The interpersonal politics of collective improvisation are tricky terrain to map and predict. How do musicians determine and agree on a shared spontaneous itinerary? What are the auditory and tactile tools and cues that lead to consensual shifts in direction and scope? What happens when the elements break down or are misconstrued in the moment? The answers to these queries are as varied as the number of groups who choose free improvisation as their means of communal communication. All of these questions and countless others are brought into bas-relief by the music of the King Übü Örchestrü, a multinational aggregate of musicians hailing from the four corners of Europe. Theirs is a music rooted in noise and texture rather than cleanly delineated structure and repetition. Not ‘noise’ as in unchecked volume and bombast, but instead a mixed and channeled breed of sounds generated as a means and end in and of itself.
Conventional musical stanchions such as melody, harmony, and rhythm are foreign currencies here and the musicians meet their instruments on purely sonic terms. Fuchs sopranino becomes a twittering gearbox; Dörner’s trumpet a squeaking metallic bear trap. Poore’s tuba emulates a mammoth bicycle horn blurting out moist snatches of fractured Morse code while Wachsmann’s strings radiate filament thin hooks that lodge sharply in the silent spaces. Beginnings and endings seem largely superfluous and arbitrary. The players simply play until the mood strikes them to stop.
In his liner notes Peter Niklas Wilson recounts encountering the band members after this performance, arguing in animated tones over the relative success of their endeavors. It seems there were moments when certain players wished to cease and others opted to continue, dragging their fellows forward begrudgingly for renewed improvisatory interplay. Listening to the results it’s all but impossible to determine where these breaks in communication occurred. And perhaps that’s point. Close attention with an ear bent towards discovering the forms and meanings behind each piece are likely to be repaid with frustration.
Both maddening and strangely compelling this is collective improvisation that will probably annoy and inveigle those listeners expecting a linear experience. The nearest referent by my estimation is the work of Boston musicians like Bhob Rainey and Greg Kelley, though there are plenty of others who travel similar byways devoid of any kind of overtly traceable architecture. As to the succession of questions that opened this review the members of King Übü deliver only the most cryptic indicators of hows and whys behind what they do. Reduced to purely audio elements through the media of compact disc it’s this retained mystery and obstinacy that lends most prominently to their music’s lasting allure.
FMP on the web: http://www.fmp-online.de/
Personnel: Wolfgang Fuchs- sopranino saxophone, bass & contrabass clarinets; Peter van Bergen- tenor saxophone; Axel D