On the surface the two geographical parts of this trio seem like a somewhat unlikely gathering of talents: German brassman Dörner is perhaps best known stateside for his work with the Berlin Contemporary Orchestra and Alexander von Schilippenbach. Lonberg-Holm and Zerang are Windy City regulars as well as frequent bandmates. The opportunity for the three to convene presented itself in a Chicago studio and fortunately for us they capitalized on it.
The techniques favored by all three players are anything but expected as this recent Meniscus disc illustrates. From the opening piece gurgling short-wave static emanates from Dörner’s horn, often stretching the acoustics of his instrument into realms more associated with electronics. Walls of white noise vie with whinnying chortles as the bell of his brass continually threatens to implode. Meanwhile Zerang presses his variegated kit with sticks and palms rubbing out an aberrant pulse as Lonberg-Holm’s cello plunges and pops with fractured commentary. Lonberg-Holm is a marvel when it comes to building volume from his strings. A single measured thrust of his bow at just the proper angle is all that is necessary to create a cavernous thunderclap of sound. Across the pieces his frantic bow juggles with worried fingertips parsing out fractured harmonic signals for his partners to absorb and follow.
Initial listens may prove frustrating (they did for me), but subsequent visitations if carefully attended will reveal underlying synaptic junctures between these players’ feverishly inventive intellects. Throughout the program the men give only passing consideration to the conventional sonorities of their respective instruments- the gist of scrutiny being reserved for plumbing and unveiling eccentricities. What results is a chamber music of the grotesque. Dörner proves himself repeatedly an empiricist of the parameters of breath. Contorting his embouchure into a myriad of puckered positions and releasing air in carefully measured increments his trumpet transmogrifies into a portal through which remote and alien sound architectures may be heard. An excellent example is available in “Satchel’ where bubbling drones and spidery pizzicato clusters commingle creating the unsettling sounds of movement without a visual referent. For me aural images of shadowy, lumbering beasts shuffling just beyond the perceptive faculties of the mind’s eye presaged the piece’s denouement, for others the imagery invoked will probably be equally subjective.
Later pieces such as “Ranzen” are less resolutely abstract. Moving out of a blur of choppy vertical rises and descents Zerang’s bicycle cranks and hollow tinker toy clatters act as a catalyst for agitated interaction throughout the track. Many of the pieces cease abruptly and others are divided into strange episodic demarcations. “Kasu” has vaguely Eastern overtones advanced by Lonberg-Holm’s prepared cello strings, which emulate the creaking sounds of a zither above Zerang’s malleted percussion. Dörner eventually enters with a string of staccato blurts and murmurs that spread a rippling drone beneath.
All three players are well practiced in the high art of pointillism. Standard music terminology governing melody, harmony and rhythm becomes hopelessly inadequate when attempting to describe their creations. Superlatives and imagery are ultimately just as futile, but they do allow an interesting side route to communicate the subjective reactions elicited by their interplay. The beginning and terminus of the music are equally enigmatic, but what lies between invites careful rumination for those listeners willing to test their wits against it.