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Reviews: Myelin: Axon

Birgit Ulher: trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker, objects
Heddy Boubaker: alto saxophone, objects

Impulse 1 (5:55) / Impulse 2 (7:16) / Impulse 3 (8:08) / Impulse 4 (8:04) /
Impulse 5 (6:41) / Impulse 6 (5:54) / Impulse 7 (6:12)

CD, digisleeve, inlay / edition of 250, 27 December 2011


The Wire

The duo Myelin features Hamburg based trumpeter Birgit Ulher, who continues to work with shapes, textures and colours found beyond her instrument's open tone. Her largely self-taught approach is by now familiar, but the outcome still sounds fresh and inventive, with a strong sense of emerging form. Her partner in the group is another radical autodidact, French alto saxophonist Heddy Boubaker. On Axon's seven tracks, recorded in Hamburg in July 2010, they are heard in microscopic close-up and seem to be running off the same circuit. That's an apt metaphor: in cellular biology, an axon is a fibre conducting electrical impulses from a nerve cell; while myelin is a tissue that enhances the process. It's easy enough to conceive this elusive yet engrossing music as a custom-made soundtrack for the agitated transmission of neural electricity.

Julian Cowley, The Wire, Issue: #338, April 2012

Just outside

Myelin, of course, is the material that acts as a sheath around an axon. Here, it's Birgit Uhler (trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker, objects) and Heddy Boubaker (alto saxophone, objects), emitting seven "impulses", seemingly targeting those areas of the brain that delight in sputter and growl. It's interesting--I take it that the pair intentionally confined themselves to this spectrum (as well, all seven pieces are between about six and eight minute in length). It's as though they said, "Let's examine seven axonic firings, take these more or less alike things, smear them on a microscope slide and sort out the differences." This idea, possibly entirely imaginary on my part, jibes with my sensibilities, and listening to it thusly, renders the music fascinating in an unusual way. Of course, when one does bend an attentive ear, one realizes there's actually a decently wide range in play. Things are active, maybe a bit ore so than some listeners would want; it's boisterous and raucous throughout much of the proceedings, both instruments rattling about, burbling (subaqueous on occasion), hissing--extended techniques we've encountered before, to be sure, but vigorously played with good concentration. Good, rough music, straight from the medulla.

Brian Olewnick, Just outside, March 04, 2012

All about Jazz

Music as a means of free expression has many votaries, but trumpeter Birgit Ulher and alto saxophonist Heddy Boubaker bring an interesting perspective to their investigation and manipulation of sound. Ulher, who has been involved with experimental music and free improvisation since 1982, seeks to enhance the sound possibilities of the trumpet. By extension she explores the relationship between sound and silence. Boubaker is no slouch either, turning a crackling imagination into amazing concepts that scuttle barriers.
Boubaker plays the alto saxophone on Axon, recorded in July 2010. He has since stopped practicing the saxophone to concentrate on analog modular synth and electric bass. This, then, becomes an opportunity to witness how he brings the saxophone into uncharted zones to find common logic and unusual permutations in seven impulsive movements with Ulher.
The impulses driven by the moment take several forms. Shape finds its essence in various semblances that rise on the wings of imagination and logic. At first the approach is more exploratory, as on "Impulse 1," which shades slivers from the trumpet, flurries of breath and squiggles that are set up both as call-and-response and entwining tonalities. Objects, knobs and feedback knock into "Impulse 2," but here as well brass is used in the transmutation of sound to take the end game into a deeper trough.
Ulher and Boubaker expand the drive as they use their instruments to greater degree along the way, letting silence be a quick messenger that divines the interlocutory passages. They do it with an ingrained sense for the odd, yet distinctive, which makes for a listen both provocative and intriguing.

Jerry D'Souza, All about Jazz, April 13, 2012

Vital Weekly

After their excellent release of Thomas Buckner, Edyta Fil, Ilia Belorukov, Alexey Lapin, Juho Laitinen (‘Bewitched Concert’), the Russian label Intonema surprises with a new release by Myelin. Being the second release of the duo that hides behind this name Myelin. It is Heddy Boubaker coming from Toulouse were he started many years ago playing electric guitar in rock and punk bands. Gradually he was driven to improvised music and alto and bass saxophone becoming his mean instruments. In 2011 he made another change, and started playing analog modular synth and electric bass. Birgit Ulher is aHamburg based trumpeter. It is in Hamburg where they recorded this new release during a studio session in july 2010. We hear Boubaker on saxophone (plus objects), and Ulher on trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker and objects. It results in one of those typical releases where it is hard to identity who is doing what and how. In a way this is a great help for me. Because listening and experiencing music is for me also about forgetting the musicians who play it and the instruments they use, and to have a meeting solely with the music. In the case of Myelin this are very well-proportioned sound improvisations. Never a dull moment with these improvisations based on concrete sounds, generated by extended techniques (rattling, burbling, hissing etc.). The radical approach of these autodidacts is absolutely satisfying and artistically successful. It is far beyond jazz. In a way one can compare it with nonverbal Dadaistic soundpoetry. Very musical and communicative. To the point and concentrated.

Dolf Mulder, Vitalweekly 827, April 2012

The Watchful Ear

The last couple of days I have been listening a lot to Myelin, who are the duo of Birgit Ulher (trumpet with radio, mutes, speaker and objects) and Heddy Boubaker (alto sax and objects). The album is a nice disc of acoustic improvisation duets called Axon. Now, I often struggle to find new words about this kind of improvisation. The music consists of interchanged splutters and growls, and like so much music in this area I enjoy it for its conversational qualities, the interaction between the two musicians. I began to think about this a while today though, and began to wonder why musicians choose to converse with sounds rather than just have a conversation together. The answer is simple though, there is an unwritten language in improvised music that somehow extends beyond the simply literal. I have been fortunate enough down the years to know a lot of musicians and spend time with them before and after concerts, and it always amazes me how conversation can flow fully without ever talking about the music, right up to the point at which they start to play, and then a new language kicks in, something unwritten, undiscussed, and yet somehow understood by musicians that may not speak the same tongue normally, or who may not even have met more than an hour or two before they started playing together. Perhaps a particular duo, or a particular CD might present certain emotions through the music, perhaps anger, joy, tension, fearx all of these things can be felt in music if the players are good enough to be able to channel a part of themselves through in to the music, but sometimes, as with the music here on Axon, there doesn’t seem to be any one set of emotions or imparted sensations, rather a strong feeling of intimacy and friendship. Certainly, Ulher and Boubaker sound very close, both obviously sonically as they seem to restrict themselves to a tight palette of hisses, roars and flutters but also as if they are both reading from the same book, swapping lines at times, and sharing the same sentences, reading together elsewhere. Axon doesn’t make me feel happy or sad or angry or on edge, but it does make me marvel at the skill and understanding between these two improvisers as they weave their music together, so intricately that there is no way it could ever be unravelled again, and yet it all seems to happen with so little effort, without advance discussion, all so very naturally. Somebody recently told me that Heddy Boubaker has had to give up playing the saxophone for health reasons, and has moved to other instruments. I don’t know if there is any truth in this story, and apologise profusely should there be none, but if true I think it is safe to say that he will find other ways to communicate musically just as easily. The technical skill can be learned, but the ability to communicate musically in this manner is something very simple and yet not always grasped by everyone.
It is this simplicity, this incredibly difficult simplicity that makes me enjoy this are of improvised music so much. Axon isn’t going to rewrite any rulebooks, but it tells a fine story that I have enjoyed listening to a lot over the past few days. Its released on the Intonema label in a very nice sleeve.

Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear, 17th April 2012

Ie son du grisli

Sous le nom de Myelin, Birgit Ulher (trompette, radio, objets) et Heddy Boubaker (saxophone alto, objets) envisagent sept improvisations de mécaniques complexes aux jeux calculés avec une précision qui demande concentration.
Selon quelques déplacements, des souffles butent contre les micros ou seperdent pour avoir eu du mal à les atteindre : on les dira blancs ou étouffés, expressifs quand même. Car leur présence ne fait pas l'essentiel d'/Axon/ tant les réacteurs qui les meuvent brillent par leur ingéniosité : ainsi des moteurs en souffrance, des sifflets aphones et des soubresauts de micromachines fatiguées, agissent en conducteurs, arrangeurs, et parfois même, en ordonnateurs.
Libres et peu inquiets d'être soupçonnés de quitter le champ de l'expérimentation, ils peuvent même déposer un rythme fragile au creux d'un dialogue de simples intentions et de timidités ou modifier la trajectoire de brises et de salives qui gagnent à se laisser faire par les répercussions des impulsions nombreuses. D'aspect, l'exercice est entendu ; à l'écoute, il devient singulier.

Guillaume Belhomme © Le son du grisli

Improv Sphere

Je ne sais pas si Heddy Boubaker et Birgit Ulher conçoivent leur musique comme un système ou un ensemble neuronal, mais en tout cas, le nom du projet ainsi que le nom de cette deuxième publication se rapportent explicitement à deux termes neurologiques en rapport avec la constitution de la fibre nerveuse. Quoiqu'il en soit, j'éviterai la comparaison car la neurobiologie est une discipline complètement inconnue pour moi.
Si chacun des deux musiciens utilise avant tout son instrument de prédilection: le saxophone pour Heddy et la trompette pour Birgit, ils l'utilisent néanmoins de la même manière que les différentes sources présentes sur ces sept pièces, comme la radio, les haut-parleurs, la sourdine, etc. Et s'il est souvent dur de différencier les deux instrumentistes, on peut même avoir parfois du mal à différencier les instruments des autres objets. Myelin oscille entre une tendance à faire du bruit à partir des instruments grâce à l'utilisation d'une multitude de techniques étendues comme les slaps, souffles, crépitements, flatterzunge, etc. (et les deux soufflants sont connus pour leur virtuosité et leur créativité dans ce domaine); le duo oscille donc entre cette tendance et celle  qui consiste à faire de la musique à partir d'objets non-musicaux.
Ce qui est surprenant et réjouissant avec Axon, c'est que malgré une abstraction évidente et constante (car même le peu de notes jouées surgissent comme des phénomènes bruitistes), cette suite d'improvisations n'apparaît pas du tout comme une suite froide ou austère. La complicité et la proximité entre les deux musiciens diffusent une chaleur pas évidente à trouver et à produire dans ce genre de musique: l'écoute semble très sensible et l'interaction très intime à tel point qu'on différencie difficilement les deux musiciens comme je le disais plus haut déjà. Et c'est cette interaction qui fait d'Axon une suite empreinte de chaleur et d'humanité, deux caractéristiques qui rendent l'écoute beaucoup plus facile et les techniques étendues  beaucoup plus intéressantes.
Une suite pleine de virtuosité, pas forcément très innovante, mais plutôt jouissive grâce à cette interaction chaleureuse et intime entre les deux membres de Myelin. Bon boulot!.

Julien Heraud, Improve Sphere, 18 février 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,

The Soundprojector

The abiding strength and appeal of a record like Scope resides largely in its combined tones, tones which themselves are quite alien and constantly-changing, but work well together in a seamless blend of meancing low-purr analogue electronics and puffed air through valves. The duo of Myelin are trying for a much more spiky and abrasive effect on their Axon. German musician Birgit Ulher plays trumpet and the French puffermaroon Heddy Boubaker plays alto saxophone, and their joint activities are supplemented with small, broken, and random noises from objects and radio. Unlike the musicians on Scope, these two puffers aren’t interested in generating a pleasing blend, but rather in rubbing their respective sonic pelts against each other to emphasise differences in tone and texture. They may as well be two furry animals in a cardboard box, one with the coat of an otter after it has emerged from the river, the other as unkempt as a wild lynx. These 2010 recordings were made in Hamburg by Boris Vogeler; every rumble and growl from the brittle-sounding instruments is captured in vivid detail and, in sympathy with the general trend of the music, he’s retained an aural surface that’s as dry and crackly as four birch twigs on a slice of toast. Myelins and Axons are to do with the properties of Neurons, an aspect of Histology that’s completely beyond me, but I’m sure the famous documenter of improvisation Martin Davidson (who used to have a record label called Quark) would approve of this naming scheme.

Ed Pinsent,


Ces champs de signes signés Uhler & Boubeker à Hamburg en juillet 2010 sont vraiment le chant du cygne d’un saxophoniste hexagonal sous-estimé. Confronté à un problème de santé, ce souffleur a été contraint d’abandonner son instrument de prédilection. Heddy avait une projection exceptionnelle du son « infra », obtenu sans faire vibrer l’anche avec la colonne d’air. Cette technique est systématiquement exploitée en France par toute une école de saxophonistes « réductionnistes » dont Michel Doneda, Bertrand Dentzler, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Stéphane Rives, Bertrand Gauguet, Christine Sehnaoui et pas mal d’autres. Heddy Boubeker est un de ceux qui se détachaient largement du lot : par la puissance du son qu’il envoyait jusqu’au fond de la salle sans amplification, par les infinies variations qu’il pouvait imprimer aux matières sonores et l’absence de maniérisme rébarbatif. C’est dommage et c’est une réelle perte pour la musique improvisée en France où il est scandaleusement sous-estimé. Il est donc passé à l’électronique et à la basse électrique, un instrument qu’il pratique depuis des décennies. Un musicien à suivre….
Questionnez les artistes sincères de tout bord avec qui il a travaillé ou joué au hasard des rencontres et ils vous diront ô combien ils l’appréciaient en tant que saxophoniste : le contrebassiste, compositeur et chef d’orchestre Simon H Fell, Steve Beresford, feu Tony Marsh, et la trompettiste Birgit Uhler qui partage un réel univers avec lui. Birgit avait gravé une pièce à conviction incontournable de l’impro libre « à l’anglaise » ou « traditionnelle » en compagnie du merveilleux bassiste Ulrich Philipp et du percussionniste radical Roger Turner (Umlaut / PUT – NurNichtNur 1999). Le règne de la finesse concentrée … Car ce que partagent nos deux souffleurs, Heddy et Birgit, c’est le sens inné du rythme qui anime littéralement leurs explorations sonores. Une grande maîtrise instrumentale du rythme et une articulation presque sans défaut nécessitent un contrôle intense du son (du ppp au FFF). Leurs capacités alliées au feeling d’improvisateur font qu’on écoute avec le plus grand intérêt leurs triturations soniques à l’intérieur de leurs colonnes d’air respectives: c’est vivant, bruissant et animé. Birgit travaille aussi avec une radio, des sourdines, un haut-parleur et des objets. J’ai déjà souligné la grande qualité de son travail : elle a trouvé chez Heddy un comparse à la hauteur de son talent. Upside Down de 2007 du même duo est déjà un collector, même si c’est une auto-production sans label… d’une musique non … labellisée.

Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, ImproJazz

Sound of Music

Birgit Ulher är nog en av de jämnaste och starkaste friformarna. Med sin trumpet skapar hon långa flöden, där både luft och mässing blandas; till detta lägger vi olika små objekt, högtalare och vad vet jag för förstärkta grejer. De blir aldrig riktigt lika abstrakta saker ur Cages förråd som hos Keith Rowe. Här är det fullt påtagligt, hörbart. Njutbart, kan jag också tillägga.

Ulhers sju duostycken med altsaxofonisten Heddy Boubaker är en enda lång rad av lyckokast. De hakar i varandra, ibland byter instrumenten så att säga plats, de låter i alla fall inte som förväntat. Små föremål kvider och piper och framför allt är det en lycklig orgie av utandningsluft, läppar och metall i ett ständigt flöde.

Än en gång en spännande skiva med Ulher. Numera klassisk friform, visst, men så personligt och lättsamt att vem som helst måste ge sig. Dessutom med en strålande förpackning: dämpat grön mot svart och med utsökt stil. Vackert skuret dessutom.

Thomas Millroth,

Jazz Flits

Het aantal vrouwen in de abstracte geïmproviseerde muziek is te verwaarlozen klein. Daarom alleen al is ‘Axon’ een bijzondere cd. De Duitse trompettiste Birgit Uhler vormt al een aantal jaren een duo met de Franse altsaxofoniste Heddy Boubaker: Myelin. Naast hun akoestische instrument houden ze zich bezig met het gebruik van allerlei low-fi elektronica: radio’s en simpel gemodificeerde instrumenten. Hierdoor wordt volstrekt onduidelijk waar de geluiden vandaan komen die de beide dames produceren. Sterker nog: de oppervlakkige luisteraar zal verbaasd staan dat er überhaupt een trompet en altsaxofoon aan te pas zijn gekomen. In een zevental improvisaties (alle getiteld ‘Impulse’ plus een cijfer) varen ze een koers die iedere vorm van ritme, melodie en herkenbare vorm op ruime afstand houdt. Door deze werkwijze komen ze in de buurt van de esthetiek van het Britse gezelschap AMM. Want zelfs de meeste Europese geïmproviseerde muziek van de jaren zeventig en tachtig was in vele gevallen herkenbaarder, en meer jazzgeoriënteerd dan wat dit tweetal laat horen. Wie een open oor heeft, en alle vooroordelen wil laten vallen, kan echter genoeg verwondering in de muziek van dit duo vinden.

Herman te Loo, Jazz Flits Number 173,

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