Trio Sowari est composé de Phil Durrant au laptop, Bertrand
Denzler au saxophone ténor et Burkhard Beins à la
batterie et objets. Tous trois sont des figures majeures de la scène
européenne des musiques improvisées : Bertrand Denzler
est actif au sein du Hubbub, Phil Durrant, violoniste de formation
s'est converti aux manipulations électroniques et a notamment
participé au projet Mimeo. Burkhard Beins collabore avec
Fred Frith, Sven-Ake Johansson ou encore Axel Dörner et participe
à de nombreuses formations allemandes dont Perlonex ou Phosphor.
Ensemble, ils proposent une pièce en trois mouvements enregistrée
le 21 novembre 2004 à La muse en Circuit par Christophe Hauser.
Véritable expérience sonore, extrême et complexe,
les musiciens se déplacent au gré de formes et structures
parfois arides, les instruments, dont ils maitrisent les limites
sont sollicités dans leur retranchement. Une démarche
des plus extrêmes qui réduit l'instrumentarium au stade
de machines à sons. Cette radicalité présente
sur la totalité de l'opus apporte à ce dernier un
caractère compact, insaisissable et inouï ! Claquement
de clés, souffles bruitistes, interventions électroniques,
drones, résonnances percussives et autres bruissements pointillistes
pulullent, se transforment et progressent pour donner vie à
une œuvre électroacoustique improvisée et abstraite
des plus abouties !
Dépassement de l'instrument pour une harmonie dans le chaos.
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing »,
aurait probablement déclaré le bon Duke Ellington
à l’audition de ce CD du Trio Sowari (Phil Durrant
aux synthés et ordinateurs, Bertrand Denzler au ténor,
Burkhard Beins aux percussions et objets), que le plus acharné
des night-clubbers aura bien du mal à trouver dansant. Pourtant
Duke se serait fourvoyé. Car même s’il ne «
swingue » pas, Three Dances fait sens. A force de
grognements, de souffles, de frottements, il échappe simplement
aux critères esthétiques habituels, obligeant l’auditeur
intrigué (voire subjugué) à modifier radicalement
son appréhension de la musique et, rien que pour cela, mérite
un minimum de considération.
Durrant, Bertrand Denzler et Burkhard Beins nous ont apporté
cette saison (création du groupe en novembre 2004) une des
passionnantes réalisations scéniques, dans la catégorie
mixte et improvisée. La version discographique confirme notre
sentiment positif. Passant outre les clichés qui encombrent
le minimalisme contemporain, le Trio SOWARI se livre à une
bataille dynamique des timbres et matières.
Le saxophone (de mieux en mieux joué par Denzler) se glisse
avec bonheur dans les frottis de Beins, offrant à Durrant
de larges pistes pour une électronique inspirée. L'image
d'une grande concentration au service d'une conception claire pour
ne pas dire parfaite.
Un petit groupe qui n'a rien à craindre des grands...
machines désirantes : on sait qu'elles fonctionnent partout,
dans la continuité ou dans la coupure. On sait qu'elles respirent,
chauffent, mangent, transpirent, chient et baisent. On sait qu'elles
ne sont ni gadgets-bibelots, ni objets-fantasmes. On sait leurs
connexions ventrues, voraces. Pourquoi les vouloir souterraines,
enfouies? Pourquoi ne les voir que magnétiques? Forent-elles
la matière ou libèrent-elles des flux crasseux? Enfantent-elles?
Faut-il s'allier ou se désunir? Pouvons-nous encore les entendre,
les saisir? Fabriquent-elles encore du désir ou se sont-elles
lassées de nos pitoyables égoïsmes. Le Trio Sowari
(Phil Durrant, Bertrand Denzler, Burkhard Beins) semble les rassembler,
comme une danse de désir, comme un bras d'honneur restitué
à nos chairs mortes. Les machines désirantes veulent-elles
encore de nous ?
Phil Durrant first gained notice as a violinist working in the English
free-improvisation milieu with John Butcher, John Russell, and Chris
Burn, among others. In the past decade, he has worked extensively
in groups like Mimeo, combining real-time electronics and manipulation
with acoustic instruments, especially those using extended techniques.
On Three Dances Durrant omits his violin entirely for sampler,
synthesizer, and treatments. While Durrant works wholly in the electronic
realm, his partners reside in the acoustic, with Bertrand Denzler
playing tenor saxophone and Burkhard Beins playing percussion and
It is initially difficult to separate this music from its apparent
processes. It is rarely clear what musician or instrument is doing
what. A high whistle might be a synthesizer or a saxophone moving
closer to a microphone. A listener unfamiliar with extended saxophone
techniques could listen to the CD's three improvisations without
ever imagining that there's a tenor saxophone in the group. Like
John Butcher, the Swiss Denzler, who has worked with John Wolf Brennan
and the French group Hubbub, uses circular breathing and an assortment
of techniques emphasizing key and pad noise and the grainy, gritty
passage of air through the instrument to create a vocabulary of
sounds that can suggest bats playing a pipe organ in a chasm. Similarly,
Beins' collection of clicks and rattles do not immediately suggest
a particular source, but expand in the hyper-resonant space that
may be a compound of the acoustic and electronic. Oddly enough,
it is the occasional wobble of an oscillator that is the least abstract,
the most readily traceable to its source.
The idea of non-attribution of a sound seems central to this music.
Its approach to identity (of sounds, players, listeners) is one
with its approach to process and time. The acoustic and the electronic,
the original and the treated, blur, exchange, and become one. The
process becomes more explicit as the three pieces advance from the
relatively sparse Rondo and Bolero to the longer
Tumble, with its dense washes of sound and sustained whistles
that stretch time to the breaking point. It is a new auditory space
coming into being before (after?) our ears—a tranquil, meditative
here's a model of European cooperation, a group that could supply
a soundtrack for some major EU gathering of dignitaries: Phil Durrant
from London, Bertrand Denzler from Switzerland, resident in Paris,
and Burkhard Beins from Germany, recorded in a French studio and
released on a French label. On second thoughts, Trio Sowari's vocabulary,
the noise of faulty wiring and industrial evisceration, may not
appeal to nervy politicos reeking of toothpaste. The organisation
of those sounds is intensely musical, a combo of painstaking patience
and improvisational juggling, but the sounds themselves are hardly
The fairy twinkle of Beins's music box at the top of Bolero
comes as quite a shock. His percussion generally favours the gritty
circular wipe, while Denzler pumps air through his tenor sax to
produce any post-John Butcher sound you like so long as it's not
a note. Group leader Durrant's electronics have a remarkable physicality
that merges well with Denzler's world of breath. On Bolero
Durrant goes old school with satisfying spaceship noises, while
we imagine knobs twiddling and dials flickering.
The concepts underlying this music may have been forged in the icy,
subterranean caves of Reductionism, but there's generally plenty
going on. The pace is slow, but you would never describe these three
'dances' as meditative. Superficially it may sound like white coated
folk running equipment tests at your local biotech lab, but the
important thing is that those concepts are firmly grasped.
This is disciplined, focused music, the sound of people really thinking
and playing, and close attention is consistently rewarded.
Wire l November
Durrant's Sowari (Acta, 1997) was a striking personal statement
using acoustic violin and electronics to transform sound within
structured settings for improvisa-tion. His solo efforts along with
his participation in a trio with Radu Malfatti and Thomas Lehn,
a duo with John Butcher, and the earliest incarnation of MIMEO provided
arresting contexts for pushing the interactions of real-time electronic
processing and acoustic extended techniques. Almost a decade on,
and this trio with Durrant on sampler, synthesizer, and treatments;
Bertrand Denzler on tenor; and Burkhard Beins on percussion shows
how this vocabulary continues to be absorbed and extended.
All three have extensive experience working in this kind of setting.
Denzler may be the least well known, though he has been making his
mark working at the edges of extended reed techniques with musicians
like Sophie Agnel, Hans Koch, and the group Hubbub. Beins is an
inveterate explorer as well, warping the micro-timbres of percussion
instruments in Activity Center (his duet with guitarist Michael
Renkel), Sealed Knot (with Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies), the
Berlin ensemble Phosphor, and ina bristling duet with Keith Rowe
(captured on the recent Erstlive disk on ErstWhile.)
The titular Three Dances play out as varying collective
structures. The first, Rondo, builds waves of quiet gurgles
and buzzing hums with deliberate pacing and meticulous use of space.
Bass-heavy rumbles anchor the floating activity of popping reed
flutters, scumbled percussion, and piercing high tones as the density
and velocity of the piece gradually ebbs and flows. Bolero
is much sparer, with sine tones and gritty crackles playing off
of breathy reed textures and scraped percussion shot through with
flourishes of metallic notes that sound like a toy xylophone. The
final 25-minute Tumble is where the strengths of this group
really come through. Here, the subtleties and space of the second
piece are combined with the pace and flow of the first for an extended
improvisation that balances collective dynamism with an overarching
sense of structure as the three move between quiet pools and bracing
peaks. It's another unqualified winner for Potlatch.
To Noise l September
Durrant is one of the most important improvisers in Europe, yet
one rarely encounters his name with anywhere near the frequency
(or admiration). Part of a generation of players who, like saxophonist
John Butcher, are highly influenced by the first wave of British
free improvisation (not just Parker and Bailey, but John Stevens’
Spontaneous Music Ensemble), Durrant has also served as a key link
between this style of improvisation and the newer styles of post-AMM
His projects are too numerous to list, but it is significant that
this fine trio – Durrant (who leaves his violin in its case
in favor of software sampler, synthesizer, and electronic treatments),
tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler and percussionist Burkhard Beins
– has chosen to name itself after Durrant’s 1996 solo
recording on Acta. That disc represented one of Durrant’s
earliest reconsiderations of his instrument and improvisational
style, a register of his ongoing musical courage. And while this
trio music isn’t exactly a wholesale reconceptualization,
it is nonetheless a powerful document that focuses its energies
in a provocative way.
One of the misunderstandings most frequently encountered in and
around electro-acoustic improvisation is that “nothing happens.”
There is no burning solo, no ass-rocking pulse, neither chamber
repose nor extroverted wildness to shake you by the lapels. And
yet, as the title of this disc interestingly suggests, one need
not “dance” in any conventional sense in order to move
freely. The titles of these three improvisations – Rondo,
Bolero and Tumble – constitute both an ironic
gesture and an abstraction of the meaning of dance, where one thinks
simply of bodies in motion rather than formal convention. And so
it is that Trio Sowari focuses throughout on extensions
of time and the layering of sound. It’s easy enough to pay
attention simply to their techniques, that’s for sure. But
the more you hear Beins’ grainy circular patterns, Durrant’s
plangent backdrops, and Denzler’s wet, throaty burrowing,
the more an almost contrapuntal quality emerges (though there is
no stated pulse anywhere in this music).
Their explorations also extend to reconsiderations of the customary
dynamics of this kind of improvisation (Rondo raucous steam
vents explode at peak levels, cooling down from there), and to the
uses of disruption (the digital hiccups during the otherwise ethereal
Bolero). But it’s really on the 25-minute Tumble
where the music comes together, as low excavation sounds dance with
the high sine waves. Overall, this is a really fine disc, one whose
considered methodology doesn’t undermine its moments of beauty.
in November 2004, this debut album by Trio Sowari offers
a considerable dose of high-end electro-acoustic improv. Then again,
connoisseurs of the genre expect no less from Phil Durrant, Burkhard
Beins, and the ubiquitous Bertrand Denzler, whose discography grows
as quickly as his stature.
Forget the "dance" paradigm generated by the album and
track titles, and the cover artwork -- delightfully kitsch, incidentally.
There is nothing to be danced to on this record, not even a single
beat. Actually, there might not even be a single stroke, as Beins
is much more a brusher and a bower than a striker, when it comes
to percussion. Sit this one out and listen instead.
There is a wonderful level of mimicry and intricacy between Denzler's
breathy techniques (he rarely plays a note), Durrant's electronics
(including a software sampler), and Beinz's textural sounds, especially
in the 25-minute Tumble, exquisitely sparse and detailed
until everyone locks up in a raspy mood for a grating finale that
should leave you speechless. Distinguishing individual contributions
gets tricky at times, but the exercise does have its entertaining
value. Nevertheless, the album works best when you let go of such
considerations, accept the music for the collective effort that
it is, and surrender to its troubled imagery and uncanny choreographical
aspects. Rondo and Bolero -- respectively 16 and
11 minutes long -- contain very strong moments, but Tumble
is the true reason to acquire Three Dances.
l August 2005
Dances is the debut release by Trio Sowari, a group
made up of three experienced European improvisers: Phil Durrant
(software sampler, synthesizer and treatments), Bertrand Denzler
(tenor saxophone) and Burkhard Beins (percussion and objects). Recorded
at La Muse en Circuit outside Paris on November 21st 2004, the disc
contains three fairly lengthy tracks.
In the first, Rondo, the group’s soundworld of hisses,
gurgles, crackles, reverberations, stridulations and extended tones
is fashioned into an engagingly episodic sequence of fleet consecutive
responses and entwined passages of sinewy enfoldings and uncouplings.
Along the way, the music explores a wide range of densities and
volumes (including silence), and, unlike the more uniformly high-pitched
electro-acoustic improvisations common today, often possesses quite
a punch in the lower register. The improvising is generally excellent
– attentive, adept and creative – although a few passages
are marked by rather fixed or obvious responses.
The second track, Bolero, is quieter, beginning with a
bubbling surface of small gestures, later replaced by more persistent
rumblings and extended tones from Durrant’s electronics and
punctuating bursts of drag and flutter from Beins and Denzler. Once
again, there is much of interest but not quite the same intensity
of connection that possessed the musicians on Rondo.
The final track, Tumble opens strongly with some gripping
exchanges and concatenations built out of single sounds, both short
and extended, from each player. As the improvisation proceeds, the
trio’s approach diversifies, taking in everything from furtive
low volume exchanges to huge electronic surges, metallic episodes
and undulating fields of electronic and acoustic sound. There are
moments, especially towards the end of the track, when the groups
falls into uniformly agitated playing or orthodox arcs of tension
and release, but what is more prominent is the collective willingness
to allow the music to mutate creatively and an ability to fashion
fresh and stimulating contributions moment by moment.
Trio Sowari’s search for combinations and sequences
of sounds that establish meaning without submitting to conventional
aesthetic theories and responses is a fine illustration of what
Cornelius Cardew referred to in his sleeve notes to AMM’s
1968 The Crypt - 12th June : "searching for sounds and for
the responses that attach to them".
But can you dance to it? Would you want to, even if you could? The
social institution of dance typically serves as a process of physical
entrainment (“muscular bonding” in the words of dance
historian William McNeill) whereby the individual is imbued with
an unreflective and mobilizable identity as a member of an existing
group and inculcated into the values of the group’s dominant
powers and ideologies. Are there other approaches to dance that
go beyond idiot spasms in the service of tribe, nation, state, sub-culture
or commodity, that act in contemporary conditions other than by
dressing oblivious social submission in the tattered rags of simulated
ecstasy or conventional elegance? If nothing else, perhaps Trio
Sowari’s provocative title and alluringly caliginous cavorting
invite us to explore these questions in mind and body.
initial challenge of approaching a recording by a group such as
Trio Sowari is downplaying the visual aspects of improvised
music. Even though music is an auditory experience, as listeners
we constantly require visual confirmation of what our ears are taking
in. Perhaps a DVD would fill the prescription, but then again your
eyes would miss what your ears and imagination open into with the
experience of Three Dances.
The headline “star” (with a small “s”) is
London-based Phil Durrant. The classically trained violinist and
collaborator with this likes of John Butcher, Chris Burn, Tony Wren,
and Mark Sanders sheds his strings for a sampler and synthesizer.
Likewise, percussionist Burkhard Beins (Phosphor, Axel Dörner,
Keith Rowe, and Tony Buck) eschews typical beats; and saxophonist
Bertrand Denzler doesn’t produce notes so much as deliver
The three tracks, adding up to 52 minutes of music, maintain a minimalist
structure that constantly draws you towards the quiet. Investing
you with a keen awareness of the small gestures of switches, breath,
rattles and vibration. Denzler, like his contemporary Axel Dörner,
is rewriting the book on wind instrument approach. He sticks to
mediative breath and the musical aspects of the physical object
he holds, generating sound with the body and keys of his saxophone.
While Denzler picks up on what drummers have been exploring beyond
the skins of their kits, Beins has progressed into amplified percussion
and resonating acoustic objects with the purpose of creating new
sounds and new experiences. This recording constantly hums and rattles,
gurgling with texture and feeling.
If we can conceptualize Beins and Denzler’s approach, what
then of Durrant’s computer and effects? Surely there is no
way to determine where Durrant starts and the logic board stops.
We must then return to the original concept of eyes closed—and
l July 2005
Trio Sowari is Phil Durrant (eschewing violin, packing electronics),
tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler and ubiquitous percussion-meister
Burkhard Beins. The three dances, archly titled Rondo,
Bolero and Tumble, are rough ‘n’ ready
improvs, each with its own strengths, picking up steam over the
course of the disc. If recorded evidence is anything to go by, Beins
has been getting more and more rambunctious in the last couple of
years and he throws a great deal of (very fine) grit in the gears
here, keeping the music swirling and skidding, veering toward the
raucous with some regularity. Denzler’s contributions, to
his credit, only become apparent when you actually listen for them;
otherwise, his tenor work, generally on the breathy/bubbly/valve-popping
end of things, is entirely unobtrusive, caulking the seams left
by Beins and Durrant. As for Durrant, well, as usual, deciphering
his offerings is a fool’s errand; one can only assume that
whatever he’s doing, it works.
Three tracks, each long enough to allow the musicians to say what
needs to be said without getting long-winded about it. There might
be some comparison to what the Iberian crew has been up to lately
insofar as the rough-edgedness (I’m trying not to use the
term, “granular”!) and willingness to get loud while
still managing to avoid the overly demonstrative or flamboyant.
Bolero remains rather quiet, however, and is a very effective
exploration of low rumble, soft super-high sine tones and gurgling
breaths sandwiched between. Tumble, at 25 minutes, is the
knockout piece here—wide ranging, beautifully paced, non-stop
discovery of inherently lovely sound combinations, fine decision
making. Its growth from the delicate, quiet middle section into
the fire-breathing, roiling conclusion is startlingly dramatic.
Not much else one can say. Three Dances is a strong outing,
an excellent recording and a disc that, if you’re into this
music at all, should be a no-brainer. Recommended.