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Axel Dörner & Diego Chamy: "Super Axel Dörner"

img  Tobias Fischer

Here's a hero you may not have heard of. Forget Spiderman  and his skyscraper-athletics. Forget the incredible Hulk and his involuntary t-shirt-ripping. Forget Batman, forget Robin, forget the Batmobil and the grimly gleaming towers of Gothham  City. And while we're at it: Who needs Clark Kent, when there's „Super Axel Dörner“? Defying laws of nature and traditional text books, the Cologne-born Berlin-based Trumpeter is faster than a sequencer, smarter than an entire music-academy and capable of surmounting even the most challenging creative hurdles in a single leap. Tanks to his seamless sprints across the stylistic gamut, he has also proven himself adept at confounding notorious grail-keepers, to whom Dörner's oscillations between Bee-Bop and Free Jazz, Electronica and „natural acoustics“ as well as the genres generally abbreviated as IEM and EFI (Electroacoustic  and European Free Improvisation respectively) have always represented the most unholy of sacrileges: The belief that in a meeting between like-minded individuals, regardless of the labels applied to them, there will always be more similarities than differences.

Diego Chamy is such a like-minded individual. Just like Dörner, he shuns schematic simplifications and maintains a strict „No CV“-policy on his website. Just like him, his actions and ideas occasionally fall between the stools. And through their years of continuous collaborations, the two have turned into a powerful creative entity to the point that, on the CD's cover and directly underneath its garish title, it is actually Chamy's face rather than the album's namesake who is looking at the listener in a mixture of surprise, mockery and what could be taken for drastic sleep-deprivation. It is also the Argentinian who has penned the informative liner notes as a sort of mnemonic effort of bringing back the events captured on the disc both for his audience and himself. Despite the four years that have since elapsed, this shouldn't be overly difficult. Their third joint full-length, after all, takes its audience back to a time of intense musical intimacy between the protagonists: On April 20th 2006, they recorded the first track of „Super“ in Dörner's studio. Only one day later, they would follow this up with another, at three quarters of an hour considerably more expansive, session, which was released as „What matters to Ali“ on now-defunct Canadian imprint C3R the same year. In September, meanwhile, the duo appeared at Berlin's experimental music space „electronic church“ for a just under thirty minutes long live performance. It wasn't the last time they'd meet: While these publications, complemented by a trio recording in Buenos Aires in 2003, have remained the only tangible documents of their work, Chamy and Dörner have remained in close contact ever since.

The two pieces contained here convincingly demonstrate why they make for such a convincing match. Especially on the September-track, the ability to sculpt perfectly complementary unisono-passages on the one hand, while also granting the other long solitary stretches of exploration is remarkable. As part of the former, insistent and unpredictable repetitions of a single note pierce rhythmically accentuated spoken word passages; and shifting patterns on an orchestral bass drum relentlessly propel flutter-tongued-textures forward as if in a trance. The latter manifest themselves mainly in an almost uninterrupted ten-minute long middle section, which sees Dörner sink into a deep and focused meditation. Like a methodical shaman, he creates a chain of clearly delineated movements, each of which highlights a particular technique, sonic colour, process or idea. Ranging from discrete sheets of condensed air and subtle but precisely placed pulses of breath to synthetic-sounding sheets of static, playful rubbery plops and intricate micro-beat patterns, each thought is given a stretch of time and space to develop before giving way to the next. At what seems to be the point of maximum immersion, Chamy again joins in the action. Rather than rupturing the state of surreal calm and quiet concentration, his glassy drone, probably culled from a prayer bowl or gently brushed cymbal, meanwhile, only serves to intensify it.

A lot of the action inevitably goes by unnoticed. Chamy mentions that, besides ripping his t-shirt during the concert (another hint at super-hero behaviour), he was „working with poses that resemble the ones of a model or a mannequin“, holding a position „for quite a long time, on one spot of the stage, maintaining a certain amount of tension, releasing only micro movements“ only to „suddenly stop posing by walking normally to another spot on the stage and recreate the pose there as if it had never been interrupted.“ The inability of the sound recording of capturing these figurative addendums never works to its disadvantage, though. Quite on the contrary, one finds oneself listening even more attentively to all but imperceptible ambient noises and the creaking of the wooden planks as both improvisers moves across the podium. It is exactly the element described as „silence gone too far“ by one commentator that in fact makes the audience vividly feel part of the performance.

The suggestive background action is also an important distinction between the live recording and the studio improvisation on the first track, which took place roughly four and a half months earlier. All of the musical and conceptual themes are already present here, up until and including a striking part where Dörner's Trumpet and Chamy's tender bell-sounds engage in a weightless, time-suspending duet. But it is the additional tension, potential and uncertainty of the live-situation, the myriads of planned and unpremeditated events going on at the same time, which lends the gig at the electronic church its unmistakable and powerful impact. With a little imagination, one can even find some parallels between the on-stage poses and the musical development of the piece, as certain motives, including almost melodic fields of semi-tone fluctuations popping up in different contexts and bass drum poundings returning as a sweet echo on an unidentified metallic object towards the end. But for most part, they serve to enrich rather than re-inforce the sounds around them.

The question of mechanical repetition is thereby turning into a central theme of the album as a whole, with or without the visuals. Dörner and Chamy seem to maintain that it is, in fact, not so much machinal precision, but rather the tiny but seminal alterations, deviations, possible mistakes and unintended changes taking place by interacting with your instrument, musical partner, the room and the audience which create the most profound engagement with a work. What makes these musicians „super“ are not their heroic gestures - but their ability of remaining perfectly human while relentlessly pushing forward in their quest for the new and unknown.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Axel Dörner at European Free Improvisation
Homepage: Diego Chamy
Homepage: Absinth Records

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