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Reviews: Scatter

Birgit Ulher: trumpet

Creative Sources

Signal to Noise

It`s useful that German trumpeter Birgit Ulher chose to do a solo session as one of her three new releases for the Portugguese Label Creative Sources (for whom she's done two records prior to this recent set). Useful because hers is a group sound aesthetic, creating more a single voice than a conversation. Scatter affords a chance to isolate her approach and to then recognize her part in group projects. While Ulher is a part of the European community of makers of very small sounds – she's worked with Martin Klapper, Roger Turner, Tim Hodgkinson, Rhodri Davies and Raymond Strid – the precedent for her first solo recording is the solo half of Lester Bowie's 1982 double-disc All the Magic. Without Bowie's humor, she still explores all the sounds of the trumpet, all the smacks and clacks and, sputters that can be pushed through the metal tube. Over the course of ten tracks, she proves herself to be a resourceful experimenter in the vein of such fellow trumpeters as Axel Dörner, Frantz Hautzinger, Greg Kelley and Herb Robertson.

Kurt Gottschalk, Signal to Noise #41

The Wire

Birgit Ulher 'Scatter' & Nordzucker '500gr'

This is territory that compatriot Axel Dörner has already explored: solo trumpet playing so ruthlessly non-idiomatic that it sounds like a different instrument entirely. Ulher`s spectrum of toneless breath noises, soft valve pops and chuckling meta-bop flurries calls for close and evenly suspended attention. There is an evolving logic to these mostly short pieces. Only the midpoint "Possibilities" seems slightly flabby and lacking the elemental directness of the other cuts. The Nordzucker trio date reinforces the analogy with Dörner even more strongly, with cellist Michael Maierhof and saxofonist Lars Scherzberg adding growly overtones and bright squinks of reed noise.

The Wire #267 May 2006

Bad Alchemy

In Den NurNichtNur-Studios in Kleve entstanden ist Scatter (cs 054), der erste auf Tonträger fixierte Alleingang von BIRGIT ULHER. Die Dekonstruktion der Trompete ist inzwischen weit fortgeschritten, wenn ich nur an Hautzinger, Kelley, Kerbaj, Wooley denke. Ulher macht den nächsten Schritt und bläst und fegt auch noch die zerraspelten Metallspäne vom Tisch (‚Aluminium Scatter‘, ‚Copper Scatter‘‚ Metall Scatter‘). Von der Trompete bleibt nur ein Schatten, eine negative Kontur als Spur ihrer einstigen Anwesenheit (‚Negative Shape‘). In ihre Moleküle zerlegt (‚Elements‘) kommt die Geschichte des Trompetenklangs an ihr Ende und von diesem Umkehrpunkt an ergeben sich wieder alle Möglichkeiten (‚Possibilities‘). Al-Chemie trifft sich hier mit Genetik, geleitet von der Frage, ob auch alles ganz anders klingen könnte (‚Other Sounds‘). Ulhers Ab- und Umbauprozesse klanglich beschreiben zu wollen, geriete schnell in die Aporien der Onomatopöie und müsste sich lesen wie optophonetische Gedichte von Ball, Schwitters oder Isou.
Qui - E, nur mit ö statt e, mehr pffft-, ngngngngnk-, frrrrund ötötötöt, und trotzdem bliebe das weit entfernt von dem, was die zerebralen Hörregister tatsächlich reizt. Als derart holde Kunst, angesiedelt zwischen höherem Blödsinn und kryptischem Feinsinn, wenn nicht vice versa und wenn nicht im eigenen Selbstverständnis dann eben in meinem Missverständnis, neckt einen Ulhers Alientrompete mit dem Sexappeal des Unerhörten.“

Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy #50

Touching Extremes

"Scattered" is an adjective that we commonly associate to "leaves". Indeed this concise essay for solo trumpet made me think about city streets after a heavy rain, where not only leaves but also remnants of newspapers, small bunches of additional rubbish and watered car oil create a patchy view of dejected reality. Contrarily - but not too much - to her usual canon, Ulher makes good use of long silences as a contrasting medium for her affirmations, often utilizing a solid timbre which gets inevitably modified by the extended techniques she's commonly associated to. Birgit's persistently non-conventional melodic developments alternate with ill-structured whispers and perennial leakages from an instrument that, in her sapient hands, becomes a machine emitting spurious signals of intelligent timbral dismemberment.

Massimo Ricci,

Nutida Musik

Tho voice improviser Agnès Palier has earlier released only one record as far as I know, Oxymore from 1999. This was an utterly dense duo with sax player Stéphane Rives. Together they drew new patterns in the art of improvising. In France Palier is what we call a musicians´ musician. The trumpet player Birgit Ulher has released more albums, among others together with the singer Ute Wasserman and the Swedes Martin Küchen, Raymond Strid and Lise-Lotte Norelius.
In Hamurg Ulher is a central musician in the yearly Real Time Music Meeting. Her playing follows the deconstructive line started by Axel Dörner. But what makes it deconstructive? The free improvisation is a late modernistic project. There are parallels in concrete poetry and sound-text-compositions. The language, the traditional form and expression is torn to pieces. As the myths tell us about Orpheus or Lemminkäinen, whose bodies and limbs were torn to pieces to be spread all over the landscape. You can think of Lemminkäinen´s mother and talk about a reparation work to put together what has been torn to pieces also in free impro. Just listen to how the instruments have changed their sound from the late 60s´ and early 70s´ explosive force to more subtle sound oriented technical expansions. During the last years obviously electronics play a more and more important role as connecting glue in the music. In this context Ikue Mori´s groups during the 90s with vocalists Tenko and Catherine Jauniaux are artistic zenits. And to this you must also count Agnès Paliers latest album. Electronics and voice sneak into oneanother. They form a kind of play where the roles change and Palier uses fragments of language and sounds of language as a true virtuoso but without big gestures. The music shifts from light water colors to the blackest, darkest goth with dramatic breathing.
If we turn back to the myths about the torn and spread out limbs Paliers album is an example of a most originial musical reparation work. But Birgit Ulher puts her focus on the fragments themselves . It seems to me that for her the flux means less than the balance between silence and non silence. The color of sounds of her material is important and she is eager to tell us wether it comes from copper or any other metal. She is very different from for example Dörner in staying with small groups of sound and noise and with the meeting between the sound of air meeting different parts of her instrument. This gives the music a kind documentary and telling character.
The listener strives around in an archipelago of sounds exploring island after island.
The contemporary improvised music has both continued the heritage from its pioneers and left them. I think that the impro music of today in a couple of years´ time will be looked upon as an important crossroad, and that it is as important as the late 60s was. The new albums by Birgit Ulher and Agnès Palier are two extremely good examples of this period, two of the best of a period whose importance we have not yet fully understood.

Thomas Millroth

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