Birgit Ulher: trumpet
Martin Klapper, amplified objects, tapes, toys
Jürgen Morgenstern, double bass
KLAPPER/UHLER/MORGENSTERN - MOMENTAUFNAHMEN (CD by Nurnichtnur)
UHLER/PHILLIPP/TURNER - UMLAUT (CD by Nurnichtnur)
Two CDs of improvisations with one person appearing on both. Birgit Uhler plays trumpet on both discs. I do know nothing about her, or on the five other players on these CD's. The first one is a trio with Martin Klapper on toys and electronics and Jurgen Morgenstern on double bass and voice. In the twelve pieces they show an inte rest in the use of small sounds. None of the instruments are really conventionally played, but work as sound generators to make basically any type of sound. Sometimes hoovering on the edges of silence, sometimes they burst out in a highly vivid playing. Lots of small events happening in almost each track. That's a wealth for the ear, but at the same it requires a lot of effort to listen too (but that's of course a good thing). Especially funny are the tracks in which toys play a main role.
The other trio has a more conventional line up. Again Uhler's trumpet, aswell as Ulrich Phillipp's double bass and Roger Turner on drums and percussion. Here the improvisation is also a bit more conventional. Displaying their improvisational virtuosity on their instruments, they do it rather well. However of the two releases, also the one, at least for me, that is lesser of interest. It's a bit like seen and heard it before. The pieces are played well, but seem to miss a bit of the attention and concentration which must be there to make improvised music so in-teresting. Maybe the die-hards differ with me. They should not hesitate to check both of these out. (FdW). www.vitalweekly.net
MARTIN KLAPPER - BIRGIT ULHER - JÜRGEN MORGENSTERN,
Klapper, toys, electronics; Ulher, tpt; Morgenstern, b, voice.
10/99, Hannover, Germany.
Improvised music comes in many diverse colors, and on this recording, the trio of Klapper, Ulher, and Morgenstern strenuously stretch its boundaries. The instant compositions are atonal explorations where Klapper uses electronics and toy implements to establish a sound motif that encourages the others to respond with jagged bursts from their instruments or vocal cords. Bassist Morgenstern is the proponent of the voice insertions, using guttural phases and mouthed utterances to supplement his staccato rumblings on bass. Trumpeter Ulher also adopts a serrated style, blowing short jabs of smeared color that poke and jab at and around the disconnected lines of her fellow musicians. She squeezes out contorted notes as though they were a rationed commodity, using a sputtering technique and overblowing to create a soundstage of unconventionality. The program is a series of 12 numbered pieces that get progressively more advanced and demonstrative. Klapper's toys make sounds that suggest he is manipulating a rubber duck, bird whistle, kazoo, balloon, or similar objects from which he extorts raw noise. Morgenstern responds to this clatter with bowed and fingered darts of discontinuity, and Ulher joins in with fluttered bits of angularity. Although each musician makes use of space within their playing, they stagger this approach so that each selection has all the crevices filled with some form of sound. The product of all this effort is an intriguing round of originality that begins to make sense as you immerse yourself in their world of sonic purity. The scary thing is that the more you listen, the more you comprehend what they are saying. It is a sobering experience.
Momentaufnahmen is a strong studio session by three young musicians from the German free improvising scene, not the gutsy one which saw the rise of Peter Brötzmann in the 1960s, but the minimal, more experimental one of the 1990s which stemmed players like Axel Dörner and Franz Hautzinger.
Trumpeter Birgit Ulher follows a path similar to these two sonic extremists, as she focuses on mouth and piston sounds, tongue tricks and such textures instead of phrasing and conventional playing. The up-and-coming (at least in 1999-2000) trumpeter is surrounded by bassist Jürgen Morgenstern and Martin Klapper on toys and electronics. Morgenstern turns out to be a limited player. His role is confined to following the developments as opposed to pitching in new ideas. His work is nonetheless suitable. The wild card throughout this CD is Klapper. Whenever a strange, unusual sound is heard, the listener1s mind turns to him: he uses squeaky toys, funny percussion instruments (like the vibraslap), kazoos, and non-intrusive electronics. It does not turn the whole thing into a circus -- Klapper remains tasteful, but unsettling. His contribution contrasts heavily over the more austere grounds of Ulher and Morgenstern. Tracks 2, 3 and 11 (all tracks are untitled) are all refreshing free improvisations.
Momentaufnahmen is stronger and more captivating than Umlaut, Ulher¹s other release in NURNICHTNUR¹s Improvisersseries.
Birgit Ulher's last release on Nurnichtnur, Umlaut, put the trumpeter in the company of percussionist Roger Turner and bassist Ulrich Phillipp. It was attacked in these pages by Clive Bell (The Wire 203) as a "chilly, dull record". To my ears, Umlaut injects much needed fire and fury into a strain of electro-textural improvisation currently dominated by rhythmically challenged Powerbook stylists. It's indicative of Ulher's suss that she should go from Turner (as Bell says, one of the fastest and smartest percussionists in improv) to Martin Klapper. When he played Company Week in 1993, Klapper's table of plastic toys and homemade electronics raised eyebrows, but his contribution was unforgettable. Using an aspirin canister and a contact mic, he tapped out a tattoo worthy of Max Roach (working as a duo, Klapper and Turner recorded Recent Croaks for Acta, one of the few essential CDs of 90s Improv).
There are reasons why Ulher, as Bell puts it, "endlessly demonstrates the variety of peculiar noises she can make with her mouthpiece". Over the last three decades, listening has become less patient, playing more detailed. A brilliant, musician needs a challenge, and it's only in the superfast metric slipstream provided here by Klapper and bassist Jürgen Morgenstern that a virtuoso like Ulher can feel stretched enough to break open the zone of intuitive expression which is Improv's raison d'être. Morgenstern's shrewed note choices are abetted by Ulher's harmonic understanding: there's a world of advanced jazz happening in each click and pop. These players know that the exercise of stylistic 'choice' inevitably lets in kitsch: Momentaufnahmen is not so much dull and chilly as urgent, necessary, storm-driven.
This is swing that has gone well beyond the needs of the consumer: we hang on to the musicians' coat tails, amazed that such determination persists in the modern world - and alternately gobsmacked and amused at the sonic grotesqueries thrown up in the process. This isn't music for pleasure: it's a bubbling soundtrack for cartoons yet to be invented.
Has Spike Jones become some sort of exemplar for certain players in the improvising tradition? Certainly there are times when the sounds produced by the likes of composers John Zorn and Willem Breuker or drummers Günter "Baby" Sommer and Han Bennink veer perilously close to the musical mayhem perpetuated by Jones and his anarchistic City Slickers in their 1940s heyday.
But while the products of Jones' sound factory were presented as divertissements, pure and not so simple, there's often a more serious undercurrent to present day "noise making." For a start, musicians are confirming that every sort of sound can be musical, not just those parts of the well-tempered scale. Secondly, in opposition to the dour demeanor and funereal air of most neo-con performers, they're allowing the audience to laugh good naturedly at the music being producing and to have fun listening. Laughter doesn't necessarily mean hostility or derision. Serious artists ranging from Louis Armstrong to Misha Mengelberg have proven that good times and important musical statements aren't mutually exclusive impulses.
That philosophy could extend to this fascinating disc. Wild card is Czech-born multi-media artist Martin Klapper, who introduces the shades of sound created by many toys and electronics to the mix. German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, another visual artist, who has involved herself in improvisation with the likes of British drummer Roger Turner, complements Klapper's conception. Using the trumpet in a way unimagined by Armstrong, she seems to see it as a three-valve noise producer, whose smears and breaths preclude straight melodies. Holding everything together is German bassist Jürgen Morgenstern, who may have the most academic musical education of the three, but who doesn't let his diploma stand in the way of generating a whiz bang hullabaloo of his own.
Klapper, whose improv history includes recordings with Turner and saxophonist John Butcher, doesn't toy with his toys. Toots, quacks and moos from stuffed animals may enliven "MA 06," for instance, but they stitch together a sonic landscape that includes small circular brass breaths and Morgenstern seemingly exploring the insides of his bass.
Kissing sounds that can be expelled from a trumpet mouthpiece have never been more appropriately used than on "MA 08." There they join the cacophony parade that includes what sounds like glass breaking, aluminum foil being shredded, a plastic toy being squeezed, slide whistle tooting and some under-his-breath muttering from Morgenstern -- and that's only in the first two minutes. Despite the ongoing diversions, the bassist's variegated arco work and powerful string pulling helps maintain interest until the track finishes.
Perhaps that's why out-and-out free improv sessions like this are so refreshing and absorbing at the same time. The best improvised music has always been about the sound of surprise. Smiling astonishment at what you're hearing makes Moment