Keith Rowe is mainly known as the pivotal and crucial musician standing in the forefront of the first wave of the European free improvisation, co-founder of AMM in 1965 and inventor of tabletop guitar playing techniques which remained his central sound tool until now and which he extended with a lot of electronic and other gadgets and devices. It’s his fifth release on our label following “Shifting Currents” with Bill Thompson and Rick Reed, his composition “A Quartet For Guitars” performed n 2013 with his Nantes colleagues Emmanuel Leduc, Anthony Taillard and Julien Ottavi, the quartet which is known as NG4 Quartet, and “The Bakery” with Martin Küchen.
Julien Ottavi is founder, artistic programmer, audio computer researcher and sound artist of the experimental music organisation APO33. Ottavi studied drums, percussions and photography at the Art school of Nantes. Since 1997 he develops compositions for voice and computer. His background is in sound poetry (Henri Chopin, Bernard Heidseick, Kurt Schwitters, Jaap Blonk), he is influenced by the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi, by 'musique concrete' (Pierre Henry, Michel Chion Luc Ferrari), and also by noise (Merzbow, Zbigniew Karkowski, Bernard Günter). He is founder and member of FORMANEX, an electroacoustic quartet that performs chamber music from twentieth and twentyfirst-century composers, they play graphic scores by composers like Cornelius Cardew, John Cage, Christian Wolf, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Jerome Joy, Kasper T. Toeplitz and Ralf Wehowsky. “L’Or” is his second release on Mikroton after “A Quartet For Guitars”.
Kurt Liedwart, a Moscow-based musician and curator of Mikroton Recordings, developed his own art and sound that cross genres, mixing music practices such as electroacoustic and improvised music, noise and glitch, and art movements such as actionism and Fluxus. He plays a wide-ranging array of instruments such as analog synthesizers, electronics, light-controlled electronics, electromagnetic devices, laptop, sinewaves, field recordings, percussion processed electronically in real time.
“L’Or” is a polyptychal album recorded during Sanatorium Of Sound 2017 festival in Sokolowsko in Poland. “L’Or” means “gold” in French and both tracks were called with words with the same meaning: “Aurum”, in Latin, and “Золото”, in Russian. Two tracks comprise around five hence the polyptychal theme of the album, some of them sound harsh, some resemble quiet zones. Keith Rowe takes the middle area between Kurt Liedwart’s work with modular synthesizer and cracked homemade and everyday electronics and Julien Ottavi’s preoccupation with his computer and objects. The structure looks really similar like a caduceus, ever evolving lines, vibrations, sonic clusters around Rowe’s clicks and occasional whisper of his guitar and radio. The album takes a no-man’s land between EAI, noise, minimal electronics and contemporary music.
On the final release with Liedwart's involvement he plays modular synthesizer and cracked everyday and homemade electronics again along with Julien Ottavi on computer and the legendary (this time I'd say rightfully used wording) Keith Rowe on guitar and electronics. They played together at the Sanatorium Of Sound 2017 festival in Sokolowsko in Poland. The two track titles translate to 'gold' in Latin and Russian, just as the title is the French word. Of the three releases this is the one that I think is the one that is the most improvised sounding of the three. It is maybe because of the occasional guitar sound by Keith Rowe, but also the acoustic objects that Ottavi feeds into the proceedings, here, there and everywhere. Yet it also incorporates those long form drone sounds (Liedwart perhaps?) from modular synthesizers and electronics, so it's still very much along the lines that Liedwart has set out as his aesthetics. The origins may be inside the world of improvisation but the way it is all executed and shaped is more electro-acoustic, or, in this case, a drone like approach. I think that especially the long 'Aurum' could have benefitted from a bit more editing, as it's a bit out of focus in places. But in other spots it is right on the mark, so all in all I'd say this is a very fine release.
Zu den Ahnen der Mikroton-Ästhetik zählt sicher auch AMM. L'Or (mikroton cd 68) zeigt KURT LIEDWART zusammen mit JULIEN OTTAVI und KEITH ROWE, die durch [N:Q] und das NG4 Quartet miteinander vertraut sind. Eine Nähe, die Ottavi in Formanex und Rowe mit AMM auch schon bei Cornelius Cardews "Treatise" auf einen gemeinsamen Nenner brachte. Zugleich hat sich Ottavi den Namen The Noise zugelegt und mit KK Null, Zbigniew Karkowski, Kaspar T. Toeplitz, Shoï Extrasystole kakophoniert oder als Solar Return Ratten ins All geschossen. Der Titel hier lässt einen alchemistischen Anspruch vermuten und es wird auch auf kleinem, ab und an knackendem Feuer mit feinsten Zutaten geköchelt: dröhnendem Pianissimo, brodeligem Noise, tanzenden Molekülen, granularem Rieseln, dunklem Brummen, metalloidem Abrieb. Rhythmisch verrührt, motorisch oder von bruitistischen Impulsen angeregt, so dass der Sud aufkocht und fast einmal überschießt. Meist aber brummt und schnurrt es nur unter dem Deckel, und mir kommen Zweifel am Nährwert dieser Goldmacherei, schon die Babylonier kratzten an Gold und fanden nur rusigen Dreck. Ein harmonischer Loop beißt sich in den Schwanz, ein Heimchen zirpt hinterm Ofen. Ausdauernd, sehr ausdauernd. Bis der goldene Faden reißt und sich minutenlang Stille hinzieht. Bis dröhnend, piepsend, schabend, knacksend und mit rauen Störungen vor einem wiederkehrenden Alarmton ein zweiter, brummig crescendierender Versuch startet, Katzenkaffee zu kochen und als pures Gold zu servieren.
L'Or documents a trio performance from the masterful Keith Rowe on guitar and electronics, Mikroton head Kurt Liedwart on modular synth and electronics, and French noise maven Julien Ottavi on laptop. The album title and songs all translate to English as "Gold" (from French, Latin, and Russian, respectively), likely hinting at the continuity of the two tracks despite the varied origins and sound palettes of the players. The trio is an interesting combination of musicians, and one that allows for the diverse approaches of these three musicians to meld wonderfully. Rowe is perhaps known best for his EAI (electro-acoustic improvisation) work on Erstwhile Records or for his membership in various AMM ensembles since the 60's. Ottavi, who has also released under the name the Noiser, has released a broad variety of work from sound installations, to electronic minimalism and digital noise, to his recent work with symphonic tamtam. Liedwart's creations also reside at the intersection of improvisation, minimalism, and noise but lean more to the analogue side, his specialties including synthesizer and cracked everyday electronics.
"Aurum" begins with minimalist electronics which are slowly (and I do mean slowly) ratcheted up in intensity. Liedwart's use of modular synthesizer is very subtle and controlled here, and he's done a fantastic job of complementing the sound palette of his collaborators. Rowe's trademark scrapes, brushes, and electronics pockmark the miasmic din of Liedwart and Ottavi. The participants grow more adventurous (relatively) as the piece progresses, the textures tangling more and more frequently. Liedwart offers some nice crunchy synth swells to the EAI flavored first half before unleashing his modular around the 24 minute mark. The listener is then suddenly immersed in a swirling, chirping sound cyclone complemented with Rowe's steel wool crackle and Ottavi's sine tone excursions. "Золото" starts with recorded bird song and a distant circular saw beneath which a subtle electronic drone hums away. A high pitched whine is matched with Rowe's guitar manipulations over the din once the field recording has faded out. Cracked electronics and the sound of dripping water coalesce into a hazy ambience, cradling the crackles and scrapes elicited by Rowe. The whirr is the only constant. Other subtle elements come and go, finding the players careful not to interrupt the conjoining atmospheres too drastically.
This, in my opinion, is a great example of successful cross-pollination in the field of improvised electronic music, seamlessly melding Liedwart's experimental techniques with the minimalist noise of Ottavi and the presence of Keith Rowe's filtered hiss and painterly tabletop guitar work. The trio does a fine job of balancing responsiveness with restraint, realizing that the sum of their parts only works if they can all be heard together. As per usual, Rowe's sound palette fits in with just about any timbral environment and provides a very human element that is difficult to describe. Despite my use of the word noise the electronic textures on this recording are not harsh, but texturally rich and active. This is a fantastic improvisation by three masters and makes great active and passive listening.
Liedwart turns up on quite a few of Mikroton’s recent releases, as a solo artist and as part of larger groups. That’s understandable, given that it’s his label after all. 2017’s ‘Mar’ is a good place to start with the solo stuff, offering plenty of crunch and whine to get yer ears round, while ‘Punkt’, his more recent duo recording with Prague’s Petr Vrba, lays out a glorious constellation of splattered electronics and blank-eyed waveforms.
But it’s this trio session with Keith Rowe and French computer musician Julien Ottavi that’s my pick of the bunch. Recorded in Poland in 2017, it is spare and bruising, with the gestural harshness of Rowe’s late work very much in evidence throughout its two tracks.
So in ‘Aurum’, model railway clack and hiss gets punctured by contact-mic ructions, while serrated metallic scrapes and woolly bustle cut irregular shapes through whirring lines. In the final six or so minutes a wobbling deep-space drone redirects us into a frozen sleep.
Its companion, ‘Золото’ is less expansive, but more focused, the trio making the most of its shorter runtime to get into some real gone abstraction. Farm-generator throb puts a death grip on the brain, while shortwave burbles and low-wattage whines move in an enigmatic dance. A final section of electric drill growls elevates home improvement into high art. Better get those shelves put up, sharpish.