A while ago, I received a message from the illustrious Kurt Liedwart noting that he hadn't sent me any Mikrotons in a while and wanted to remedy that fact. In due course, a package arrived from Russia bearing....23 CDs. Five of them had already been sent my way from the musicians involved and had been duly reviewed, but still, eighteen was way more than I'll ever get around to writing about (some were released a year or two ago). So, I'm just going to offer brief summaries of a few of these that made a special impression and merely list the others. Sorry, but...no time!! Thanks, Kurt.
Kurt Liedvart, Julien Ottavi, Keith Rowe - L'Or (Mikroton)
An improv performance from August, 2017 while all three musicians were attending the wonderful Sanitorium of Sound Festival in Sokołowsko, Poland. Both Liedwart (here on modular synth and "cracked everyday and homemade electronics) and Ottavi (computer) are know for tending toward the rough 'n' noisy sector of improv while Rowe, often enough in recent years, has grown increasingly reticent. Not that it's ever going to be easy deciphering who's doing what during an event like this, one can pick out Rowe, now and again, when the heavy and generally delicious glaze set down by the two younger musicians lifts momentarily--there he'll be, rubbing something quietly, scratching with delicacy at some piece of metal, etc. There are some especially juicy moments otherwise, such as the sliding, loopy electronics that occupy much of the last half of the first of two tracks, 'Aurum' and the general spectrum of drips, hums and oscillations that make up 'Золото". Fine work from Liedwart and Ottavi and good to hear Rowe negotiating these territories.
Kurt Liedwart/Andrey Popovskiy/Martin Taxt - hjem (Mikroton)
An exceptionally satisfying (if brief, at 28 minutes) improv session from Liedwart (ppooll), Popovskiy (viola, electronics, objects) and Taxt (tuba). Nothing so unusual, just the trio staying in fairly rough drone territory with some outside sounds intruding, but handled so well, with a fine combination of confidence and restraint. Various elements are introduced over the piece's span, nothing quite as one expects, everything working to up the complexity level without overwhelming the listener with extraneous effects. For instance, the dryly squeaking viola that emerges about halfway through works perfectly with the deep tuba drones and hasher breaths as well as the ringing electronics from Liedwart. There are always more level sin play than is immediately apparent. A wonderfully full and realized performance and, as it turns out, one of perfect length.
The Elks - This Is Not the Ant (Mikroton)
A number of the releases listed below involve musicians like Günter Müller, Norbert Möslang, Jérôme Noetinger, label-owner Liedwart himself and others who ply the more noisy/electronic area of improv. They do this quite ably and listeners interested in that sector would do well to check them out, but my own tastes often desire some acoustic element. The Elks straddle that line quite nicely, offering a set as satisfying and imaginative as "hjem" but spiced with different flavors, including those of a plugged-in nature. Liz Albee (trumpet, preparations) and Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet) tend to the analog while Billy Roisz (electronics, e-bass) and Marta Zapparelli (tapes, reel-to-reel machine, devices) engage the nether side. The balance is fine, the improvs adventurous, fluttering through waves of winds and swirls of e-effluvia. Among other choice moves, the quartet closes with the aptly titled, 'Scuba Diving Elephants', an investigation of depth and slowness that feels sometimes threatening, other times humorous. An excellent ensemble, hope to hear more from them.
I was fortunate to see Lehn and Schmickler at Instants Chavirés a few years ago, a long while since I'd seen and heard them prior. I was very pleased to hear that they'd by no means stood pat (I don't know why I feared that might be the case) but had moved along from the rapid-fire, hyper-noisy approach I was more familiar with, producing a very intense though very quiet set. Here, the focus on the first of two cuts, recorded in 2016, is more along a kind of INA GRM line of plasticity and depth but far more engaging than I tend to find music from that school. Jam-packed and explosive but with a commanding sense of presence, of material realness. Great track. The second piece, from 2016, is a bit loopier, even playful, but all the more endearing for that, merrily bleeping, blooping and buzzing its way along.
The Pitch & Splitter Orchester - Frozen Orchestra (Splitter) (Mikroton)
The Pitch (Koen Nutters, double bass; Boris Baltschun, electric pump organ; Morten J. Olsen, vibraphone, percussion; Michael Thieke, clarinet) released a disc on Sofa in 2015 title 'Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam)' which seems to have the same concept as presented here, that is the quartet with various other musicians navigating a drone-y landscape. I wasn't too crazy about that one but here, with the 19-strong Splitter Orchester (which I had the pleasure to see a few time in Paris and Huddersfield) the approach is more or less the same and, to my ears, it works just fine. It's one big thing, the constant swirling drone, with hundreds of small things emerging and receding, poking their heads up, making a single-note comment, quieting for a while, The larger mass mutates as well over the hour of the disc, softening, melting a bit, acquiring a whistling texture offset by deep rumbling. The piano a bass and some chimes (glockenspiel?) become clearer toward the finish, very beautifully establishing their own weight vis à vis the drone. Excellent.
Chesterfield - Consuelo (Mikroton)
Chesterfield is Angélica Castelló (paetzold, recorders, tapes, electronics, cello, viola) and Burkhard Stangl (guitars, piano). This is a gem, my favorite of the bunch. As implied by the title, the pair cast a Spanish tinge over the proceedings, seven tracks that meld tapes, allusions to song forms, field recordings, flutes, guitars and much else with a great combination of delicacy and precision. That balance between song and soundscape incorporates a certain amount of nostalgic referents but they never feel forced or placed as an easy handhold for the listener; they always ring true. You hear the instrumental contributions of both Castelló and Stangl, but they're so perfectly integrated into the overall sound that it's only in retrospect you realize they were there. The pair also make any number of surprising and rewarding decisions along the way, like the deep, brooding, subtly romantic 'Recaliente'. 'Consuelo' is a real joy--I hope this duo continues on, looking very much forward.
The Holy Quintet (Johnny Chang, Jamie Drouin, Dominic Lash, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, David Ryan) - Borough
Kurt Liedwart - Tonen
Cilantro (Angélica Castelló/Billy Roisz) - Borderland
Ease (Klaus Filip/Noid) - no no no, no
MKM (Günter Müller/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang) - instants//paris
MKM (Günter Müller/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang) - teplo_dom
Angélica Castelló/Jérôme Noetinger - Disturbio
Yui Onodera/Stephen Vitiello - Quiver
Norbert Möslang/Kurt Liedvart/Günter Müller - Ground
Kurt Liedwart/Petr Vrba - Punkt
Jérôme Noetinger & SEC - La cave des Étenards