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Three From Intonema

John Eyles By

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When the ninth and tenth releases on St. Petersburg's Intonema label were released, it was noteworthy that neither of them featured a Russian musician, despite the label's catalogue previously featuring such notable Russians as saxophonist Ilia Belorukov, bass guitarist Mikhail Ershov and pianist Alexey Lapin alongside a distinguished cast of fine overseas players. Happily, the label's three subsequent releases, below, have not continued that trend, as two of them feature Russians, including one solely by the Russian Andrey Popovskiy. And, it is a sign of the label's strength that it is still attracting foreign musicians of the calibre of Keith Rowe and Jason Kahn.

Keith Rowe, Ilia Belorukov, Kurt Liedwart

The two tracks on Tri, "S" and "Bez," were respectively recorded with an audience, at the experimental sound gallery in St. Petersburg at the Teni Zvuka festival, and without an audience, before the festival appearance, on April 27th 2013. This album could reasonably be considered a companion piece with Contour (Mikroton, 2014) which was recorded in the same city two days later and added Alfredo Costa Monteiro to the threesome heard here—Keith Rowe on guitar, Belorukov on alto saxophone and Kurt Liedwart on ppooll, with all three employing electronics. Incidentally, his appearance on Tri brings Belorukov's tally to five of Intonema's thirteen releases—the most of anyone yet.

It is entirely fitting that this music was recorded at an experimental sound gallery as it fits that description perfectly. Recognisable instrumental sounds are in short supply, with the instruments often recreating electronic sounds, such as the saxophone being blown too lightly to vibrate the reed, generating a crackle effect. Together, the two tracks run for a very generous seventy-three minutes and present an interesting contrast between playing before an audience and without one. Rowe himself places much importance on the role that "the room" plays in shaping an improvisation, regarding the performance space (and the audience within) as another member contributing to what is played. As he said in 2009, "There is a sense in which the audience actually produce the music, not you. You are in the space, and the people are in the space with you...You can pick up a lot on them, on what they are feeling, how they are concentrating. So their concentration for example will allow you to develop material and extend material." That view is borne out by the music here, as the track with the audience runs for 42 minutes, while the one without runs for just 31 minutes. Hmmm. Go figure...

Andrey Popovskiy

On Rotonda Andrey Popovskiy is featured alone at a live gig, in November 2013, at the rotonda of Mayakovsky library, St. Petersburg (hence the album title). He is credited with playing lap steel guitar, electronics and objects but, as with Tri, above, little is heard from the guitar and plenty of electronic sounds and noises from the objects—maybe this is an Intomena characteristic? More importantly, the rotonda itself fully deserves its star billing as its shape gives it a naturally resonant acoustic (similar to the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul's Cathedral, London) which amplifies small sounds so they resound. Consequently, Rotonda joins a distinguished group of recordings (from the Deep Listening Band onwards) that were recorded in resonant spaces.

As always, the key to success in such circumstances is to discover the characteristics of space and to treat them with utmost respect and caution. Not to do so can easily result in a cacophony. Fortunately, Popovskiy takes it gently at first and tentatively explores the responses of the rotonda before steadily moving up through the gears. Throughout, he treats the echoes and resonances as if they were the responses of another player, thus creating an ongoing dialogue between him and the room. Eventually, signalled by some louder, sustained electronic tones, he moves into top gear and unleashes a continuous barrage of percussive sounds that combine with their echoes to fill out the soundscape, leading to an impressively thrilling climax.

A suggestion: Given Keith Rowe's views on "the room" (above), next time he plays St. Petersburg, see if the rotunda is available for him; the results should be awesome...

Bryan Eubanks & Jason Kahn
Drums Saxophone Electronics

After the two preceding albums, this one will come as a surprise and a relief to Luddites. The reason is hinted at by its title, Drums Saxophone Electronics, which it lives up to by delivering the real sounds of real drums played (uncharacteristically) by Jason Khan and a real saxophone played by Bryan Eubanks. True, Eubanks does also employ open-circuit feedback, oscillators and radio, but the trademark sounds of the album are real instruments.

Across five medium-length tracks, Khan and Eubanks sustain a stimulating, high tempo, high energy duologue in which they both play continuously, filling out the space. In the main, the electronics are used to subtly complement and enhance the sounds of the instruments, notably in the lower register where they give a pleasingly solid bottom end. Ultimately, rather than there being any sense of real instruments versus electronics, the boundaries are blurred to the point where they become irrelevant. Only on the final track are the electronics obviously in the spotlight in their own right. But by then, that is of no interest; when music is this good, the means of production are of secondary importance.

Of these three releases, Eubanks and Khan is the best by a nose, but the three are different enough to make direct comparisons meaningless. Intonema is in good form.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: S; Bez.

Personnel: Keith Rowe: guitar, electronics; Ilia Belorukov: alto saxophone, contact mic., mini-amp, monotron, effect pedals, mini-speaker, ipod, objects ; Kurt Liedwart: ppooll, electronics, objects.


Tracks: Rotonda (37:26)

Personnel: Andrey Popovskiy: lap steel guitar, objects, electronics.

Drums Saxophone Electronics

Tracks: 5:33 ; 6:25 ; 7:17 ; 7:54 ; 6:43.

Personnel: Bryan Eubanks: soprano saxophone, open-circuit feedback, oscillators, radio; Jason Kahn: drums.


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