quartet of Serge Baghdassarians (g, mixing desk), Boris Baltschun
(sampler), Alessandro Bosetti (ss), and Michel Doneda (ss) deliver
a challenging and bewitching set (Strömung 1 - VI.
45:53. March 2004, Berlin) of minimalist improvisations on Strom.
Rigorously non-idiomatic and almost ascetic, the music here sounds
like a long slow chorus of bowed metal and steam escaping from vents.
ln some ways it sounds almost like a quartet of Rafael Toral playing
together. The saxophonists play in an extreme style far closer to
Bhob Rainey than Steve Lacy, while the electronics players conjure
up dark clouds laced with detail and subtle scrapings (input jacks
manipulated, feedback summoned, or strings stroked, for example).
Things do certainly get occasionalIy rowdy, as on "II"
or the harsh whistles of "III", but the feel
is generally reserved. Though this stuff isn't for everyone, I find
it compelling. Patient, active listening reveals treasures.
is Doneda's most recent release on the Potlatch label. Here the
reed player joins three Berlin-based musicians for a set of six
improvisations that manages to erase any borders between ascetic,
micro-textured electronics and the gestural, sonic extremes of extended
reed playing. Doneda and Alessandro Bosetti along with Bhob Rainey
explored the outer reaches of reed interactions on their Potlatch
release Placés dans l'air. Here Baghdassarians'
"guitar and mixing desk" and Baltschun's sampler add variegated
grit to the two reed players' sputters of breath, whispered shards
of harmonics, and patter of keypads.
Baghdassarians and Baltschun have honed their improvisational strategies
with musicians like Axel Dorner, Günter Christmann, and Burkhard
Beins and their elements of guitar and electronics manifest themselves
as subtle stabs of sine waves, percussive overtones, and crackling
hiss; with no recognizable sign of strings or readily identifiable
sampIes to be heard. What grips the listener here is how the four
mesh these timbres, textures, and abstracted vocabulary into an
organically unified whole. With concentrated effort, one can begin
to deconstruct the various voices. But it is their interconnected
collective interactions that make the deepest impression. Keith
Rowe often talks about the influence of string quartet music on
his work and the spontaneous structures these four create elicit
that type of variegated layering. While the six improvisations each
work as autonomous statements; together they develop a dramatic
arc, juxtaposing quiet whispers, harsh skirling shreds, and darkly
resonating rumbles and roars that end the set.
Michael Rosenstein l
Signal to Noise l
you've ever wondered how to make good on the dictum "Don't
fret the reaper, reap the fretter," Strom is a good
headstart. A catalog of whipping hisses, thin tubes of shaken air,
and expanding shafts of breath from Alessandro Bosetti (soprano
sax) and Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxes) bob against
domestic electronic malfunctions - think lawn mower, electric toothbrush,
printer - musicalized by Serge Baghdassarians (guitar and mixing
desk) and Boris Baltschun (sampler).
The extremely high-pitched improv of sine waves, feedback, and reed-biting
is amply on display here, but the dynamic more closely resembles
the richness of Voice Crack than the monologic of Toshimaru Nakamura.
The longest track on Strom, Strömung II,
very gradually reaches an incredible pitch of intensity during the
seventh minute, halfway through the cut, when what sounds like a
donkey mew explodes, pushing the improvisation one step past the
threshold of navigable sound into a suddenly-agreed-upon quiet,
and just a little rhythmic pulse of blipping static flutters faintly.
Slowly more breath emerges, and metal brushes charcoal in a whirlpool;
air is let out of a balloon as a most deliberate fixation.
The tremolo hum during Strömung IV sets the pace for
the creepy suspense and masterful evocation of induced, realized,
and lingering panic to be found during Strömung V.
Impatience will get you nowhere here; your attention will be worthily
Andrew Choate l
Baltschun and Serge Baghdassarians join soprano saxophonists Alessandro
Bosetti and Michel Doneda here for some very freaky textural improvisation.
Baltschun and Baghdassarians play sampler and mixing desk, respectively
(Baghdassarians is also credited with guitar, but only a few sounds
are recognizable as a guitar), which might lead you to believe that
the electronics and saxophones are pitted against one another somehow.
But the saxophones can only be distinguished from the electronics
with very close listening, and all the instruments sound like muffled
screams, busted vacuum cleaners and tests of the emergency broadcast
Baltschun and Baghdassarians, who also often record and perform
together as a duo, both have a knack for improvising electronic
sounds that change frequently without losing attention to detail.
(Baltschun also demonstrated these abilities on 2004’s excellent
No Furniture with Axel Dörner and Kai Fagaschinski.)
The electronics on Strom also manage to sound less than
pristine, in the sense that they sometimes sound as if they might
be created by breath through a tube. Baltschun and Baghdassarians
therefore match up nicely with Bosetti and Doneda.
These players’ attempts to obscure the ‘natural’
sounds of their instruments, along with the way the structures of
these pieces are marked by changes in the group’s overlapping
textures, place these players in the same ballpark as Bhob Rainey,
Urs Leimgruber, Axel Dörner and Keith Rowe. Within that context,
the most important characteristics of Strom are its production
Bosetti and Doneda recently recorded together on another Potlatch
release, 2003’s Placés dans l'Air with fellow
saxophonist Rainey, and like that album, Strom manages
to capture the sounds of the room in which it was recorded while
still sounding like the microphones were positioned very close to
the players. Bosetti and Doneda aren’t playing somewhere across
the distance of a concert hall, they’re buzzing right in your
ear while you’re all sitting in a cave, which makes their
saxophones sound larger than life and often downright scary.
Strom also sounds restless – the four musicians here
create textures that change more quickly than they typically do
in this sort of music. The album is full of tension that never really
resolves: even with all the movement from texture to texture, the
players establish a consistent mood. Even though this music could
never be described as aggressive (although it’s not ‘minimal’
or ‘lowercase,’ either), the musicians sound so sensitive
to one another that they almost seem impatient. Strom is
a very anxious-sounding and often frightening record, especially
when it's loud. It also stands out even among these fine players’
catalogs, which is to say that it’s very, very good.
documents a March 2004 performance at Berlin’s Ausland venue
by a quartet consisting of three Berlin-based musicians –
Baghdassarians on guitar and mixing desk, Baltschun on sampler,
and Bosetti on soprano saxophone – and a visiting Frenchman,
Doneda, on soprano and sopranino saxophones. Constructed out of
an array of hissing, rumbling and spluttering electronics and respiring
reeds, its seven tracks exemplify electro-acoustic improvisation
as a process of rebuilding the ship while it’s still at sea,
as the constant entrances, changes and exits from each individual
player create a collective kaleidoscopic flow of evolving juxtapositions.
Free from teleology and fixed pulse, the group’s collages
of organic breath and inorganic machine shift unpredictably but
engrossingly between urgent intensity and brooding quietude, and
in general the music possesses a propensity to both gross and subtle
change that pleasantly distinguishes it from the rather petrified
nullifications sometimes to be heard at the more "lowercase"
end of the musical spectrum. A pleasure to the attentive ear, this
is an excellent and strongly recommended disc.
“beyond free music” release from the exquisite improvisation
label Potlatch matches saxophonists Michel Doneda and Alessandro
Bosetti with guitarist and mixer Serge Baghadassarians and sampler
Boris Baltschun. The meeting of breath and machine produces a music
Doneda, a frequent participant in Potlatch outings, is quite comfortable
with Italian saxophonist Bosetti, having recorded a trio Placés
dans l'Air with Bhob Rainey. Sound artitst Baltschun is a member
of No Furniture with Axel Dörner and Baghadassarians, who studied
classical guitar, eschews any direct connection to that instrument
Strom mostly passes for a mediation on a subway platform.
Breath passed through a saxophone is either altered electronically
or submitted as extreme limits of pitch and sound. Wheels turn,
squeals linger, and altered static give pause. Mostly the music
is discovery of the hum and static you ignore as you wait for a
train. Who is controlling those trains? Why is a warm wind passing?
What clicks on and off in the darkness? The musicians work with
a substantial vibration, an almost soundless presence, or at least
one generated below the ears' ability to distinguish sound from
feel. Nonetheless this is about feel and breath and the moment.
l December 2004
that my first thought upon seeing this disc was, “There goes
Jacques with his soprano players again!” Happily, Strom
manages to achieve a strong, harsh balance between the reeds and
the electronics employed, resulting in a cleansing, abrasive bath
The first of six pieces begins with sharp, sandy whistles from Doneda
and Bosetti, augmented in kind by Baghdassarians (guitar and mixing
desk—incidentally, no recognizable guitar sounds are to be
found herein) and Baltschun (sampler—possibly one operated
along Sachiko M lines?). This sets up the general mode of the disc,
the four musicians remaining within touching distance of each other,
intertwining with enough ease so as to often make distinguishing
who’s doing what a futile exercise. The saxophonists favor
long, whooshing lines, lending the pieces an automotive sense of
forward thrust. The evocation of metal scraping metal, like old
train wheels making a tight bend in the track, is almost inescapable.
Things edge several more steps into brutality with the next track
(all are titled Strömung, I, II, III, etc.), rasping
flutters high and low, pinging flanges, massive engines beneath
the floor, subsiding just a bit as the evening shift takes over.
While that might be the single most impressive piece here, none
of the others falls far short. Each is wonderfully self-contained,
both concentrating on a given sound-area and still leaving the feeling
of unconstrainedness. Strömung V is quieter at its
start but no less disturbing for its guttural belches and thin wheezes
and it too erupts into a fantastic spray. The last selection, at
witter with spittle and buzz from the beginning, is a fine conclusion,
blasting through subterranean passages, up into heavy traffic and
out into the icy night air.
It’s an excellent recording, matching the strongest work I’ve
heard from all of these musicians individually. Highly recommended.