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Leimgruber/Lehn: "Lausanne"

img  Tobias

Recently, a reviewer expressed the hypothetical idea that surely, after playing together for years, the collaboration between German compatriots Thomas Lehn and Marcus Schmickler must have grown stale by now. There is something to be said for this line of reasoning regardless of the qualities of their improvisational personalities. Musical interactions, akin to any kind of human relationship, are forms of communication, after all, and communication naturally and inherently favours mutual reliance over an unstable equilibrium. If this were true, even the enticing encounter documented on „Lausanne“ - on which Schmickler is replaced by experienced experimental reedsman Urs Leimgruber – will eventually end up in rules, routines and restrictions at some stage.

As if aware of this dilemma, the disc remains their only album to date, even though the recording dates back to 2006, when Lehn and Leimgruber hit the road for a short tour of Germany and Switzerland. If these gigs indeed marked their debut as a duo, that must come as a surprise: Both have favoured small-scale settings with a maximum of two to three players and chambermusical constellations respectively in the past and displayed a preference of well-adjusted timbres over „exotic“ instrumental pairings: Just how capable of approximating the tonal colours of an Analogue Synth and an array of Saxophones they really are becomes apparent especially in the more subdued and subtle passages, when they weave their emissions into sympathetic sheets of breath, hiss and plopp. On the other hand, with Lehn's equipment occasionally exploding from its concentrated slumber into brute blocks of chopped-up distortion or sublimating into dry bleeps and blobs, it has to be said that those, to whom the appeal of electroacoustic improvisation mainly lies in surprising sounds and acoustic aleatorics will not leave this party disappointed either.

There is much more to „Lausanne“, though, than its astutely abstract charms. Both contributions constantly verge on the edge between  tonal themes and agitated sound, between morphing patterns and cogelated rhythm, between so-called extended techniques and extended tonality. It is almost as if Leimgruber were playing Jazz in Hyperspace, his streams of flageoletised notes, airy ultrasonics, joyful whistling and discreet metallic bodywork all but combining into remarkably sensitive solos. Lehn is supporting his endeavours with creative minimalism on the one hand and unimitable inventiveness on the other. On „Un“ (simply denoting the first of five chronologically titled tracks), his performance seems to lean on a single one-note sequence, which is pitched up and down the scale, stretched and truncated as well as slowed down and sped up for ten minutes, resulting in seemlessly morphing textures, noise and rhythm. In the barely four-minute short climactic closing, they finally break through to the world of melody and traditional harmony, ending an album of consistently changing and challenging moods and waving goodbye with a both plaintive and consoling lullaby.

The idea behind this turbulent tightrope act (which nonetheless emphasises quiet concentration over raucous hollers) seems to be that there is a potential for a new type of standard emerging from the sometimes impenetrable innards of experimental improvisation. Anyone who has spent a couple of hours in the beguiling labyrinth of „Lausane“ will readily testify to the emotional impact of these outwardly academic exercises. Most remarkable of all, however, is the seeming absence of any kind of rational agreement on structure and arrangement. Where these pieces start off, how they progress and when and where they end appears to be just as much a surprise for the musical protagnosts as for the engaged listener. The way „Deux“ moves from digital tweets, curious cooing and subcutaneous feedback loops to metallic shuffles, crackling ones and zeros, ecstatic lines, dark reverb spaces, a section of deep bass pads and hopeful scar tissue remains unpredictable  and utterly inexplicable even after several listens. There is no logical development, there is no traditional denoument and yet at the end, the music  comes full circle in a perfectly satisfying way. No chance of this growing stale all too soon.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Thomas Lehn
Homepage: For4Ears Records

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