POLWECHSEL & JOHN TILBURY – Field

For this session, materialized in 2007, Polwechsel comprised two percussionists (Burkhard Beins, Martin Brandlmayr), a saxophonist (John Butcher), strings (Werner Dafeldecker on double bass, Michael Moser on cello) and the hypothetically pivotal figure of John Tilbury, who results instead entirely incorporated in the collective’s sound taken as a whole; his personal incidence is, at times, far from conspicuous if ever valuable.

Immediately after the elapsing of the initial seconds of Michael Moser’s “Place / Replace / Represent”, the first in a brace of extensive pieces, we illusorily believe ourselves to be the ultimate addressees of an essential acoustic report. The music, brilliantly recorded by Martin Leitner and Wolfgang Musil, is in fact executed with undiluted severity bordering on the maniacal, the players focusing on distinct gestures like if they were their last acts on earth, the fastidious care with which every strained note reveals primary harmonics and composite overtones at the basis of a growing sense of inside involvement that places the listener’s seat amidst the performing musicians almost factually. It is not implausible, indeed, to perceive the tiniest human component while attempting to decode the messages; the soft whistle of the air exhaled from someone’s nose is clearly identified in a couple of stiller segments, which makes one imagine tight-lipped absorption and shut eyes in pursuit of a barefooted kind of rightness. In the midst of unmitigated tones, coarse scrapes and impulsive droning clusters, an amazing shade appears for only a few precious instants: it’s a “resonance piano”, namely – in Nina Polaschegg’s words – “a recording of single piano chords played via speakers into the strings of a second grand piano”. A hauntingly gripping presence, whose elusiveness seems to signify an insinuation of declining memory, its sonic worth a critical constituent of this stunning work.

Dafeldecker’s title track is both a direct response to the nearly religious atmosphere of the previous piece and a study on abrupt dynamic shifts, mostly typified by the alternance of straightforward motions in semi-silent environments (in turn characterized by a deeper attention towards the noisy features of the instruments, which get amplified and made resonate for long) and huge clouds of abrasive materials, impressively – and unwillingly – recalling David Jackman’s massively rasping snarls at one point, circa five minutes in. In between, various kinds of oscillations, gliding squeals on metal, a meticulous pondering on the placement of the residual events. Each signal is carefully considered, reciprocal nods useful for the artists’ preparation to the next flood of grittiness. Distinctive voices are in truth discernible – listen, for example, to how Butcher manages to let us hear the sax chirruping acutely, when differentiating cumulative notes and sheer clamour becomes more problematic.

And yet, whatever individual accent a pair of specialist ears might recognize, what lingers on following several days of deep scrutiny of this album is the impression of a communal levitation that, as it often happens, finds its origin in the inhospitable land where the importance of “surpassed” concepts such as timbre, pitch and harmony is secondary, and all that’s heard is rendered authoritative by an edifying lack of pretension.

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