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Reviews: Blips and Ifs

Birgit Ulher, trumpet, radio, mutes and speaker
Gino Robair, voltage made audible


le son du grisli

2009 is undoubtedly a productive year for trumpeter Birgit Ulher and her unconventional artistic path. Three excellent works released so far : Radio Silence No More (solo album on Olof Bright label) Yclept (with Ariel Shibolet, Adi Snir, Roni Brenner, Michel Mayer, Damon Smith, on Balance Point Acoustics) and this duo with Gino Robair (on his own label, Rastascan).

The CD cover summarizes its contents... Signs on the wall, the same signs and scratches which Blips and Ifs contains :  extremely radical improv here, Robair and Ulher renew the collaboration undertaken four years ago and confirm, with the second episode after Sputter (Creative Sources, 2005), their perfect complicity and communion of intents. Purposes fulfilled through seven segments provided by a symmetrical structure : liner notes indicate that Robair plays « voltage made audible » and Birgit also recurs to mutes and radio speakers. The first one takes care to turn analog sources made available via synthesizers into captivating, mesmeric sounds, the second pastes sinewaves and other electronic treatments on alteration stages of her instrument.

The resulting feedback is essentially delicate, passages are rarely a bit more tempestuous, a whispered conversation whose dialogues often overlap and produce interesting composite outputs. Birgit’s playing methods melt into other effects inserted, or, at times, trumpet interventions alternate to spread manipulations, but, however, exchanges between the two musicians are wisely thoughtful, in order to keep uniform the whole recording, which, furthermore, gives continuity to the tracks. A new successful, profitable, creative joint effort, as expected

Giuseppe Angelucci, Le son du grisli 2009/09/30/

Paris Transatlantic

This is the second release by West Coast improv luminary Gino Robair and German trumpet mangler Birgit Ulher. Like Sputter, their first outing on Creative Sources, Robair is credited as playing “voltage made audible.” Always a master at picking up any detritus at hand and turning it into an unanticipated sound source, here he sticks to analog synths. Ulher’s flayed trumpet technique is further modulated through the use of mutes with tiny radio-driven speakers. Over the course of seven improvisations, the two deliver spontaneous dialogue shaped by charged attentive interaction and micro-nuanced gestural activity. Like many of her peers who use trumpet in electro-acoustic settings, Ulher seamlessly blurs the line between breathy pinched overtones, percussive blats, and burred vocalizations, extended by shadings of synths and electronic manipulations. Robair’s lithe touch and lightning reflexes allow him to tint and shape the pieces, never disturbing the balance. He’s more focused here on gesture, timbre, and velocity than on more overtly percussive textures. Interestingly, it's Ulher’s playing that is more percussive in the mix. There’s a light-heartedness that comes from two fine musicians who are clearly having a ball bouncing ideas back and forth, weaving them into a conversational flow.

Michael Rosenstein, summer '09,

The Wire

Birgit Ulher 'Radio Silence No More
Gino Robair & Birgit Ulher 'Blips And Ifs'

Radio Silence No More was recorded in Birgit Ulher's Hamburg apartment during summer 2007. She continues to refine her search for possibilities of articulation beyond her trumpet's open tone and on this release intersperses her findings, as the title suggests, with radio noise. At times the two sources are indistinguishable; breath and airwaves fuse. But there's real breadth to her non-conventional vocabulary, from electronic buzz and gush to feline purrs, growls, hollow yawns and fleshy sputtering. Beyond that she has, like most persuasive improvising musicians, a sense of emergent design that conveys inevitability while remaining spontaneous - it has to sound that way because the moment demands it.
The radical affinity between Ulher and percussionist Gino Robair was evident on their 2OO4 duo release Sputter on Creative Sources and it's confirmed by Blips And Ifs recorded in California last July. Ulher again uses radio as well as trumpet. Robair concentrates on the low-grade electronic instruments he refers to as "voltage made
audible". Their music is a conversation conducted in a shared language texturally nuanced and meticulously phrased.

Julian Cowley, The Wire #2009


Birgit Ulher 'Radio Silence No More
Gino Robair & Birgit Ulher 'Blips And Ifs'

Contrairement à ce qui a été écrit précédemment à propo du CD de Christine Sehnaoui paru chez Olof Bright, ce label est dirigé par Thomas Millroth et non par Mats Gustafsson. Ces deux personnalités ont des liens de collaboration très vifs, entre autres à travers ce label il n'empêche qu' Olof Bright présente des musiciennes impliquées dans une démarche qu'on pourrait qualifier d'art sonore et assez éloignée de la musique explosive que représente (excellemment) le saxophoniste suédois. Après Sehnaoui et son subsaxophone Solo, Olof Bright CDOB 19) et les paysages sonores de l'artiste visuelle multi média Maya Spasova (Maja af Svea Olof Bright CDOB 20-21), voici la trompettiste explorateur Birgit Ulher. Creditée trumpet, radio, mutes and speaker BU crée un universe tubulaire  fait de gris sans éclat lumineux. Radio Silence condense le souffle et les bruitages des pistons et de l'embouchure avec beaucoup de sensibilité en un paysage inoui et sensible. Au-delà des effets sonores, il y a une saveur, une finesse et une poésie véritables qui font qu'on écoute par plaisier. Et finalement, parmi tout ses confrères trompettistes de l'absolu (Ezaki, Kerbaj, Kelley, Dörner, Barberan, Wooley) c'est Birgit Ulher qui me touche le plus.
Son duo avec le percussionist Gino Robair est tout aussi remarquable. Je vénère toutes les productions où on entend Gino Robair et ses acolytes californiens (Tom Djll, feu Matt Sperry, John Shiurba, Tim Perkis, Scott Rosenberg, etc..) en compagnie de Wolfgang Fuchs, Anthony Braxton, John Butcher, Gail Brand et bien d'autres. Robair qui cite Eddie Prévost et AMM comme sa principale influence joue ici du 'voltage made audible' . Les sons électriques du californien rencontrent les préoccupations de la trompettiste hamburgeoise comme dans Sputter, leur précédent opus pur Creative Sources, au point que c'est parfois bien Robair et non les sourdines d'Ulher qui produit ces curieux sons aquatiques. Pratiquant une vision de l'improvisation radicale et très épurée, ces deux artistes parviennent à insouffler dans leurs rencontres en apesanteur une dimension ludique et rythmique. Rastascan est vraiment un label à suivre.

Jean Michel van Schouwburg, Improjazz 156

Sound of Music

Birgit Ulher’s acoustic mapping of the undisclosed zones of the trumpet continues and with Blips and Ifs she proves once again to be one of its leading cartographers. On this album she hooks up with the American percussionist Gino Robair on electronics. It is actually the second album of this duo, the first, Sputter, was released on Creative Sources four years ago. The tools remain the same as on the first record: trumpet, radio, mutes and Robair’s trademark “voltage made audible”. Audible voltage is an accurate characterisation that fit perfectly into the environment. Just as Ulher’s last solo album, this spring’s Radio Silence No More, where the associations was radio noise and wavelengths, this album is truly about correspondence of the electric and the acoustic by minimal means.

The first impression of this album is a sort of zooming in and out on a desolate territory where hardly any other musics has been before. It is like painting grey in grey; a radically reduced music that comes in different layers. Robair alters different rattling pulses and Ulher’s trumpet answers with the unique metallurgy of drowned tones. But the odd thing is that the more intensely you listen, the more complex the sounds. At first the impression is of a detached, rather cold observation, but then the music becomes organic. It changes perspective, from condensed moments into the multitude of microscopic sounds of a cellular music. The telegraphic dialogue between Ulher’s alienated trumpet and Robair's unfamiliar blip-sounds suddenly turns into some sort of lab team within marine acoustics – engaged in some sort of under water communication. Sometimes Robair is impossible to separate from anything that could be heard on the Discovery Channel and it is impressive that, even though he has given up the conventional drums years ago, he still manage to be percussive with the bare use of a potentiometer.

I think that Ulher’s and Robair’s album arouse questions about sound and perception. It tends to transcend all potential representations, even if it is possible, as I have done here, to force it down in words and associations. As a listener, you try to focus, to find something to direct your listening. But as soon as you find this something, it is already passing or dissolving. In this sense the music also tend to transcend forms, although I would not call it empty (not even a desert is empty). I sense the electricity and I sense the air. Ulher and Robair’s music explores itself without necessarily being introspective; it is a belief in the inner life of sounds where all expectations are erased. This is the power of improvised music such as this. It immediately questions my concept of what a musical event really is.

Johan Redin, Originally in Swedish on 2009-11-06

The WholeNote

Percussion doesn’t have to involve bombast, beats or even a full drum set. That’s the idea of Californian Gino Robair who played with Toronto improvisers at Somewhere There the last week of November.

Robair, a Free Music veteran who uses drums as resonators for bowed, scraped and rubbed objects and amplifies his instrument using circuit-bending electronics, demonstrates the resulting sonic freedom on the onomatopoeically titled “Blips and Ifs”. Partnered by German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, whose understated brass timbres are processed through radio speakers, the two express the cited sounds and many others in seven improvisations.

The resulting duo recital is equal parts pressured air, droning pulses, unexpected pauses and circuitous wave forms. Throughout the two expose unique timbres which see-saw during contrapuntal improvisations. Ulher combines mouthpiece kisses, static air wafting and, tongue thumps with suggestions that she’s masticating each tone individually. Robair’s contribution includes blurry machine oscillations, intermittent rumbles, slide whistle-like peeps and percussive timbres that could arise from dominos clacking against one another, sticky door hinges yawning, or unyielding metal being rubbed by blunt objects.

Circular and contrapuntal, the CD reaches its climax with the lengthy Rings Another Rust. Mesmerizing, the Ulher-Robair face-off depends on the ramping tension engendered accelerating in short bursts and then subsiding. Since almost no instrumental timbre is instantly identifiable by its expected properties, the pleasure of this exercise in abstract improvisation lies in itemizing how frequently and how surprisingly new and unexpected connective textures are exposed.

Ken Waxman,

Touching Extremes

Enhancing the correlation linking illegitimate sonic excrescences and inquisitive craftsmanship seems to be the main objective of Robair and Ulher, who recorded this excellent music in the summer of 2008. Through variegated combinations of voltage-induced electroacoustic manifestations and incessantly morphing agglutinations generated by a trumpet with the aid of a radio and a speaker, the couple cogitates about the flexible possibilities of brilliant individualities in comparison, fusing the respective fields of research into a little world of exhalations, utterances and micro-transmissions perfectly defined – almost onomatopoeically, you might say – by the record’s title. The rendezvous between these minds is a productive one, the results thoroughly interesting, aurally enjoyable in their weird joviality and – especially – very distant from the heap of commonplace tricks and tedious attitudes that EAI has been showing in recent times.
The seven tracks comprised by Blips And Ifs are endowed with a biotic quality, the experience frequently equalling that of watching worms writhing in a bubbling liquid. The distinctive percussiveness and the tanginess of the acoustic gamut are, in a sense, balanced by the clever restraint that the musicians choose to privilege throughout these insidious misapplications of creative instinct. Unpremeditated spurts, juxtapositions of tiny obnoxious creatures and putrescent residues, elegant unkindness and pseudo-voices are all parts of an absurd omnium-gatherum that - seen from a distance - is not too dissimilar from the many facets of an ordinary meeting of diverse-minded people. With a big discrepancy: in this place, nobody wants to force a view on the other(s). On the contrary the cooperation to achieve the aim of intelligent impulsiveness is total, the outcome being an album that offers countless angles and alternatives, never failing to suck us up every time we have a new go at it

Massimo Ricci, february 2010,

Nutida Musik

Hamburgbaserade Birgit Ulher tillhör de musiker som under senare år har slagit sönder de traditionella instrumentens klangliga konventioner. Inte för att söka efter dramatiska effekter utan för att hitta nya ljudliga former att arbeta med. I en intervju i den brittiska tidningen The Wire säger Ulher exempelvis att trumpetens möjligheter inom mer expressiva musikaliska former som frijazz, i vilka hon också verkat, är begränsade. Detta eftersom förändrade och utvecklade tekniker på just trumpeten jobbar alldeles för lågmält och tyst för att kunna hävda sig. Kanske är detta ett av svaren till varför just detta instrument är så väl representerat inom den så kallade lågdynamiska improvisationsmusiken med utövare som Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Franz Hautzinger, Greg Kelley som några trumpetande exempel. Förutom Birgit Ulher då.
I duons form har Birgit Ulher även gett ut skivor med Gino Robair och Gregory Büttner. ”Blips and ifs” med Gino Robair spelades in 2008 och har av naturliga skäl ett mer elektroniskt sound än ”Choices”. Ur en konventionell synvinkel är Birgit Ulher mer diffus här. Hennes trumpet är mer pointillistiskt med punktmässigt, ibland rentav puttrande spel, även om hon också beträder det linjära. Dessutom är hon än mer ljudbaserad, och man skulle långt ifrån alltid kunna härleda hennes ljud till trumpeten. Det blir ett spännande möte med Robairs ”voltage made audible” där han lyckas skava, dra, stryka, trumma fram kvalitativa ljud ur spänningsladdade ytor. Ur dessa får han fram en mängd intressanta ljud som blandar sig med Ulhers försiktiga men trots allt mycket detaljerade trumpet på ett varierat och givande sätt.

Magnus Nygren, Nutida Musik (No 2, 2011)

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