After years of EAI heavily characterized by various gradations of toneless farting, saliva-drenched manifestations and ever-the-same microsounds, a few snoopers – including this writer – have grown to be highly suspicious, arriving to the point of considering certain releases as unmentionable in regard to a presumed artistic relevance, even when the original intentions were innocent. There’s only so much that can be exploited in a genre prior to the clichés, and this particular area is a difficult place for being trustful nowadays. Desperate for keeping the flame flickering, fans of emptiness aliment debates that revolve exactly around that very nothingness in virtual absence of implications. Contemplative inactivity during a performance is by now fashionable, echoes from the external world doing the work in lieu of the “artist”. Had John Cage envisioned the potential damage of all that silence-related chattering, we wouldn’t be here wasting hours of our precious time for individuals who can’t play, muddling through the remnants of what was once called music to make a nice living and collect accolades.
That’s why a CD such as this, second outing on Potlatch after the debut release in 2002, comes especially welcome: Phosphor are interested in making things sound in quietness rather than sitting with frowning eyebrows, thinking about the next meditative stance. The septet – a genuine super group formed by Burkhard Beins, Axel Dörner, Robin Hayward, Annette Krebs, Andrea Neumann, Michael Renkel and Ignaz Schick – found a way of rendering an obvious electroacoustic heterogeneity relatively smooth, organizing a well-nourished array of standard (!) instruments and apparatuses like a distinguished orchestra capable of highlighting (and, when needed, altering) the different nuances of timbre.
The improvisations in II are categorized by the persuasive power of selected instrumental voices placed under the focus until one gets acquainted with their fundamental nature, the participants delineating a sort of pictorial background that facilitates the individuation of a general scheme. These settings don’t last for the entirety of a piece: the scenario is constantly modified. The musicians are willing to produce clearly demarcated frameworks in which the sequences of events and the distinct atmospheres – percussively dominant, cyclically squealing, electronically cold, nebulously contaminated – are exalted at first, then completely discarded in favour of a growth or, more frequently, an utter revolution, often at the cost of depriving the listeners of a pleasant state of mind achieved with difficulty. They do just fine in concealing the authentic traits of the machines, and I didn’t find a valid reason for guessing them and what they were tampering with. The whole sounds cooperatively rational and mainly convincing. Who cares of what is what and who is who; it’s the overall outcome that counts, and in this case the resultant sonorities are particularly interesting to say the least.
Some of these scenes are extremely effective, “P10” standing among the best tracks in that sense, a thoroughly intelligible investigation of the surrounding space – via sparse accumulations and symbiotic purrs – that nevertheless presents moments of veritable mystery, becoming nearly unfathomable at the end. Other selections are slightly less functional as far as private involvement is concerned, which is understandable given the index of possibilities in relation to the program’s length. The variegated palette – which includes colours as diverse as percussion, guitar, electronics, inside piano, tuba, trumpet, zither, turntables and objects – is definitely a winning choice: emotionally captured or not, we never thought of being listening to something thrown out exclusively for the sake of releasing material. Every detail appears carefully considered, all moves precisely circumstantiated. A compositional design is recurrently in evidence, transforming mere examinations into accomplished pieces, each new listen confirming a value that in the beginning could merely be guessed, or hoped for.
At the end of the day this is a noteworthy, if uneasy work which requires numerous attempts in order for us to come to terms with its actual consequence. It will surely result useless for the not conversant but is an accurately detailed, open-to-observation recording for connoisseurs, provided that the right level of concentration is there: if mentally tired, save it for later. II does not deserve a distracted or, worse yet, nervous approach, instead rewarding the persistence of those who are still hoping for a pinch of intelligence in an arena where sounding as a nincompoop while “experimenting” is a concrete possibility.