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Berlin - Buenos Aires Quintet: s/t

img  Tobias Fischer

2004 was an interesting year for what is commonly known as, if only for lack of a better label, electro acoustic improv. While one could argue until blue in the face about what is and isn’t EAI, none the less it was a year where defining albums of this much maligned genre were released on labels as geographically diverse as Erstwhile (US), Slub (Japan), Confront (UK), and Absinthe (Germany). The year also saw many shows and collaborations that helped crystallize working methods and associations within a now world wide scene (one can’t underestimate the Jon Abbey-produced Amplify festivals-- held in Berlin and Cologne, that brought together far-flung musicians for many first and ongoing musical encounters). As fertile as it seemed in 2004, many musicians were beginning to chafe under the yoke of EAI, finding the music too straight-jacketed by some conventions of this supposedly unconventional genre. Leaving the genre-name politics aside (as if we need to shove musicians into any more goddamn corners already), many artists were trying to hack their way out of the hyper-minimal morass that often mired the music itself, while also coming to terms with its undeniable influence. Of course, it didn’t help that music mags continued to pigeonhole geographically diverse, aesthetically linked scenes with largely invalid and turgid titles like “Onkyo”, “Berlin Reductionism,” and “New London Silence,” helping solidify in the minds of listeners that this was in fact some bullshit puritanical pursuit of silence by any means. And thus anything approaching the density and volume of older improv forms like free jazz and EFI was some sort of boorish philistinism, and just another throwback to the dreaded masturbatory lurch. And while it may be a stretch to assume that the musicians of Berlin- Buenos Aires Quintet had this search for new aural ground in the forefront of their minds when this was recorded in 2004, there does seem to be a bit of groping in the dark here, of trying to brush off some of the stoic minimal and reach a less severe perspective.
But this is also presumably a first meeting of the quintet made up of a group of then Berlin-based musicians, Robin Hayward (tuba), and Andrea Neumann (inside piano); and Buenos Aires-based Gabriel Pauik on piano, Sergio Merce on tenor sax and electronics, and Lucio Capece on soprano sax and bass clarinet. All first meetings can be fraught with inconsistencies, awkward moments, uncomfortable silences. But first meetings can also bring about new vibrancies of communication, new perspectives, new avenues to explore. Berlin-Buenos Aires Quintet is characterized by both these elements of first meetings. There’s a necessary getting to know you period on display here, where the character of the music is diffuse, and unsure of itself; the music can seem hesitant while at the same time engaging in some large movements of sound that brim with activity and wonderful coherences, a blurt of tuba from Hayward over gurgles from either Capece or Merce; the woody rubbing from Pauik or Neumann being met with electronic grit. But overall the album seems characterized by negative space, by the pregnant silences one had come to know from the so-called reductionist mode. Out of these silences these wary pockets of sound emerge, often frantic in their activity, always highly textural. And at these times it sounds as if they don’t really know what it’s all supposed to be, where they‘re supposed to be going, and it can add up to a feeling of not going anywhere at all.

There are few conventional notes played. But that isn’t surprising is it? Even by this point, the extended technique -- the pop and gurgle, the dowel on the strings -- had been well explored and incorporated previously, often by these very musicians. If anything, the gritty scrapes and farts are entirely expected, but what sets all of these musicians apart is their attention to the space of things, and a general restraint that helps them at least momentarily give the sound field a sort of shape. Even if that shape is one that could easily fall into background noise, either coloring your environment or completely forgotten. There’s a blast of electronics about seven minutes in, and things get a bit more active, where things seem more able to come together, a squeaking, a rhythmic lurch. But it sinks away again. Paiuk emerges with some often beautiful and interesting interjections, forcing the music into an interesting contrast, as real, honest to God notes bounce along the rough terrain like billiard balls down a mountain path. Again, there seems to be a feeling of exploration, of pushing their conceptions. But this area is sadly less developed, and often slides back to a feeling of aimlessness. But, aimlessness is not such a horrible thing some times, and I wonder what it would have been like to hear this firsthand -- to let the sounds erupt and swirl then disappear, as random and chaotic as eddies in a stream. But as an album, it’s hard to put yourself inside it, as you sit and fight off the desire to check your email, to brush your teeth, to do something, anything else.

And there might be one of the bigger problems here -- is this just a temporary document or a more permanent album to return to again? All the musicians here have released better albums after this one, picking at the seems of the moldy EAI, and navigating to more interesting shores. Unfortunately, I don’t see this as much more than a historical document. And I’m not terribly interested in historical documents in themselves, as there always needs to be a draw to the actual music being played; and while interesting as a document of how these musicians were grappling with new directions and new partnerships in 2004, I’m ultimately more interested in hearing what they would do now.

By Tanner Servoss

Homepage: Lucio Capece
Homepage: Gabriel Paiuk
Homepage: Robin Hayward
Homepage: Andrea Neumann
Homepage: Sergio Merce

Homepage: L'innomable Records

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