Posts Tagged ‘Improvsation’

DL Monika Entreprise monika 95-1, 95-2 (LC 01806)

20th November 2020 / 27th November 2020

Monika Werkstatt isn’t an individual, but a collective of female musicians and producers gathered by Gudrun Gut from the circles of her label, Monika Enterprise and Moabit Music.

Ambient Session is a document – abridged – of a two-day live project that took place at the Jewish Museum in Berlin on 26th and 27th April 2019. The liner notes detail the event, a full multimedia – and multisensory – extravaganza combining sound and light and where nothing is fixed, with the musicians performing ‘in various constellations inside res·o·nant—a walk-through light and sound installation by the Düsseldorf conceptual artist Mischa Kuball situated in two of the famous Voids of the Libeskind building. For this specific edition Monika Werkstatt activated the joined forces of Beate Bartel, Danielle de Picciotto, Gudrun Gut, Islaja, Pilocka Krach, and Sonae. The Fab Five of Silicon-meets-Analog-Machine-Music set out to invite listeners to join them on a two-day, four hours-each expedition into the yet unknown, improvising with sounds and configurations while structuring the longue durée in sustainable packages by adding and subtracting members to the flow’.

And so the lineups for the two days differed slightly, with Islaja performing on day one only, and Pilocka Krach on day two only. Who played what and when is largely immaterial, as this s very much about the overall feel. It’s impossible to get the full measure of the experience on either day, but the beauty of digital releases is that time constraints and productions costs are much less of an issue, and as a consequence, we’re afforded a luxurious full – and precise – hour of material from each day as a separate track (and a separate release). As such, Ambient Session definitely hints at the immersive nature of the performances, even though the visual and spatial elements are absent.

In a certain sense, there isn’t much to say here: listening to ‘Day One’ there are some woozy uplifts and downtunes that lurch a little like rising steeply op or down a hill in a car on a hilly road while driving at night, but for the most part, it’s a glow, vaporous wash of sound that turns and drift slowly and gradually. Subtle beats appear and disappear, and everything is quiet and understated, even when clouds gather to cat shadows into darker domains, unsettling electronic bubbling, bleeps and whistles. But mostly it’s a steady exploration of soft-edged atmospheres: not a lot actually happens, and yet, somehow, it does. It all happens fleetingly, subtly, in the background. There are fleeting moments of dissonance, and brief passages where patterns emerge – be they niggling bass motifs, looped vocal snippets, or repetitive rhythms of a more percussive nature, but large portions of the audio is given to abstract noise that hums and drones on an almost subliminal level.

‘Day Two’ feels different. More electronic, more edgy, stammering more beeps and messages undeciphered and indecipherable stop start and shudder, juddering and halting the airwaves against gliding contrails of mellifluous drone. Sonar drones, reaching out into the darkness. Dense rumbles and fear chords creeping. This is darker, more ominous, more eerie – or at least the track is. Then again, there are rippling groves and metronomic beats that pulse amidst a swathe of reverb and murky tones. How representative of the performances as a while these segments are, we don’t know.

I am, sadly, reminded of the way recorded media fails to fully convey an experience, and how footage of live sows on YouTube compel me to append any share with the caveat that ‘you probably had to be there.’ There is never any real substitute for the three-dimensional experience: sound, light, space, the interaction of different stimuli on the senses, especially when applied simultaneously. But for all that, this is an immersive pair of longform recordings, and the journey they lead the listener on is one of sedate – and sedated – curiosity.




I love unusual instrumentation, and am often amused and entertained by the repurposing of non-musical items and objects for music-making purposes. The stranger and more overtly non-musical, the better, of course. But do we really believe the credits on Ilex, which sees Xavier Charles and Jacques Di Donato (whose 12 Clarinets in a Fridge I covered somewhere at the time of release) reunited for a follow-up to 1995’s Du slavon glagol listed as playing ‘clarinet, helicopter’ and ‘clarinet, lawn mower’ respectively? I wouldn’t like to completely rule it out: although there are no obliterative motorised walls of noise blasting away the speakers at any point on Ilex, there’s a lot of distant drones, hums and extraneous noise in the background on a number of the album’s fourteen pieces.

Born out of improvisation and subsequently evolved, each piece is different, if not entirely distinct, as the pieces often bleed together or are otherwise tightly packed. The lengths of the pieces vary considerably, too, from fragmentary, sub-two-minute interludes to complex, expansive compositions more than three times that. Collectively, they form a body of work which his often evasive in its ever-shifting form. In terms of mood or style, Ilex is neither one thing or another: it’s not even categorizable as experimental, really, slipping as it does from abstract to ambient to parping free jazz – although thankfully, there’s not of much of the latter.

From hesitant, clattering percussive sounds, resembling tabla or similar small hand drums to sighing drones, it’s often difficult to relate the sounds to the clarinet, or, in some instances, any instrument at all.

Ilex is, however, without question, abrim with clarinets. It pours, oozes and froths with a wash of clarinets. Clarinets that alternately trill and toots like The Clangers on a veritable cocktail of drugs, zipping from wired hyperactivity to opiate-slowed torpor. Often resembling strings rather than woodwind, elongated, woozy hums and drones abound, ominous hovering notes and scrapes and shards, whistles and tweets of feedback-like treble grate against one another, the resonances creating a subtle tension.

On Ilex, the performers push not only the parameters of their instrument of choice, but also their playing, combining a mix of conventional and innovative techniques to create something that balances the familiar and the strange. It’s this juxtaposition that ultimately renders Ilex not only a most interesting work, but an artistic success.