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Intonema's Fifth Anniversary

John Eyles By

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As it reaches the fifth anniversary of its first release, it seems a fitting time to reflect on how Intonema is progressing. Initially, the label attracted attention because it was based in St. Petersburg, on Russian soil, a novelty at the time. The early releases on the label featured Russian-based musicians, including the Intonema proprietors saxophonist Ilia Belorukov and bass guitarist Mikhail Ershov. Gradually the roster became more international, so that the third and fourth Intonema releases featured no Russian musicians—Axon (2011), by the Franco-German duo Myelin, and Concret (2012), by the Iberian trio Atolón. The expansion of the label's horizons has continued apace, but Intonema has still continued to feature an impressive array of Russian improvisers. And whatever the musicians' nationality, the quality of the label's releases remains high—as is evident in the three latest releases...

1 & 2

"Songs" is the name of the Berlin-based quartet consisting of the Argentinean bass clarinetist Lucio Capece (whose 2013 album Less is Less -Music for Flying and Pendulating Speakers is a past Intonema highlight), Malaysian-born trombonist and composer Rishin Singh, US-born violinist & vocalist Catherine Lamb and vocalist Stine Sterne. With two vocalists in the line-up (plus that group name) it is not surprising that the album's music actually consists of performances of two songs, both composed by Singh, intriguingly entitled "Six Scenes of Boredom" and "Three Lives," and running for fifteen and twenty-seven minutes respectively.

The two pieces are called "songs" because they feature vocals, but in other respects they hardly justify the description as they have no recognisable song structure, no chorus and no bridge. However, the vocal performances are strong throughout, remaining the centre of attention and more than justifying that "songs" tag. Each piece features a series of sustained notes from the instruments and voices, notes which overlap and fit together well without constructing any particularly memorable melodies or harmonies. Despite the songs' intriguing titles, the vocals convey little meaning; the voices are laden with emotion and are a delight from start to finish, most notably when they both sing together on "Three Lives." The use of songs here does not represent a revolution for Intonema, this album being just as exploratory and adventurous as any in the label's catalogue. 1 & 2 is an album that demands to be heard; do not miss it!

Badrutt, Belorukov, Kocher

This is the second Intonema album entitled Rotonda, following the 2014 album of that title by guitarist and electronicist Andrey Popovskiy. The reason for the duplication is that both albums were recorded in the same extraordinary space, the rotonda of Mayakovsky library, St. Petersburg. (See YouTube, below, for footage of this space.) Its circular shape gives the rotonda a naturally resonant acoustic which amplifies small sounds so they resound. With such an amazing resource available to record in, the duplication is not surprising—we can doubtless expect more to follow... Where the previous disc featured Popovskiy solo, this time out the recording features the trio of Gaudenz Badrutt, on acoustic sound sources and live sampling, Ilia Belorukov, on alto saxophone and objects, and accordionist Jonas Kocher.

The album was recorded in September 2014 and consists of just one forty-eight minute track entitled "Rotonda" (surprise!) In that month, the trio toured Russia, playing in Moscow, Yaroslalv, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg. Normally, such a tour makes players familiar with one another, leading to good improvising. But no amount of normal gigging could prepare any trio for a gig with the mercurial fourth member—the rotonda! The great fascination of this disc is to hear the ways in which the players explore the effect of the space then adapt to and exploit it. Tentative at first—sounding single notes then leaving plenty of silence to hear the responses to them—they gradually come to terms with its characteristics and are then able to slowly build up a complex, richly satisfying drone, to which all four contribute component parts and then... silence. Then, a three-way exchange dominated by accordion but punctuated by electronic tones and strategic silences which become more and more frequent. Very engaging and atmospheric.

Altogether, another triumph for the rotonda. More!

Michael Pisaro, Denis Sorokin
Mind is Moving IX

Mind is Moving IX is a milestone release for Intonema, as it is the first Russian CD released by a Wandelweiser composer, namely Michael Pisaro. Its story begins in April 2013 when guitarist Denis Sorokin—a St. Petersburg native—performed the Russian premiere of Pisaro's "Mind is Moving IX" at the city's Teni Zvuka festival. After that, Intonema made several recordings of the piece in a variety of spaces, listened to them and discussed them with both Pisaro and Sorokin. Finally, in June 2015, the version that is featured on the released CD was recorded. After all the time and effort that was invested in this music, it is a pleasure to report that the version that has been released is a gem.

Listening to the finished article, it is easy to understand how previous versions might have been deemed unacceptable. As with other Pisaro compositions, the placement of every sound—including guitar, radio, stones, whistles—is crucial to the success of the whole; one wrongly placed sound could be grounds for rejection or, in concert, one extraneous sound could spoil an otherwise acceptable recording. It seems analogous to building a house of cards—one out of place can bring the whole thing tumbling down!

The version here is a fine addition to Pisaro's discography, as it is textbook Wandelweiser, with carefully considered use of silence and every sound being heard from start to end so it can be properly savoured. The comparison of this disc with Rotonda, above, is fascinating as both employ silence to stunning effect, but Pisaro's silences sound planned and controlled while on Rotonda they just seem to happen, but still feel right. Neither is "better," they just represent different ways of working.

Bravo, Intonema. Here's to the next five years...

Tracks and Personnel

1 & 2

Tracks: Six Scenes of Boredom; Three Lives.

Personnel: Lucio Capece: bass clarinet; Catherine Lamb: voice, viola; Rishin Singh: trombone, composition; Stine Sterne: voice.


Tracks: Rotonda

Personnel: Gaudenz Badrutt: electronics, objects; Ilia Belorukov: alto saxophone, objects; Jonas Kocher: accordion.

Mind Is Moving IX

Tracks: Mind Is Moving.

Personnel: Denis Sorokin: electric guitar, radio, stones, whistling.


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