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Reviews: Hochdruckzone

Birgit Ulher: trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker, objects

Antizyklone (3:51) / Hochdruckkern (4:38) / Zwischenhoch (6:37) / Grenzschicht (3:31) /
Inversion (4:36) / Polare Kaltluft (5:46) / Hochdruckzone (4:42) / Isobaren (5:09)

Recorded 21-24 June 2010 at Q-02, Brussels, by Ludo Engels. Mastered by Boris Vogeler at Red Room.
Thanks to Boris Vogeler, Allon Kaye and Q-02. For Bill Dixon.

CD, First edition of 200 copies, 2012

Just Outside

The evening of our arrival in Västerås, we walked to the home of Johan and Lina Gatte Redin for a get together with many of the people responsible for the festival. There was also music to be heard in the living room, including a wonderful solo set by Ulher, my first opportunity to hear her in person. This disc isn't worlds away from what transpired that night and deserves wide attention. Ulher works in an area that's not entirely unfamiliar to most readers here but brings to the horn a sensibility that's certainly her own. To me, it's an odd combination of implied rhythms and a special kind of patience. The vocabulary is recognizable--the breath tones, burred edges, the scrape of metal on metal, some electronics, the vibrating mutes and metallic sheets--but the uses they're put to taken, interestingly enough, something of a some structure. I'm reminded of a similar feeling I received from the best of John Butcher's solo work. The eight pieces here are all relatively brief, between four and seven minutes, and have that contained kind of quality, each a concise expression and exploration of not only a given attack, but the mold in which they're formed. Ulher is very open and unmysterious about what she's doing; sometimes that detracts from a piece as when a ribbed object is stroked back and forth along the horn, the jiggly tone rising and falling predictably. But more often it's refreshing, a straight-on examination of these techniques, their apposition to each other, the tense structures they form. There's a Carver-like (Raymond--admittedly on my mind lately) sense of the clear wonderment of the everyday . Tough and graceful, a very compelling combination. Her set with Andrea Neumann was perhaps my favorite of the festival and this disc relives some of those fine moments.

Brian Olewnick, 8th May 2012,

The Watchful Ear

Tonight’s CD then is another release on the Entr’acte label, this time a solo release by the German trumpeter Birgit Ulher named Hochdruckzone. The title would seem to translate to High Pressure Zone. Ulher has been exploring the potential of the trumpet for many years now, producing some interesting albums along the way. For this new solo release she seems to push things on a little further technically, bringing in new ideas about how to extend her instrument on further and making this a more interesting release than just another solo trumpet improv album. If I have read the notes on the release at the Entr’acte site correctly, the way she has done this is to build small speakers into the mutes she uses on her trumpet that she plays radio noise through, so turning the trumpet into a resonating chamber for these additional sounds as well as being something she blows through. She also uses metal sheets to create brittle buzzing sounds. While the metal sheets is nothing new, the way Ulher plays radio sounds back into the trumpet while she plays it is I believe, quite an original way of working.
The resulting music captured on the eight tracks here then seem to be pieces designed to showcase these techniques at the same time as  existing as complete tracks in themselves. In fact in the liner notes it is stated that “ The internal structure of the sounds is as important as the the structure of the piece.” As with all solo releases of this type the danger is always that the music will end up merely as a catalogue of the different approaches and techniques available to the musician, but here on Hochdruckzone that doesn’t feel the case to me. The music stands up nicely on its own. There is an airy quality to the music here, formed primarily from the sense of space that runs through the eight tracks. Even when there is little to no silence the clean, slow way that the blocks of sound that Ulher works with are arranged gives a sensation of grey shapes placed against a white background, some overlapping, some sat surrounded by space, with each of them individually textured and full of detail perhaps passed over by the casual eye/ear. There is a sense of poise and calm control to the music. In general only two things ever happen at the same time, and while many of the sounds here have quite a harsh, industrial feel to them as metal is vibrated hard, often as white noise is blasted out of the mini speaker, there is still a feeling of careful placement. A wild visual metaphor maybe, but I am put in mind of Richard Serra sculptures- simple, geometric structures that reveal a sharp edge and grainy detailed textures when viewed closely. Indeed, pleasure can be found in this music both through hearing how it all fits together, but also through putting each of the sounds under an aural microscope. Hochdruckzone sounds improvised, but I can’t help hear a well defined structure in the work that reminds me a little of Wandelweiseresque composition, with the simple, often extended lines of sound placed adjacent to one another, held apart in other places by silence. A lovely, highly listenable CD then, easily the most mature and individual work I have heard from Ulher yet.

Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear, 8th May 2012

Improv Sphere

Un étrange objet sous vide qui demande à être déchiré pour être ouvert, sans plus aucune possibilité de le refermer. Par peur et fétichisme, on attend le dernier moment avant d'ouvrir la pochette, pour ne pas l'abimer. Une fois ouverte, elle l'est pour toujours, et tant mieux! Car une fois qu'on pénètre l'univers de cette formidable trompettiste, il est difficile d'en ressortir: peut-être qu'on ne peut pas refermer l'emballage du disque, mais qui s'en soucie, personne ne voudrait le refermer, car Hochdruckzone, troisième album solo de Birgit Ulher (qui le dédicace au trompettiste Bill Dixon), peut être écouté constamment, le plaisir dure toujours.
L'univers de Birgit est très particulier, un peu comme celui de Capece avec qui elle a récemment publié un duo chez Another Timbre. Si particulier qu'elle semble difficilement intégrer des grosses formations, pour privilégier les duos (avec Lucio Capece, Gino Robair, Heddy Boubaker) et les trios (avec Mazen Kerbaj, Ernesto Rodrigues, Sharif Sehnaoui, Roger Turner, etc.). Ou encore, les solos, tel Hochdruckzone. Une suite de huit pièces miniatures pour trompette avant tout, mais aussi de nombreuses préparations, objets, radio, haut-parleurs, etc. Avant tout, Birgit se concentre sur les textures, sur la couleur du son, et sur sa dynamique. Aucune mélodie, aucun rythme, aucune note, la musique de Birgit Ulher est sans concession: une musique extrême, radicale, mais tout de même extrêmement belle, sensible, profonde. Car les couleurs sont agencées avec intelligence et sensibilité, un long souffle succède au déclenchement de pistons, une note métallisée surgit d'un silence, des mécaniques sont activées par des moteurs manuels. 
Musique de débris, avec objets usuels, où une trompette amplifiée active une radio branchée sur les mêmes haut-parleurs, dans une démarche où le souffle organique gère les bruits et parasites de ce qu'il reste d'industriel, une musique qui peut faire penser à une démarche post-industrielle, à une musique de science-fiction où après le déclin de l'industrie et de l'informatique, l'acoustique est la seule survivance humaine, le salut de l'espèce. Car avant tout, la musique de Birgit est organique et sensible, il s'agit d'approfondir et d'explorer le son en tant que tel, au-delà de la musique mais tout en y restant. Il ne s'agit pas de théoriser la musique, mais de l'explorer avec son corps, sa sensibilité et ses émotions. Et la recherche est présente, sur la trompette avec l'utilisation d'un maximum de techniques étendues, constante et omniprésente, mais également à travers l'installation de nombreux objets qui s’emboîtent de manière sonore et architecturale. Tous les sons se superposent avec finesse pour produire des masses sonores ou des traits soniques. Mais ces volumes sonores ne sont ni froids ni monotones, ils sont toujours emplis d'une dynamique et d'une intensité exceptionnelles; Birgit  Ulher parvient ainsi à explorer les propriétés dynamiques du son à la manière de Kandinsky ou des futuristes qui exploraient les propriétés dynamiques ou spirituelles des formes et des couleurs.
Une suite de miniatures soniques et dynamiques très intense et profonde. Une exploration minutieuse de terrains sonores sensibles et fantastiques. Vivement conseillé!

Julien Heraud, 28th May 2012


Birgit Ulher, Hochdruckzone, Entr'acte 134
Myelin, Axon, Intonema INT 003
Christoph Schiller/Birgit Ulher, Kolk, Another Timbre at 52

Consistently operating on the cutting edge of contemporary improvised brass music, Hamburg-based trumpeter Birgit Ulher is prepared for all sorts of challenges. This triptych of CDs recorded during one four-month period is particularly notable. Using the multiphonics available by processing her sounds through an attached transistor radio while employing various objects to alter the resulting timbres, she has produced an appropriately abstract solo threnody for Bill Dixon, another trumpet explorer, as well as demonstrated how timed reductionist improvising can be spread between two musicians.

Recorded less than a week after the death of American Dixon (1925-2010), Hochdruckzone is no melancholy dirge, but an individual extension of the unfussy, hushed playing in which Dixon specialized. Kolk matches her brass strategies which those of Swiss keyboardist Christoph Schiller, who prepares a Baroque-era spinet with metal, stones, polystyrene, a small cymbal etc., while activating it with a cello bow and e-bow. Axon on the other hand is a meeting with a familiar associate, French alto saxophonist Heddy Boubaker, who brings his own objects along. Medical problems have since forced Boubaker to abandon his saxophone for electric bass and synthesizer.

While more abstract than even Dixon might have imagined, Hochdruckzone’s eight selections are infrequently fortissimo, but are united in their circular architecture as mouth, tongue and throat are constricted to quiver breaths against unyielding surfaces. Containing lingering silences that separate the often foreshortened air blows from one another, the rough, perhaps processed, results aurally resemble the sounds of hamsters spinning wheels, a band-saw cutting through wood and a güiro being ratcheted. Among the bubbling reflux, staccato gargles and vibrating drones there are passages where air moves through the horn without valve movement.

That trope is more frequently put into action during Axon’s seven duets or “Impulses”. While Ulher also sounds effervescent lip-burbling and watery hisses as if from a dentist’s suction hose, Boubaker taps his reed against mouth cavity and lips, reed bites and finally expels flat lines whose piercing whistles are sharp and jittery. Together the two deconstruct textures, affiliating animal-like squeaks, rolling sibilate tones, cavernous tube echoes and pops. At points each instrument’s natural tone is heard. But these brief interludes of brassy triplets or reed-squeezed bent notes serve to underline the mouth motions taking place during the remainder of the disc.

Redefining instruments as sound sources and deconstructing expected timbres are markedly more prominent on Kolk, as the preparations on Schiller’s spinet vibrate alongside Ulher’s objects. With bows, chopsticks, rulers and other implements foreshortening or buzzing the instrument’s strings as he prods, plucks and rubs them, the results are met with full-bore growls or, to add further aleatory excitement, near static lines from the trumpeter. Since Schiller can produce harp-like angled arpeggios as well as isolated plucks or key clipping at will, Ulher’s strategy has to be that much more discursive. Mostly operating in parallel lines to the spinet, whether she strains piercing growls from the trumpet’s body, French kisses the mouthpiece, moves air through a hollow tube or erupts into a series of bugle-like cries, the results provide a theatrical response plus the satisfaction of hearing these duets completed.

One again demonstrating talent playing on her own or in much different textural set ups with others, Ulher continues to pioneer a new identity for the trumpet. Whether it can be accepted for what it is, putting aside historical associations with brass instruments is a question each listener must answer him or herself. The more adventurous ones will be enthralled and awed.

Ken Waxman, December 1, 2012,

Vital Weekly

Birgit Ulher solo can be heard on 'Hochdruckzone', where she plays trumpet, radio, speaker and objects. The eight pieces were recorded in 2010 in Brussels. Here we find Ulher in quite harsh mood - her playing is loud, and seems to stay away from the more mellow playing. The pieces seem to be linked to each other and generally consist of Ulher blowing down the tube really loud in combination with some amplification. Yet of course, this is not a noise release of any kind. Its quite an intelligent play of sounds, blocks of sound really, played with a high level of concentration for the duration of the each piece. Much more a work of electro-acoustic music than of improvisation, I'd say.

Frans de Waard, Vitalweekly 827, April 2012

Bad Alchemy

Nach der Ballung ihrer Vielfalt auf Creative Sources ist die Trompeterin, die von Hamburg aus für Hochdruck sorgt, zuletzt mit einer Reihe von Duos in Erscheinung getreten - etwa mit Gregory Büttner, Heddy Boubaker, Lucio Capece. Diese 8 Stücke zeigen sie allein, aber wetterfest. Eines scheint sicher, mit den Ulhers in Säckingen ist sie weder verwandt noch verschwägert. B. U. ist vielmehr eine Hüterin der Bruits secrets und möglicherweise die Hexe, der der Wetterfrosch seine jetzige Gestalt verdankt. Trompete ist das Eine, Radio, Lautsprecher und sonstiges Zeug das Andere, ohne das es diesen speziellen Sound nicht gäbe. Ein metallisches Zirpen, Schmauchen, Grollen, Schlürfen, Pressen, Tickeln und Tuckern, einerseits wie mundgemalt oder wie auf Silberpapier geblasen. Andererseits müssen da wohl Gegenstände im Windkanal flattern, die den Ton, die Tonfolgen, verunklaren und geheimnisvoll machen. Flatterzungenschläge und ploppende Laute mischen sich mit schleifenden Geräuschen, als würde Ulher das Instrument mit feinem Sandpapier schmirgeln, immer schön kreisförmig um den Trichter. Alles, was da unter anhaltendem Luftdruck bebt und faucht, ist, oft im helldunklen Kontrast, geräuschhaft und auf ähnliche Weise perkussiv wie das kreisende und schabende Spiel etwa von Burkhard Beins. Im Kopf höre ich die Beiden schon zusammen.

Rigobert Dittmann, BA 73


Сдавленный звук трубы плюс скребки по корпусу и шум мини-спикера – первые минуты альбома дают понять, что мы имеем дело с современной импровизационной музыкой. Несмотря на то, что всё это сыграно в акустике, тут можно найти не так уж много признаков именно музыки и игры на инструменте. Современный импров намного ближе стоит к территориям конкретной и шумовой музыки, впитывая в себя влияния электроакустики и полевых записей. Немецкая трубачка Биргит Ульхер (Birgit Ulher) не так давно, в начале нулевых, ещё играла музыку, близкую классическому импрову, элементы которого можно услышать и на её первом сольном диске “Scatter” 2005-го года. Хотя уже там она начала тщательно разрабатывать игру с тишиной, как один из основополагающих элементов новой музыки. Следующий альбом, “Radio Silence No More” 2009-го, ясно давал понять, что с традиционной игрой на инструменте почти покончено – теперь в музыке стало больше статики и упорядоченности. Обозреваемый альбом “Hochdruckzone”, выпущенный в этом году английским лейблом Entr’acte, наследует наметившейся тенденции.
Здесь не найти тех ощущений эксперимента и некоторой детской непосредственности, которые были присущи музыкантам в начале 2000-х, когда вышли эпохальные сольные альбомы трубачей Акселя Дёрнера (Axel Dörner), Франца Хаутцингера (Franz Hautzinger) и Грега Келли (Greg Kelley), которые открыли многие новые грани в звуке трубы. За ними последовало следующее поколение – Ульхер, Рут Барберян (Ruth Barberán), Мацен Кербай (Mazen Kerbaj), Мэтт Дэвис (Matt Davis) и другие. Они стали работать с новыми звуками и обновленной идеологией инструмента. К началу десятых годов XXI-го века (кстати, этот альбом записан в июне 2010-го) почти сложились все каноны, по которым музыканты ныне разрабатывают наработки первого десятилетия. Всё вышесказанное вполне справедливо применить и к сольным работам музыкантов, владеющих другими инструментами. Как правило, подобные альбомы – это узкоспециализированные вещи для малочисленного круга слушателей, большинство из которых являются импровизирующими музыкантами. Но вместе с этим намечается и новая тенденция. Многие альбомы, выпущенные за последние год-два и относящиеся к данному типу музыки, всё более и более музыкальны, как это ни странно звучит. Пожалуй, можно сделать вывод, что время экспериментов и значительных нововведений закончилось, и теперь музыканты работают с этим материалом, пытаясь разложить по полочкам все найденные элементы и наиболее эффективно их применить.
Музыка Ульхер упорядочена и ясна, к тому же сразу чувствуется абсолютная уверенность в выборе средств и звуков, что было не так очевидно в предыдущие годы, как у неё, так и у коллег. Филигранная работа с микро-звуками, с расширенными техниками игры, с тишиной – всё это присутствует на альбоме и звучит на своих местах. Альбом состоит из восьми треков, а общая продолжительность около 39 минут, что способствует адекватному восприятию, не перегружающему слушателя излишней информацией. Исходя из вышеизложенного, смело могу рекомендовать этот диск не только знатокам новой музыки, но и всем, кто только начинает ею интересоваться.

Ilia Belorukov, CM - russian magazine for contemporary music

Le son du grisli

’hommage qu’adresse ici Birgit Ulher à Bill Dixon débute au son d’un souffle grêle porté par un léger mouvement de balancier : approchant d’une mécanique complexe (trompette, enceintes, radio, objets…), il l’actionne bientôt. C’est alors l’intérêt d’Ulher pour les réactions en chaîne qui nous revient en mémoire. Les artifices instrumentaux sont multiples et les sons qu’ils inventent énigmatiques (grésillement, sirène, surfaces vibrantes, sifflements, pneumatiques, presque silences…).
D’actions et de leurs conséquences, Ulher fait donc son langage improvisé. L’abstraction n’est cependant pas son seul propos. La musicienne peut ainsi décider de faire tourner en chercheuse d’or un plateau large et rond : la rumeur naissante a un goût de métal qui contraste avec les notes que la trompette étouffe – mais qui pourront ensuite résonner – et débite par salves. Chaque nouvel enregistrement atteste l’évolution de l’art de Birgit Ulher, d’une pratique instrumentale obsessionnelle qu’elle ne cesse de parfaire.

Guillaume Belhomme © Le son du grisli

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