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CD Feature/ V.A.: "Signal to Noise Vol. 6"

img  Tobias
If I understood correctly, almost every note of the 2006 “Signal to Noise” tour, co-organised by Günter Müller and Jason Kahn and involving the cream of the crop of the Swiss experimental scene, has been recorded. In the basement of the Basel-based For4Ears headquarters, sizeable shelves, stacks and harddrives must have been filled with literally hundreds of hours of music: Free electracoustic improvisation, Jazz-tinged ensemble performances, orgiastic noise fests, subcutaneously tingling drone building, tender exchanges of extended techniques, laptop battles, guitar manipulations, CD players being fed streams of binary data and iPods sending out irreocgnisably mutated wave form transmissions. Thanks to radically changing and often unpremeditated line-ups every evening, each collaboration could turn into a confrontation and each concert was a statement of intent. Now, officially, the famous last words have been spoken.

Somewhat ironically, though, the concept of the sixth and final installation turns it into probably the ideal point of departure for the series. Every track here features a different line-up, focussing on compact duo- and trio settings. Günter Müller meets Sato Yukie, Yukie and Jin Sangtae meet Norbert Möslang, Jason Kahn teams up with Sangtae and Korber forms sponatenous ensembles with Hong Chulki, Bae Miryung, Ryu Hankil and Norbert Möslang – the latter also joining forces with Choi Joonyong on another occasion.

Quite naturally, these permutations lead to a bewildering and, frankly, extremely entertaining eclecticism in definitions, developments and dynamics. Pieces here are more obviously rhythmical than on previous “Signal to Noise” editions, simple bass drums pounding underneath the electronic onslaught, rasping crackles and crisp hiss congelating into hihat-like offbeats or outwardly random percussive patterns. Because of the dream-like tempo in which these exchanges unfold, however, they never ammass into swinging grooves or danceable tunes. Instead of offering propulsion, they rather provide a timeline, along which progress can be measured and gauged.

A good case in point is the session of Jason Kahn with Jin Singtae, whose continous upfront kick is increasingly turning into a subtle background heartbeat, while other elements, such as a gradually growing vacuum cleaner drone, resonant bass waves or the sounds of a railroad crossing, are growing around it at the serene speed of coronary funk. In the intense duet between Möslang and Joonyong, meanwhile, high-pitch oscillation provide for a barely noticeable impulse and oil barrel thumps are beating discreetly, as the two performers take all the time in the world in placing their digital chirps, fizzlings and tweetings.

With seven tracks clocking in at just under an hour and thanks to the constant tension and diversion of shifting formations, this is easily the most accessible and concise volume among the “Signal to Noise” output, not a single cut extending beyond the nine minute mark. And yet, it certainly doesn’t cater to expectations of catchy melodies or poignant, demonstrative melodiousness.

The absence of Bass player Christian Korber has all but erased the tasty smack of Jazz which underpinned volumes 2 & 4 and there seems to have been a general consensus on these pieces to avoid the rock n roll-like noise explosions of volume 5 and revel in the abstractions and futuristic allegories of their source material instead. Against all odds, this is an outwardly unspectacular ending to the series, a subtle and refined collection which requires several listens to fully absorbe all of its intricacies.

Then again, the reward for staying put is high. Each jam has turned out a crystal-clear realisation of musical ideas, both from a structural and timbral point of view. Working on and with these ideas is much more important than dissolving them into sweeping, showstopping crescendos or cheap effects. Music equals concentration here and listening means following this focus as it gradually grows into sound and structure. As you immerse yourself in the beam of its searchlight, unnoticed details will suddenly become apparent. And at the end, nothing but a fragile, swelling guitar chord by Sato Yukie is enough to send shivers down your spine.

One of the important messages of “Signal to Noise” must be that, despite the cool image of the genre, electrocacoustic improvisation still represents human encounters: Maybe this is also the reason why Günter Müller has defied the temptation (if it indeed presented itself as such) of releasing every single note of the tour: Sometimes the chemistry works, sometimes it doesn’t and neither phenomenal talent nor futuristic tools can do anything about that. Admitting this does not slight the success of the project or these recordings - it is a strong statement of intent.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: For4Ears Recordings

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