, zither, flute- alongside more ambiguous credited instrumentation including iPod, “objects” and “air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware”, it’s clearly a unique blend of elements, does it achieve chrysopoeia?
After the brief conversational ambience of “Transubstantion”, proceedings start in earnest with 25-minute-long “Pebble Snatch”. Soft electronic interference, buzzes and hums meander in and out. Slowly bowed harsh string tones and gentler bell-like notes plink away with a rhythm that’s extremely slow but definitely present. Metallic scratches become slowly more apparent, as does Paul Vogel’s glassware contributions which give things an extremely faint, strangely Aboriginal-sounding distant blown percussive flavour.
“Pendentive” is a touch more abrasive, with high-pitched squeals and tinnitus-like modulations more sharply juxtaposed with the guttural tubular elements sourced from deep sax notes and single drum hits. Throughout all the pieces there’s a respectful abundance of space and the whole thing is fundamentally quiet, drawing your attention into the sonic details and allowing an interaction with any other sounds that may be present with the user.
This arrangement continues into final, half-hour-long piece “Transmogrification”, which pushes back drops the lower register tones in favour of just the difficult squeals, at times leaving just the high resonance that’s so close to the edge of perception that you begin to question your own ears.
This is a work that’s on the difficult side of avantgarde, lengthy, awkward, and revelling in frequencies that can’t be described as comfortable. It’s a bold work, and while I don’t think the result has an atomic number of 79, fans of extremely fractured, nails-gently-down-a-blackboard-style experimental music will definitely appreciate it.
'Transsubstantiation' und 'Transmogrification' sind mit ziemlichem Anspruch belastete Vorstellungen, 'Pendentive' klingt als deutscher Hängezwickel zwar albern, ist aber als Quadratur des Kreises große Baukunst. Und 'Pebble Snatch' meint ebenfalls etwas Meisterliches, nämlich sich die Murmel zu schnappen und damit zu zeigen, dass man kein Grashüpfer im Kung Fu mehr ist. Somit richtet Fracture Mechanics (mikroton cd 56) den Sinn auf Höheres, verortet sich und uns aber noch unverwandelt und diesseits. LUCIO CAPECE (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, wireless speakers, sound selfies), BURKHARD BEINS (percussions), PAUL VOGEL (electronics, vase, clarinet - wobei 'Luft von anderem Planeten, enthalten in irdischen Gläsern' vielversprechender klingt) und MARTIN KÜCHEN (saxophones & speaker) bereiten erstmal nur rumorend und bruitistisch sprühend das Feld. Die Luftsäulen sind als potentielle Vertikale nur ganz verhuscht und gedämpft, schnarrend und röchelnd oder viehisch schnaubend erkennbar. Beins Monotron und E-Bow, oszillatorisches Ticken oder metallisches Schleifen, auch ein gläsern feiner Klingklang, haben allerdings einen thaumaturgischen Anstrich, vor allem das gepaukte Pochen. Dazu erklingt auch mal ein beschwörender orientalischer Gesang. Wobei letztlich diese AMM'sche/Keith Rowe'sche 'Mystik' doch akusmatisch verborgen bleibt, die Absicht ebenso wie das undurchsichtige Procedere. Hinter der weihevollen Aura könnte sich ebensogut die Zubereitung von Rührei und Tee abspielen.
Elektroakustik par excellence produzieren Beins/Capece/Küchen/Vogel auf fracture mechanics. Burkhard Beins (oszillator, monotron, zither, dr, objekte), Lucio Capece (ss, samp, lautsprecher, präparationen), Martin Küchen (ts, fl, radio, ipod, lautsprecher) und Paul Vogel (glasobjekte) verknüpfen Intensität mit Witz und Radikalität mit Spieltrieb. Das Musiziermaterial erfährt hier die Transformation in brisante Klangwelten, wahlweise auch, wie zwei von vier Tracks verheißen, Transsubstantiation und Transmogrification, was immer damit gemeint sein soll. Den Vogel schießt Paul Vogel ab, der gleich Luft von einem anderen Planeten in Glas gefüllt halluziniert. Outer space ist das, fesch bis faszinierend.
Following forty minutes of wall of sound approach it is perhaps good to step back, sit down and relax and the quartet that offers 'Fracture Mechanics' provide exactly the right soundtrack for that. We have here four veterans of the improvisation scene; Burkhard Beins (hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects), Lucio Capece (soprano saxophone, soprano saxophone samples, wireless speakers and preparations), Martin Küchen (tenor saxophone, flute, radios, iPod, speakers) and Paul Vogel, who gets the most curious instrument credit in some time; 'air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware', whatever that is. There is a short, introduction opening piece of people speaking (maybe the musicians), but the main portion are three very long pieces, with a total length of seventy minutes, of some very careful improvised music. Lots of very remote sine wave sounds from whatever sources and the saxophone of Capece sometimes being the only instrument that can be recognized for playing small waves above the abstract mass of sound that meanders below. There is a wealth of sound events happening, and sometimes it is way below the threshold of hearing, and sometimes quite a lot above that.
Superior quality session of electro-acoustic improvisation from an all-star quartet on Fracture Mechanics(MIKROTON CD 56) – at any rate, the names Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece and Martin Küchen should be well-known to all readers who have been following this strain of improvised music for the last 15-20 years approx. Paul Vogel is a new name to me, though. A percussionist and clarinet player, he’s appeared on a few recordings from the Homefront label, and has worked with Mark Wastell, Lee Patterson and Fergus Kelly, suggesting he’s as much at home with sound-art as he is with free improvisation. There’s also his partnerships with David Lacey and appearances in Chipshop Music, who if nothing else are a group that appear to have a sense of humour about their work.
Fracture Mechanics may be aiming at something quite serious, though. The label remind us that “Fracture Mechanics” is a term that comes to us from the worlds of engineering and manufacturing (not music), and concerns itself with the study of physics of stress on certain materials. To put it more plainly, why do steel girders crack and break? Our quartet of players may be trying to map this realm of study into music, and thus their work constitutes a series of fundamental questions about music and sound itself. To put it more plainly again, how far can they take things before the music itself breaks under the strain? The same line of thought might well apply to the genres we as an audience have imposed on free music – and as a rotten music critic, I’ve already suggested at least two of them in this review alone – and whether these pigeon-holes have also reached their breaking point, or outlived their usefulness. If any of the above holds a grain of truth, then the group have set themselves an ambitious ongoing task, perhaps concerning the nature of music itself and our perception of its cultural worth. The last time we flirted with these deep ideas was I think on our brief appraisal of Polwechsel, of which Burkhard Beins happens to be a member.
The record itself is not an especially “difficult” listen, though. Indeed on moments of ‘Pebble Snatch’, it seemed the quartet were discovering the joy of playing simple thirds and droning happily away with uncertain stabs at chords. But matters do become more complicated as we get further in, particularly on the long track ‘Transmogrification’, which gives me an impression of a strange, halting line of thought revealed in small, precise details; where it’s hard to join ideas together in some way, as though a focus group or breakout group were sketching ideas, words, and diagrams on a flipchart at some abstruse conference. The assurance with which these seasoned players go about the task is a given; we don’t need to tell you how good they are. Where I’m not clear is what territory they’re trying to explore, what points are being discussed, what questions are asked. But I’m certain it’s all pretty important, and deep.
In addition, there’s some suggestion of alchemical processes at work, implied in the tune titles and the press note reference to turning “base liquids into nectar”, though this may not be significant; music writers have been applying the “alchemy” trope to music for a long time now, usually when discussing musique concrète. It may be yet another cliché which, Fracture Mechanics warns us, we need to learn to do without; let’s throw off these mental straitjackets. On the other hand, I can’t ignore the credit assigned to Paul Vogel right there on the front cover: apparently he plays “air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware”. I honestly have no idea what this refers to. As a phrase, it’s almost poetry, lending an air of alien mystery to the entire record. It may turn out to be something as prosaic as a snow-shaker, but even so I can’t translate it to a known musical instrument. It’s as though Simon Magus or John Dee suddenly appeared from antiquity to start playing the theremin solos in live renditions of ‘Dazed and Confused’. 1 At one point in the olden days, activists like Cornelius Cardew used to warn us about the dangers of “mystification”, and attacked the idea that a musician or composer could hide behind a veil of secrecy by cloaking ideas with what he regarded as flowery, spiritual, language; this sort of thing put unnecessary barriers between composer and audience, he claimed. This credit line alone probably would have given poor old Cardew seizures.
None of this vapouring of mine tells you anything about how the music on this sounds, which although slow and minimal-ish, is somehow far richer than many other outings into similar turf that have crossed our desk in recent years. Best to leave it to Mikroton’s shopping list: “drum-head friction, precise gurgling, conceptually static noises, analog synth putter, ultra minimalism, radio distortion aesthetics, and disassembled wind instruments”. From 19th April 2017.
If you're a fan of the contemporary improvised music scene, just the combination of the four principals involved here should enough to wet your whistle. Beins, Capece, Küchen and Vogel have each produced a large volume of extraordinary music over the past couple of decades. What would they get up to as a quartet?
The first track, the brief 'Transubstantiation', is something of a surprise, an overlaying of conversation that may well have been recorded in the studio prior to the music making. Nothing earthshaking, but it might bring a smile to one's lips. 'Pebble Snatch' reminded me, as it began, of the area investigated by Swiss musicians like Günter Müller and others in the mid-oughts: an underlying pulse over which scattered, more abstract sounds are arrayed. But as it develops, the hints of rhythm grew fainter and ghostly, shakuhachi-like sounds from the reeds emerge, very effective. [I should say that Paul Vogel is listed as performing "air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware", so I shall be forgiven if not correctly identifying his contributions to the proceedings, though there are a number of moments where air blown across bottles might well produce the sounds heard.] Over the course of the improvisations, the music veers wildly across this terrain, arriving at new quasi-rhythms, sometimes hollowly metallic, sometimes with the richness of deep drums. "Pendative" is more...pensive, a set of ringing bell-tones, low saxophone flutters, deep hums and more, splayed into a broad, slow-moving soundscape, quite colorful and a even a bit languid. The final track, 'Transmogrification', is more abstract and spread out yet and, in my opinion, the most successful piece here. In fact, the album is likely better perceived as a whole, migrating from (after the intro) the density and pulses of 'Transubstantiation' to this one, 30 minutes of swirling metal, reed harmonics, rough scratches and, very probably, alien air; marvelous.
An allusive take on multidimensional improvisation from this collection of veterans, most of whom exist as points on the Echtzeitmusik/reductionist/electroacoustic axis.
Where ‘Instants//Paris’ was rough-edged and impolite, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is enigmatic and considered. Long, breathy saxophone hoots waft across a jittery bed of interference. Glottal clicks rattle between glassy tones like a spittle flecked metronome in a temple. In ‘Pebble Snatch’, two saxophones – Capece on soprano and Küchen on tenor – moan in prehistoric lament. ‘Pendentive’ sets a cavern of ritualistic percussion against lattices of frowning gurgles and hand-bell tinkles.
There’s a lot going on under these unruffled surfaces. A wide-ranging array of equipment – the usual speakers, iPod, radios and objects you’d expect from this milieu, plus saxophones, hand oscillators, e-bowed zithers, monotron, snare drum and, best of all, ‘air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware’ – yields a rich matrix of effects, but the space is never crowded. Restraint is as important as variety, the cumulative experience of the four players giving them an intuitive sense of when to hold back and when to push out.
Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of ‘Transmogrification’ a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed.