Thomas Lehn: Backchats and Somethingtobesaid


Sign in to view read count

Speak Easy
Creative Sources

John Butcher
Weight of Wax

Electronic instruments have been part of improvised music for over 40 years and the availability of digital tools as part of the sound palette is something that can clearly be beneficial. Electronic improvisation and sound art generally refer, at this stage, to forms produced with ones and zeroes rather than the mutable and cranky nature of analog signals. But there are a number of electronic musicians who employ the glitchy circuits of yore, including German synthesizer artist Thomas Lehn, who mostly plays the EMS Synthi-A portable synthesizer (first produced in 1971). Two new discs from the cooperative Speak Easy and John Butcher's octet showcase Lehn's work in a variable slice of electro-acoustic ensemble playing.

Speak Easy is a quartet consisting of Lehn, percussionist Martin Blume and voice improvisers Ute Wassermann and Phil Minton. Backchats is the group's first disc, though a 2008 Cologne performance was issued on the DVD Speak Easy: The Loft Concert (Pavel Borodin). The curious thing about electronic music in the '50s-60s was its ability to mimic and expand upon the sonic vocabularies associated with instruments and, in some cases, the human voice. In the sounds produced by Wasserman and Minton, this lineage is extended into the realm of free improvisation—trombone or trumpet multiphonics, guttural arco bass scrabble and the like are lent the skewed immediacy of vocal whims. Wasserman's split-tone throatiness and wide interval leaps recall Albert Mangelsdorff or Axel Dörner, also becoming at times inseparable from Lehn's sputtering fuzz and ricocheted patter. Spikes and curves could be attributable to Wasserman's ear-splitting whistles or the knobs and circuits of an archaic synth. Blume and Minton provide a constantly shifting, lower-toned rattle and give the music pan-rhythmic force and bat-out-of-hell drive. Speak Easy are an incredible quartet, especially when given over to the whole and ignoring the particulars.

Somethingtobesaid, Butcher's large ensemble work, is an ambitious project from a saxophonist whose art tends to isolate the small sound and expand its area. The nine-part title suite represented on this disc was commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and is intercontinental in scope—American percussionist Gino Robair and bassist Adam Linson and Australian harpist Clare Cooper complete the ensemble, which otherwise represents the UK, Germany and Austria. Somethingtobesaid weighs heavily on electronic and (importantly) electronic-like sound, employing turntables (courtesy of Viennese artist dieb13), Robair's sometimes motorized, sometimes blown "energized surfaces" and the digital electronics Linson uses to augment his string work. Butcher adds pre-recorded electronic sounds and voice fragments from an answering machine to act as signposts and orchestrate the ensemble. Compared (perhaps boldly) to a record like Backchats, Butcher's suite has a clear compositional sway behind it—the fluff of exhalation acting like a pedal point, which leads into gestural crashes on piano strings and gongs before petering into bowed and plucked skitter. Somethingtobesaid feels cyclical, though exact intervals aren't really the point. Returning voice patterns and areas of mass are springboards to lightness and detail that, on the surface, might not amount to much 'compositionally,' but in literal practice center a range of diverse and complementary actions.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5.

Personnel: Thomas Lehn: analogue synthesizer; Martin Blume: percussion; Ute Wassermann: voice and whistles; Phil Minton: voice.


Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9.

Personnel: John Butcher: tenor and soprano saxophones, pre-recorded sounds; Chris Burn: piano; Clare Cooper: harp and guzheng; Thomas Lehn: analogue synthesizer; dieb13: turntables; Adam Linson: bass and electronics; John Edwards: bass; Gino Robair: percussion and energized surfaces.


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Guitars on Three Continents Multiple Reviews Guitars on Three Continents
by Geno Thackara
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana Multiple Reviews Queen Esther: Sings Jazz & Black Americana
by James Nadal
Published: July 12, 2017
Read Blues Deluxe 2 Multiple Reviews Blues Deluxe 2
by Doug Collette
Published: June 25, 2017
Read Two Sackville Gems: Abdullah Ibraihim's "Ancient Africa" and Oliver Lake and Joseph Bowie's "Live at A Space 1976" Multiple Reviews Two Sackville Gems: Abdullah Ibraihim's "Ancient...
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: June 2, 2017
Read "Allison Miller & Honey Ear Trio: Lean; Swivel" Multiple Reviews Allison Miller & Honey Ear Trio: Lean; Swivel
by Doug Collette
Published: November 4, 2016
Read "Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas" Multiple Reviews Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas
by Doug Collette
Published: January 14, 2017
Read "Jeremy Monteiro & Eugene Pao: To Paris With Love,  A Tribute to the Genius of Michel Legrand / Jeremy Monteiro & Jazz Brazileiro: Brazilian Dreams" Multiple Reviews Jeremy Monteiro & Eugene Pao: To Paris With Love, A...
by Ian Patterson
Published: August 2, 2016
Read "Blues Spotlight: Robert Finley / Donald Jay Johnson And Gas Blues Band / The King Brothers" Multiple Reviews Blues Spotlight: Robert Finley / Donald Jay Johnson And Gas...
by James Nadal
Published: November 19, 2016
Read "Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa Dos Ventos" Multiple Reviews Anat Cohen's Brazilian Bonanza: Outra Coisa and Rosa...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 17, 2017
Read "Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago" Multiple Reviews Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 21, 2017

Support All About Jazz: MAKE A PURCHASE  

Support our sponsor

Upgrade Today!

Musician? Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with our Premium Profile service.