AMM / Formanex / ONsemble
1. AMM / Formanex Play Treatise by Cornelius Cardew
2. AMM / Formanex / ONsemble Play Treatise (p. 46-47) by Cornelius Cardew
Formanex / ONsemble / Christian Wolff / Keith Rowe / John Tilbury
1. Two Pianos by Christian Wolff
2. Edges by Christian Wolff
3. Trio Rowe / Wolff / Tilbury
Formanex / ONsemble / Christian Wolff / Keith Rowe / John Tilbury
1. For 1, 2, 3 People by Christian Wolff
2. Looking North by Christian Wolff
3. Edges by Christian Wolff
4. Trio Rowe / Wolff / Tilbury
Formanex / ONsemble / Phill Niblock
2. To Two Tea Roses
Formanex / ONsemble / Keith Rowe
1. Hang Ups
Formanex / Ralf Wehowsky
1. Untitled 1
2. Untitled 2
3. Untitled 3
Formanex / Keith Rowe
1. Three Lines To Achieve Almost Nothing
3. Le Langage Du Thé
4. Chercher Le 2eme Oeil
Formanex / Kasper T. Toeplitz
2. Demonology #11
Formanex / ONsemble / Radu Malfatti / Michael Pisaro / Seth Cluett
1. Fragile Being, Hopeful Becoming by Michael Pisaro
2. For Formanex by Seth Cluett
3. Shoguu by Radu Malfatti
CATALOG: mikroton cd 76-85 ˚ fibrrbx01
RELEASE: October 12, 2019
A co-production of Apo33, Formanex, Fibrr Records and Mikroton Recordings
Produced by Apo33 and Formanex
Compiled by Julien Ottavi
Executive producer and designer: Kurt Liedwart
Texts: Brian Olewnick, Keith Rowe, Julien Ottavi
Nantes trio Formanex celebrates 20 years of activism in experimental music with a 10 CD edition full of amazing collaborations with ONsemble (contemporary music group from Nantes and Saint-Nazaire) and composers they have worked with. The box set includes early works by Formanex’s own Julien Ottavi, unique compositions created by Keith Rowe, pieces by Kasper T. Toeplitz, Ralf Wehowsky, Seth Cluett, Michael Pisaro, Radu Malfatti, as well as other giants of contemporary music from the last 50 years; such as Phill Niblock and Christian Wolff.
A rare collection of CDs, this box set represents a broad vision of experimental music from noise to electronic abstract composition, radical minimalism, contemporary and improvised music.
Limited Edition of 300 copies.
This is the second 10-album boxset I’ve reviewed for Vital Weekly in the past month. Please be impressed. When a label publishes an album of this magnitude, it signals to listeners awash in new music that their big album is particularly significant. A set of ten albums implies music worthy of long-term consideration and reflection, not just one more slab of plastic in the unending product stream. And so, you may rightly wonder, have I given all ten hours of the dauntingly-titled “20 Years of Experimental Music” the attention it deserves? I’ve surely tried to. Please know that my take is, by necessity, an abbreviated pass. I will return to this at my leisure to more deeply reflect on it and understand it’s myriad parts, any one of which could require serious attention. A Big Statement such as “20 Years…” should be reviewed soon after it comes to alert listeners to its presence, but I expect to have more to say about it in a year or so, once I’ve had time to chew on its various intellectually-demanding elements. This review should be read as an initial impression. I expect to have more coherent and considered things to say about it once I revisit the music later, one disc at a time, without the pressure of a Vital Weekly deadline hanging over my head. The booklet includes a helpful history of the group by Julian Ottavi, a brief explanation by Keith Rowe of one of the pieces he wrote for the group to play, and an informative reflection by Rowe’s biographer Brian Olewnick.
And so you might wonder: who the hell is Formanex, anyway? The group, based on the west coast of France in a lovely city called Nantes, comes from a diverse background of rock, noise, jazz, sound poetry etc. Clearly, though, the trio (sometimes quartet?) was heavily influenced by their neighbour, Keith Rowe, who lives nearby. Formanex is comprised of Julien Ottavi (aka The Noiser, which is a truly dire name for a noise project, but he’s a talented guy and so is grudgingly forgiven), Christophe Havard (of °sone and PizMO), Anthony Taillard and Emmanuel Leduc. The same crew minus Havard, plus Keith Rowe form a group called NG4 Quartet. Exchange Leduc for Havard and you get [N:Q]. Clearly, these people have a deep history together in the local Nantes fringe-music community and so a long-term collaboration was probably inevitable. The set’s nominal focus, however, is just one unifying ingredient in this album’s large-scale survey of contemporary composition and improvisation. The title makes it explicit. This isn’t only a Formanex box set; it’s a set showcasing two decades of experimental music, with Formanex as the through-line. Only on one disc (placed late into the set, the 8th disc) do we hear early recordings of the group without outside collaborators. The other nine discs feature Formanex with AMM, ONsemble (a larger group with rotating players, including the members of Formanex), Ralf Wehowsky, Seth Cluett, Christian Wolff, Michael Pisaro, Phill Niblock, Radu Malfatti and Kasper T. Toeplitz. Most of the pieces are performances of graphical scores, which seem to form the backbone of Formanex and is the mode to which they return most frequently. On this set, we get recordings of Christian Wolff’s “Edges” (featuring the composer himself on piano), two takes on Cornelius Cardew’s classic “Treatise”, plus graphic pieces written for the group by Cluett, Pisaro, Malfatti and Niblock. Two of the tracks are trios of AMM’s Keith Rowe and John Tilbury with Christian Wolff and don’t include Formanex at all.
The shadow of Keith Rowe’s work and Cardew’s “Treatise” looms over a lot of this music. Indeed, several of Formanex’ previously-released albums consist of them playing “Treatise”, which is unquestionably the best-known of all graphically-notated compositions. It’s kinda a rite-of-passage mountain that anyone involved with “improvisation” or “contemporary classical” or “experimental” music should try to climb at least once in their lives. There’s no correct way to play it; you just look at the score and make the sounds you suppose approximate the lines and shapes and numbers and symbols on the page. As you might expect from a group that’s been studying and performing “Treatise” for two decades, Formanex’ takes (two of them on disc 1, in which they are joined by AMM, Christian Wolff and a larger ONsemble) are masterfully assured and deeply beautiful. The 2nd and 3rd disc feature Wolff’s graphically-scored composition “Edges”, plus some other pieces that reside in a similar soundworld. The music is fragile, with unhurried breathing silence surrounding each phrase, vertical slices that glide into one another and dissipate like water vapour. The fourth disc, “Pieces for Orchestra and Double Orchestra”, pairs our heroes with Phill Niblock, and here’s where the Formanex flavour becomes something quite different. Niblock’s two pieces, “Disseminate” and “To Two Tea Roses”, find Formanex as a quartet joined by a nine-member ONsemble. Both compositions are seemingly static drone blocks with very long, slow-moving passages. Spiky, event-driven music is discarded as the big band coalesces into a moist, dark fog. The fifth disc brings Keith Rowe back and with him some more recognizably instrumental/improv moves. The structure of the nearly hour-long piece, “Hang Ups”, is hostile at times, allowing held-breath emptiness to hover menacingly for long stretches, broken by sudden clanks and slams. It’s intentionally disorienting and fractured.
The 6th disc is the one I was most excited to hear and is the one that most radically explodes the image of the group from the previous five discs. On this recording from 2005, it’s unclear whether Formanex is playing a piece written by Ralf Wehowsky (a personal sonic hero of mine) or if this is a studio creation of Wehowsky using Formanex as source sounds. The confusion is fascinating… I love it that I have no idea what’s going on! The instrumental sounds of the core group are rendered aggressively noisy, dense and filthy. A black exhalation of ugly smoke greets listeners immediately from the opening moments, warning the listener to expect something much different than the preceding five hours. It’s as if Wehowsky is atomizing the group’s sounds via rude tape effects and drastic electro-acoustic transformations… though, again, maybe that’s not what it is? After laying down the first 30-minute gauntlet, Formanex is recognizable again for the short centre track. It’s a quick reprieve since they’re obliterated again into sheets of grey noise for the nearly 20-minute closer. My favourite part is what must have at one point been a human voice (singing?), pulverized into messy mush with the dust scattered alarmingly over bits of the music in unexpected punctuations.
The 7th disc is another collaboration with Keith Rowe for a single, 45-minute composition called “Three Lines to Achieve Almost Nothing”. As the title implies, this is an extremely minimal affair, with anaemic sounds barely rising over the bed of oppressive emptiness. You have to listen closely to make out faint shadows of movement, soft rolling bass tones and barely-there nervous shimmy. It’s a tense listen, stubbornly unsatisfying (that’s a compliment). Disc 8 is the only disc in the set to show us Formanex on their own. No guests, no pieces written by other people. This is where we get to hear what the group did before they became what they are today, with an audible affinity for underground noise and aggressive almost-rock. I’m very happy that this is part of the set, as it shows sides of them one might not hear in works like “Treatise”. After a short, introductory muck of found (?) voices and no-fidelity tape trash called “S-T”, the three longest tracks on this disc shows a formative Formanex kicking up in-the-red dust storms of noise with cascading, propulsive percussion and psychedelic reverb-laden guitars. I can imagine them as 20-something punks in the corner of a poorly lit bar, blasting this ugh for a small audience of friends.
The penultimate disc is another electro-acoustic monster, with the main group collaborating with Kasper T. Toeplitz. The two pieces, “Szkic” and “Demonology #2” (which, if I read correctly, was the first piece written by an outside composer for Formanex, back in 2001), are harsh and hostile. The shorter opening track hovers uneasily, vibrating strings meeting uncomfortable piercing feedback and gut-churning bass tones. But that’s merely a prelude to the final disc, three pieces written for the group (billed as Formanex and ONsemble) by Michael Pisaro, Seth Cluett and Radu Malfatti. Again, these are quite different from what camebefore. The booklet doesn’t provide much information about each of these pieces, unfortunately. I see something that looks like a graphic score reprinted in the booklet but can’t tell to which piece it corresponds. Maybe it’s one of these? Or not? I dunno! Pisaro’s piece, “Fragile Being, Hopeful Becoming” is performed by a larger group consisting of Formanex, Pisaro himself on guitar and seven additional ONsemble players on clarinets, guitars, basses, electronics and “objects”. The 11-strong group is admirably restrained, moving as a single voice that belies the number of performers. “Fragile…” does what it says on the tin; this is a spiky and hushed affair, with lonely tones and wet blips drifting toward minimal percussive clatter that sounds like a closely-mic’d ferret playing in a utensil drawer. Cluett’s piece, “For Formanex” (clever!) has a more abrasive electronic character. Elements seem isolated and episodic; a prepared-guitar cluster followed by a feedback shard, followed by chattering grumble, followed by insistent chirp. Neat! Malfatti’s piece again sees the line-up swell to nine players (including the composer on bass harmonica, an instrument you probably have never considered wanting to hear on purpose) as the overall volume goes way down. His “Shoguu” closes the set with an even more restrained and elongated smear than Pisaro’s. Single, simple events rise and fall along a linear path, some sections starting to swell like soap bubbles but getting cut off before they float away.
Seit gut 10 Jahren verteilt Kurt Liedwart goldige Mikrotönereien, als Staub und als Nuggets, from Russia with Love. Wieviel Liebe muss da erst in 20 Years of Experimental Music (mikroton cd 76-85 / Fibrr Records, fibrrbx01, 10xCD) stecken, der Anniversary-Box von FORMANEX? Gegründet in Nantes, von Emmanuel Leduc (guitar, electronics), Julien Ottavi (percussions, laptop, electronics) & Anthony Taillard (prepared guitar), dazu stieß 2001 Christophe Havard (alto sax), Leduc scheint seit 2015 inaktiv zu sein. Als elektro-akustisches Impro-Ensemble mit der Raison d'Être, Cornelius Cardews graphische Partitur "Treatise" zu performen. Sowie eigenes und anderes vom gleichen Geist, wie er sich ab 1998/99 etwa bei Grob in Köln und auf Jon Abbeys Erstwhile Records entfaltete.
Eigenes wie 'Le Langage Du Thé' & 'Chercher Le 2eme Oeil' von 1998/99 (auf CD8 "Early Works"). Bruitophile Collagen mit kaskadierenden und wummernden Wellen, postindus-trialer Mulm, mit noiserockiger Verve. Zwar bemüht, sich zu einer minimalistischeren Ästhetik vorzutasten, aber doch als donnerndes, crashendes, ostinates Brainstorming. Verwandt mit Hubbub, die auf Matchless Recordings ja sogar direkt bei Eddie Prévost & Co. andockten, oder auch mit MIMEO.
Anderes wie etwa das Piercing und Rumoren von 'Demonology #11' mit seinen auf Sinus-wellenspitzen sausenden Kakodämönchen, das ihnen KASPAR T. TOEPLITZ 2001 'auf den Leib' schrieb (CD9), mit noch dem 2013 verstorbenen Laurent Dailleau (von Art Zoyd, Le Complexe De La Viande, Triolid...) an Theremin & Laptop. Dass die Chemie mit Toeplitz stimmte, verrät 'Szkic' von 2012 mit dröhnminimalistischem Gebrumm, Geprassel und Wel-lenschwung, und das durchaus wieder maximalistisch.
RALF WEHOWSKY animierte Leduc, Ottavi & Taillard 2004 zu einer tinnitusterroristisch brodelnden Performance von 'Ihr Kinderlein kommet' (CD6), wovon bisher nur 'Acte Un' auf "Herzblutanteil (I.K.K. IV)" landete. Vor dem eigenen Herodes-Furor entzieht sich For-manex da in Gespinste aus Bruits secret, während ringsum Mord und Steinschlag toben, bis nur noch Fitzel entleibter Kinderstimmen geistern, die zuletzt gegen den nochmal mas-siven Schauer und Hagel garstiger Noisepixel ansingen.
2012 führte Formanex im Brüssel 'For Formanex' auf, das SETH CLUETT sich für sie ausgedacht hat (CD10), ein Spezialist für "Objects of Memory" und "Forms of Forgetting" aus - Ilium fuit, Troja est - Troy, New York. Bedröhnte Splitter, Tuckerpuls, jaulige Wooshes, brummige und nadelfeine Frequenzen. Etwas sparsam, aber doch gitarrenbetont.
All dem war allerdings da längst die persönliche Bekanntschaft mit Keith Rowe voraus-gegangen, der in Vallet lebt, nur 25 km südwestlich von Nantes, und mit dem Ottavi & Havard ab 2000 als [N:Q] spielten. Dank Rowe konnte Formanex 2002 beim Musique-Action Festival 2002 in Nancy 'Treatise' im auratischen Verbund mit AMM (also Rowe, Eddie Prévost & John Tilbury) performen. Cardews bleibendes Faszinosum, das neben Formanex damals auch Burkhard Beins und die Berliner 2:13/Echtzeitszene heraus-forderte oder eine Chicagoposse mit Jim O'Rourke. Die Box offeriert jedoch eine neuere, auf hier ein Knarren, dort ein Zirpen, ein Schleifen, ein paar Tupfen und einige geträufelte Pianotropfen reduzierte Pianissimo-Version, zu sechst am 4.12. 2017 (CD1), für die Forma-nex seine sublime Seite hervorkehrt. Ottavi legt überhaupt den Schwerpunkt auf die 2012 begonnene Kollaboration mit ONsemble. Er bildet nämlich die Keimzelle des fallweise 6-bis 11-köpfigen, mit Gitarre, Saxofon, Klarinetten, Harfe, Bassposaune, Cello, Bässen, Piano, Objects und Electronics bestückten Klangkörpers, der Teil der sozialen Skulptur Apo33 in Nantes ist, mit political activism, mediation or social action, hard sciences and human sciences, urban planning, ecology, economy… als Agenda und Fibrr als zu-gehörigem Label. So verklanglichten Formanex + ONsemble + AMM beim gleichen Apo33-Event im April 2017 nochmal zu zwölft 'Treatise (p. 46-47)' (CD1), nicht mehr ganz so als Fisches Nachtgesang, mit einigen feinen Funken, Bogenstrichen, Dröhnfäden und Luft-blasen mehr. Und wer singt denn da so schön? Ist das 'Walk on by'? Aber auch davon kann sich eine Meerjungfrau nur ein dünnes Fähnchen weben.
Seltsam eigentlich, dass ausgerechnet die während der Terrorherrschaft in den 1790ern am schlimmsten terrorisierten Städte, Lyon durch Fouchés Schlächterei und demoliert als Ville sans Nom und Nantes im Vendée-Aufstand, durch die Colonnes infernales und die schaurigen Noyades, heute so virulente Avanthochburgen sind.
Im Mai 2014 performten Formanex + ONsemble in Nantes PHILL NIBLOCKs Orchester-stücke 'Disseminate' & 'To Two Tea Roses' (CD4), wobei ich letzteres fast noch durch die Hubro-Version von Ensemble neoN im Ohr habe. Hier finde ich sein rosenfarbspektrales Echo, von Cajun Sunrise bis Sunset Celebration, von Peace bis Mister Lincoln, von Angel Face bis Crimson Glory. Auch ersteres, 1998 komponiert, ist ein schwebender Dauerton aus Mikrointervallen, mit dunklen Unterschwingungen. Petr Kotik hat 2001 eine tschechische Version dirigiert, Quatuor Bozzini spielte 2018 die revidierte Stringversion ein. Selbst Zeitkratzer könnte das Original kaum besser performen als es hier dröhnt.
Im gleichen Monat erschien übrigens auf Mikroton "A Quartet for Guitars" von Rowe, Taillard, Leduc & Ottavi als NG4 Quartet, einem Update von 4g, Rowes Four Gentlemen of the Guitar von 2004, und lieferte mit 'Ineptitude' (Unbeholfenheit) und 'Gaucheness' (Takt-losigkeit) Stichworte, die das eigene Licht unter den Scheffel stellen.
Am 14./15.11.2014 gestalteten Rowe, Tilbury, Ottavi + ONsemble zum 80. Geburtstag von CHRISTIAN WOLFF zwei Wolff-Abende: Mit 'Two Pianos' (in besten Händen bei Tilbury und Wolff selbst), 'For 1, 2, 3 People' (intoniert mit Gitarre, Klarinette, Bruits), zwei löchrigen, tachistischen Versionen des Soundscapes 'Edges', den Wolff 1968 für AMM entworfen hat, und dem damit verwandten Text-Score 'Looking North': When you hear a sound or see a movement or smell a smell or feel any sensation not seeming to emanate from yourself, whose location in time you can sense, and its occurance coincides, at some point, with your pulse, make your pulse evident: in some degree; for any duration. Abgerundet von spontanen, die New York School schwänzenden Klanggestaltungen des Trios Rowe /Wolff / Tilbury (CD 2 & 3). Als Bekenntnis zu Indeterminacy, Intuition, zum Homo ludens und zum Mit-Denken & Ein-Fühlen der 60s als Zeitgeist ohne Verfallsdatum.
Ende Januar 2016 folgte im 3- + 7-köpfigen Formanex/ONsemble-Verbund mit dem seiner Parkinson-Diagnose trotzenden KEITH ROWE dessen geräuschvoll getupfter und gewisch-ter, selbstvergessen driftender, sogar mal nach Curry duftender Soundscape 'Hang Ups' (CD5) für präparierte Gitarre und elektroakustisches Ensemble. Mit wieder den Fingern von Clara Bodet, Sarah Clénet, Carine Léquyer, Sylvie Noël und Jenny Pickett im Spiel an Klarinette, Kontrabass, Harfe, Piano, E-Gitarre und jeweils Objects oder Electronics.
Im Mai 2016 performte ONsemblex 'Fragile Being, Hopeful Becoming' als wandel-weiserisch sublimes Stirb und werde von und mit MICHAEL PISARO an Gitarre. Ein Finger-hut voll Pianissimo, das das Grundrauschen mal wummernd trübt, mal fahl tönt. Und im September ertönte 'Shoguu' von und mit RADU MALFATTI an Bassharmonika, wobei mit der von Rowe vier präparierte Gitarren erklingen (CD10). Leise klingen. Denn das sind die zwei stillsten halben Stunden des Dekalogs. Wobei Malfatti mit dem ON/NOnett altweiber-sommerfeine Dröhnfäden spinnt, aus Luft, Strings und Feedback.
Im April 2018 schließlich, als Kurt Liedwart sich mit Ottavi & Rowe bei "L'Or" als Gold-macher zeigte, realisierten Ottavi & Taillard ebenfalls mit Rowe das Beinahenichts von 'Three Lines To Achieve Almost Nothing' (CD7). Nur zwei präparierte Gitarren, Grummel-Pauke & Bruits. Nur Feedback, Mikrogebratzel, leises Phantompiano, Stringgespinste, ge-dämpfter Paukendonner. Doch neben Pisaro fast schon wieder Krawall.
Wobei Dr. Ottavi andererseits ja ständig seinen inneren Mr. Hyde (The Noiser) sich aus-toben lässt, bei "Trilogie des Fantomes" (2008) oder "The Black Symphony" (2013), mit Zbigniew Karkowski, KK Null, bei "Blast of Silence" (2014) mit Toeplitz, mit Jenny Pickett als Solar Return und in den Anti-Rock Missile und Dime Ensembles. Bei "Secrets Telluri-ques" (2017) wieder solo mit dunkel rauschendem Symphonic-Tamtam-Gong, bei "Beyond Symphony" (2019) - arrgll!! - mit Computer & Noise Generators. Es gibt da keine Entwick-lung von heißspornigem Brainstorm zu saugendem Entzug, von halbstarker Maximalistik zu reifer 'attraktiver Leere'. Sondern, konsistent und konstant, das Faible für psychoaktive Ästhetiken des Offenen, Unbestimmten, Fragmentarischen, für den Thrill des Unberechen-baren. Die Box bringt 3/10 Lärmiges, 2/10 Leises, 5/10 NY_School- & AMM-Geschultes.
L’etichetta russa Mikroton, specializzata in musica sperimentale, d’avanguardia, di ricerca propone, in un’edizione limitata di 300 copie, questo imponente cofanetto di 10 cd che raccontano la storia degli ultimi vent’anni del gruppo francese Formanex: Emmanuel Leduc (chitarre, elettronica), Silvie Noël (tastiere, elettronica, piano), Julien Ottavi (percussioni, elettronica, composizioni). (Iper)minimalismo, improvvisazione, rumorismo, sperimentalismo sono alcune delle etichette che possono valere a sintetizzare lo stile del gruppo, quasi sempre (tranne nel cd 8) integrato da compagni di viaggio quali Keith Rowe, Christian Wolff, Eddie Prévost, Radu Malfatti, per fare solo alcuni nomi. Lavorando spesso, a livello sia improvvisativo sia compositivo, su sottili variazioni microtonali, su contrazioni ed espansioni delle dinamiche, su particolari articolazioni timbriche, la musica proposta ci invita a esplorare acusticamente una vasta gamma di possibilità sonore e rumoristiche. È musica astratta e concreta insieme. Astratta, perché non ci sono funzionalità armoniche a sostenere le relazioni tra i suoni; concreta, perché spesso le qualità tattili dei suoni che sentiamo non solo con l’udito, ma con la pelle, hanno una consistenza materica: coagulandosi, ci vengono incontro come oggetti. Certamente, non è una musica di facile ascolto. È ovvio che non è sempre un merito essere di ascolto facile, qualunque cosa ciò significhi (e non serve scomodare Adorno per sostenerlo). Però alcuni dei Cd sono davvero ostici. Insomma, se volete prendervi un momento di distrazione in questo periodo di Corona virus non è la musica che fa per voi (o magari mi sbaglio: magari è proprio quello che fa per voi!). In ogni caso, credo che l’ascoltatore debba disporsi ad accogliere in modo quasi meditativo l’offerta sonora, recependola senza imporre griglie e schemi di previsione acustica ed estetica. Non sempre l’impresa riuscirà. Non sempre risulterà possibile entrare percettivamente in un mondo sonoro che tende ad evitare strutture consolidate, fuggire abitudini percettive, respingere appigli immaginativi. Magari, però, proprio in questo modo renderà praticabile altre vie. Come suggerisce il titolo dell’unico brano presente nel Cd 7 (in cui il trio è completato da Keit Rowe), Three Lines To Achieve Almost Nothing, è una musica che tende al presque rien di jankélévitchiana memoria; una musica che testimonia la fragilità dell’essere sperando in un divenire migliore (me lo suggerisce il brano del Cd 10 Fragile Being, Hopeful Becoming di Michael Pisaro), e la speranza utopica, si sa, è tale proprio perché non garantita. I dischi che ho più apprezzato sono i primi tre. Nel primo il gruppo, affiancato dal gruppo AMM e poi dal gruppoONsemble propone due versioni del Tractatus di Cardew. Nel secondo e nel terzo i protagonisti sono Christian Wolff e il trio Rowe-Wolff-Tulbury: qui la delicatezza espressiva del piano presenta, sempre attraverso i canali e i canoni della libera improvvisazione (l’ossimoro è voluto), un’oasi lirica che non ritroveremo più nei cd successivi: d’altronde, se così non fosse, non sarebbe un’oasi. Peccato davvero che il cofanetto non offra, almeno nella versione a mia disposizione, informazioni un po’ dettagliate sui suoi contenuti. Per avere qualche indicazione in merito mi son dovuto rivolgere a questo link: https://www.discogs.com/it/Formanex-With-AMM-Christian-Wolff-Keith-Rowe-Ralf-Wehowsky-John-Tilbury-Phill-Niblock-ONsemble-Seth-/release/14321136
Encapsulating two decades of an ensemble’s performing history on disc can be difficult. Spreading the results over 10 CDs can be even more trying and in some cases numbing. Luckily Formanex, the French experimental music trio, overcomes some of these drawbacks by including sounds from 1998 to 2018 that in the main feature expanded line-ups and guests. Still, at points immersing new timbres into the band’s mixture of electronic and ambient sequences merely intensifies sameness.
Intertwining influences from post-punk, notated music, minimalism, microtones and Jazz improvisation, Formanex today consists of guitarist Anthony Taillard, Julien Ottavi, who plays percussion, laptop and electronics and Christoph Havard’s electronics, objects and sometimes alto saxophone. Over the years other players such as Emmanuel Leduc on guitar and electronics, the three members of the British group AMM, especially guitarist Keith Rowe, and the six to 10 musicians who make up ONsemble have played alongside Formanex.
Listening to early discs, it appears that Formanex experimented with genre variations before settling on a consistent and characteristic approach. The oddest and closest to a misfire here is CD6 from 2005, when a trio of Taillard, Leduc and Ottavi interpret three untitled compositions by German sound artist Ralf Wehowsky which returns the trio members to their Punk-Rock roots. A collection of dial-twisting outer-space-signal turbulence and unabashed industrial noise, the garbled growls, skidding car and freight train rumbles are intensified with high octave crackling drones. While the finale contrapuntally positions sampled children’s’ voices and ear-splitting shrieks, pressure was maintained but not explicit concept portrayal.
This detour is puzzling since the earliest tracks from 1998-1999 collected on CD8 with the same personnel, capture a minimalist program. Although the selections encompass metallic rubs, vacuum cleaner-like buzzes, bell-pealing and kettle-drum-like thumps, the sonic density is alleviated by guitar frails and watery shakes that move throughout and finally dissolve. Later on this concept becomes customary, as expressed on the extended “Demonology #11” on CD 9. Here additional electronics are brought into play by Taillard, Leduc, Havard and Ottavi plus Laurent Dailleau on Theremin and laptop. A hissing undertow soon dominates the aural space, briefly shaking the studio narrative, but still moving it convincingly chromatically. As the heavily amplified vibrations shake and crackle, a secondary wave form peeps alongside the first until curvaceous drones are replaced by steady synthesized groans that could be a downpour in a tropical rain forest including jungle birds’ trilling echoes .
Following a two-year hiatus that lasted until 2011, Formanex was still trying to define itself as a recording entity as tracks from 2012 on two different CDs indicate. Vestiges of programmed electronic ruggedness are still present, but the assembly line of spacey, buzzing motifs is now being supplemented by aleatory strokes from the two guitarists. Heard alongside bubbly laptop vibrations are guitar frails and shuffles, frequently sourced from up-on-the-neck or below-the-bridge strokes.
It’s evident that 2014 was a particularly fruitful period for the band, with CDs 2, 3 and 4 dedicated to that period, Capturing Formanex’s shift towards partly notated and pre-conceived formulas, each of the discs features the expanded ONsememble. One disc, dedicated to Phil Niblock’s compositions, also includes Leduc, Taillard and Ottavi’s guitars and electronics plus Havard’s alto saxophone. The others match and Ottavi’s percussion with the ONsememble and an AMM-variant with Keith Rowe’s prepared guitar, John Tilbury’s piano and composer Christian Wolff playing piano and guitar. Chunky, solid and nearly oppressive, Niblock's score interpretation manages to be microtonal and orchestral at the same time, with little tonal distinction among the 14 players’ instrumental timbres. Its climax is a droning buzz. Ending with performances by Rowe/Wolff/Tilbury, the other CDs trio tracks are distinctively self-contained but the orchestral tracks are different still. With programmed electronic crackles, sliced guitar runs and shuffling runs the trio selections relate more to AMM’s discography than Formanex’s, In full orchestral form through “Looking North” and “Edges” on one and a contrasting “Edges” on the other disc find Tilbury’s and Wolff’s piano chording and Rowe’s guitar plinks sliding through a slowly building ONsemble exposition that includes percussion shakes and rolls plus additional arco sweeps and pizzicato plucks from five or six additional string players. Before the electronic ostinato subsumes the output of all the musicians, exquisite clarinet trills and bass trombone slurs are added to the unrolling sequences.
“Hang Ups” the single extended track on 2016’s CD5 is a modification of these AMM-related inflections. Rowe’s prepared guitar is featured alongside Taillard, Havard and Ottavi playing mostly objects and electronics as well as more instruments, objects and electronics from a seven-piece version of ONsememble. Including Rowe’s idiosyncratic plucks, frails and twangs, the wave form-propelled and six string instrument squeaking narrative expands with an overlay of drones and signs with intermittent percussion-like rumbles and chalumeau clarinet gurgles. Midway through as the backing turns elastic and paused segments finally move forward, bird-like peeps are faintly heard alongside clarinet trills and double bass thwacks. Wrenching free from the dial-twisting textures Rowe asserts himself with sitar-like vibrations as well as radio-sampled noises.
This collaboration is intensified even more on CD1. The Formanex trio and, on the second variant six members of ONsememble, interpret parts of “Treatise”, Cornelius Cardew’s graphic score alongside the members of AMM who were present in the 1960s when “Treatise”, was created. Consisting of leisurely evolved electronic whizzes, connective feedback and percussive bumps, the first variant seems as if it’s hanging motionless in the air until meandering piano clips, cymbal-on-drum-top scratches and guitar-string suction produce individual interjections which bring out the theme’s lyrical qualities. Finally the track climaxes with twisting wave forms facing contrapuntal challenge from Tilbury’s recital-ready chording. The pianist’s crafty and skillful patterning also make itself felt as part of the 12-piece configuration. But this “Treatise” variation is amplified with hollow vibrations from clarinet and alto saxophone as well as shill electronics. Its singularity is finally defined however as radio-sampled pop songs disrupt the theme while percussion-like rumbles inflate the near minimalist playing.
This palimpsest-like concept of slightly exposing other motifs which have already been established is even more evident on the group’s most recent discs, one featuring only Taillard and Rowe on prepared guitar with Ottavi playing percussion, laptop and electronics; and the other where a mixed Formanex-ONsememble plays two contemporary composition with in both cases the composer as part of the ensemble. Watery, droning and intermittent, the trio version of “Three Lines to Achieve Almost Nothing” introduces a hithertofore folksy and dissociated strumming from the guitarists, which before it’s dissected with string-pressed objects, creates a cunning contrast with motor-driven oscillations and programmed laptop sputters. Half way through frailing strings, buzzing synthesis and belt-stropping textures become almost motionless. Finally guitar twangs and hissing drones harden the narrative to produce an unvarying clicking finale.
There not much choice between the minimalist compositions of “Fragile Being, Hopeful Becoming” with composer Michael Pisaro on guitar and “Shogun” featuring the bass harmonica (!) of composer Radu Malfatti. On the first, it’s probably the composer whose occasional twangs insinuate themselves among inchoate buzzing that consists of squeezed horn parts, moving objects scrambles and electrified surges. Attaining a crescendo of a wall of noise, the piece finally climaxes with vibrating shrills and a single string plink. As for Malfatti’s piece, entire ensemble textures are concentrated into moving the exposition upwards into a droning overlay. In stages the measured sequence is dissected and splintered with string strums and percussion pops and finally when the sound becomes louder, horn hints. Coiled electronic drones finally give way to percussion and ascending string swells as the piece moves from an echoing metallic buzzing into decisive bright trills and downward growls.
No better forum than this set exists for checking in on the breathe of Formanex members’ improvisational, interpretive and collaborative skills, although you may often have difficult picking individuals out from the ensembles. Maximum appreciation will come however by not trying to listen to all 10 discs at the same time.