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Günter Muller: The Buenos Aires Tapes

img  Tobias Fischer

Günter Müller has always been one of the arch improv collaborators, searching out playing partners from varieties of styles, temperaments, and geographies. His discography is a study in that endless search to find new musical avenues and has led him to many fruitful collaborations with among others, Jim O’Rourke, Otomo Yoshihide Taku Sugimoto and the burgeoning EAI scene of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. As with many explorative musicians, his style of playing has also changed radically, from the straight percussion of the late 80s/early 90s to the electronic fugues and disjointed attacks of the mid period to his now ubiquitous I-pod and electronics-fueled drones of the last handful of years. In honesty, the majority of his work in the last few years has seemed to me subsumed by an attractive languid haze that lacks depth, making me miss his early attack and froth, (just try to find a more hair raising and delirious set than his duo with Otomo Yoshihide as found on Erstwhile Records Amplify Box set in 2003). Nonetheless, his spirit of collaboration has burned just as bright these last few years, bringing in fresh blood from the remarkable fucked and fried EAI/noise scene of Seoul, as documented on the Signal to Noise series on Müller’s own for4ears label, to the two encounters found on this double disc, Buenos Aires Tapes, in 2006 and now out on Monotype Records. And while this set doesn’t quite convince me that the ol’ Müller I know and love is back in bristling form, he isn’t totally taken by the lust for quaint drones either.

Disc one of Buenos Aires Tapes finds Müller in the respectable company of Alan Courtis of the great Argentine avant-rock band  Reynols on detuned guitar and tapes, and Pablo Reche on sampler and electronics. While one could be forgiven in thinking this could devolve into some sort of Reynols-esque trip through the fun house mirrors, it in fact starts rather sedately -- peels of muffled guitar, fluttering electronic grit from Müller, electronic drones from Reche; maybe it‘s cliché, but with instrumentation as obscure as this, it‘s all really goddamn hard to tell just who creates that neon pile of goop here, that buzzing hand across the neck there. They’re actually quite sumptuous sounds, creating an air you could almost bathe in while reading your Spinoza. Tones ache out across the sound field, cross, then melt. Heavy things, delicate things clatter and echo, while the world buzzes and twitches behind. There are moments of near silence, but behind it all there is movement, indistinct; often field recordings it would seem, are burnished into something that shines with an alien otherness, and your bath time just got a little psychedelic. But it never reaches full tune-in-turn-on blast off, as behind it all there seems a tentativeness and reciprocity. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like too many chances are being taken. Around the 30 minute mark things start getting a tad more interesting, as lurching tumbles of sound increase the pressure, creating a rhythmic techno-ish clash. In its ugliness there is a fascination, but it seems a bit wrong, as though listening to some cut up future jingle for Clorox Bleach filtered through The Demolition Man soundtrack, Sly Stallone whipping out fat lipped one liners under a disco ball bloom. And even soon this disfigurement disappears back into high pitched stasis, where sounds click and clatter, quietly, quietly. There’s a small surge near the end, almost as though one last attempt to get out of the purple muck, from the trudge to its inevitable evaporation. It’s easy to let this all become background. It’s pretty, but a little too sweet and cloying while lacking a firm basis, like eating a vegan cookie -- it looks nice, and the idea of it seems to create a certain gravitas, but there isn’t anything there to sink your teeth into, to gain some greater experience from. Sometimes that’s all one needs after a long day, the assuagement of no surprises. But I wonder if there wasn’t just more time for this trio to grow, to produce something with some fangs and claws, to let it sprout some wings. First meetings are delicate things, often with players getting used to one another, feeling each other out, and live shows are always tricky to translate to disc; and with collaborators such as these, especially as mercurial and impish as Courtis, there must be things still left in the bag, waiting to emerge.

Buenos Aires Tapes’ second disc is a different animal, with Müller meeting up with the pianist Gabriel Paiuk, and Sergio Merce on the intriguing tapeless 4-track Portastudio. Paiuk has put out some interesting records, especially the superb Foldings, his collaboration with another Muller partner Jason Kahn on his sadly defunct Cut label. Broken into three untitled tracks, Paiuk comes to the fore on the first piece, creating a jagged and tonally inventive inclusion into the bedrock of Muller and Merce’s buzzing, fluttering electronics. This serves to break up the drones, creating a dynamism not found on the Courtis/Reche disc. And while it’s ultimately unfair to compare the two discs, it’s unfortunately difficult not to divorce the two -- where the first disc is characterized by a slow build that doesn’t fully relieve itself, this disc is instantly gratifying, flinging itself into the grit and flux nearly immediately -- dirt under the fingernails -- while still not betraying the quintessential luster of Muller and Merce‘s electronics. They seem to be actually working their instruments, throwing up blocks of sounds, cutting them down when they aren’t behaving. And again, Paiuk proves himself to be a sensitive player as well as an instigator, probing the sound fields, sitting out for his partners to mediate or entering his own tapes of god knows what to color the piece. There are elements of humor as well, a snatch of techno drift in the first track comes across almost as a sly homage to the mutant swell on the Reche/Courtis disc. And while there are still elements of the familiar and easy here, they are broken up in favor of something more. There’s a bass heavy throb that comes up out of the seams 20 minutes or so into the first piece that could easily be allowed to just sit, but instead, a broken fingered serenade from Paiuk emerges over it before sputtering down to a low burn -- beautiful stuff. The second and third track are both half as long as the first, and continue to investigate similar approaches. The second features more prepared piano, and Paiuk probing the insides of his instrument, adding a woody percussion to the shifting electronic atmospheres. It gets harsher here, the electronics shifting uncomfortably, fuzzing out, and burning holes into one another’s hull. None of the players seem content for anything to last too long and seem to continually search for a new consensus, never coming completely to a full on fight and letting an intuitive logic rule. The third starts tentatively but is gently taken over by a swathe of sine tones and gently shifting electronic rubs. Paiuk continues on his own path, not afraid to repeat a gesture in an almost stubborn futility, lurching then falling in the dark. Again there are snatches of song, this time of some distorted easy listening trumpet or elevator jazz, but so barely there it’s hard to know for sure. And while it could be too easy to name drop AMM in comparison to a trio of this ilk, this does seem slightly apt here -- at one instance Paiuk, just for a moment, is in Tilbury mode, a gentle chord amongst the portentous swath. But it all disappears soon enough, the track ending with a fade, leaving an almost mental residue, and that rare feeling of wanting more.

Buenos Aire Tapes is not entirely successful, but it’s a nice to know that Müller is never content to sit on the familiar and instead reaches out to different playing partners. And each association here seems to bring out a different aspect of his playing personality, which is still itchy and explorative enough to surprise. That’s a priceless commodity, the willingness to explore.

By Tanner Servoss

Homepage: Günter Müller
Homepage: Monotype Records

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