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Two 2020 releases from Stefan Thut

John Eyles By

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Back in 2016, when two albums by Swiss cellist and composer Stefan Thut were released within weeks of one another, it was pertinent to comment on the relative slimness of his discography. When autumn 2020 saw the release of his Among hot on the heels of Atama, the comment remained true, the intervening years having brought some seven releases, including About (Elsewhere, 2018) as well as the two considered here. However, as too many artists' discographies testify, quantity does not always mean quality. In Thut's case, his name on an album—as composer or performer—has proven to be a guarantee that the contents will be fascinating, thought-provoking and will stand the test of time.

Stefan Thut / Taku Sugimoto
Atama
Zoomin' Night
2020

When Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto toured Europe in March 2015, he met Thut, and the two performed together in Geneva and Basel, their first appearances as a duo; a recording of their Basel performance was released on Ftarri in 2018.

At the end of a 2019 Thut tour of Korea and Japan, he and Taku made a recording by the Tama River in Tokyo, (as seen in the YouTube clip below) using a mic each, more than fifteen metres from one other. (At Tama became Atama, this album's title.) A month later during a Taku tour of Europe, they did the piece again, at Thut's place in Solothurn, again separated, with Taku on the first floor, Thut on the second floor.

The resulting recordings have been issued in two different formats, a cassette with the two recordings being separate, one side entitled "Tokyo," the other "Solothurn," and a digital download of the two recordings mixed together by Thut. The difference between the two versions is striking. On the cassette recordings, it is apparent that the musicians were separated by some distance. Coincidentally, 'atama' is also Japanese for 'head,' fitting because the two could not hear very well what the other one was doing, so it only happened in their heads. That said, the playing of each individual and their responses to the ambient sounds are impressive, with occasional—coincidental—juxtapositions of the two being particularly effective. On the download version, Thut's mixing has created more of these juxtapositions which arose by chance when the two were separate; the end result sounds far more like a genuine duo with each player being aware of the other's playing, and responding sensitively to it and the ambient sounds.

While completists may wish to track down the cassette recording for the purpose of comparison, the download version is recommended as the best place to start listening to this music.

Stefan Thut
Among
Inexhaustible Editions
2020

As if to emphasise the breadth and variety of Thut's music, Among is completely different to Atama, both in its conception and execution. (Anyone noting a certain pattern in Thut's album titles—About, Atama, Among—should note that the Wandelweiser website also lists Thut compositions entitled 'Along,' 'Apart,' 'Around,' 'Away,' 'Amidst...' One is reminded of the late, great Steve Lacy's penchant for single-word album titles beginning with 's...')

Recorded in Solothun, in June 2020, Among features a seven-part piece which Thut composed in 2018, scored for three string players— double bass, acoustic guitar and cello—and a fourth player who was responsible for sine waves. The album sleeve includes images of parts of the score plus a sleeve note, entitled "a practice of noticing among others," in which Thut explains his methodology and thinking behind the piece. Each of the instruments also served as the resonating body for a loudspeaker; sine waves were sounded by means of transducers attached to the three wooden boxes of the instruments. Each player initially attuned to the sine wave from their instrument. The sleeve lists these sine waves' frequencies for the seven parts—230, 290 & 370; 140, 220 & 260...As these frequencies are multiples of either prime triplets or consecutive prime numbers, the three players were effectively individuals who "can only act in self-reliance to their own tone and with confidence to the others."

If that sounds like a recipe for anarchy and/or cacophony, rest assured that the reality is very different, with the musicians—Thut included—producing impressively rich music based largely on sustained tones which interweave and complement one another beautifully. As the seven parts of the composition—which range in duration from six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half minutes—each have different frequency initial sine waves for the players, there is enough variety across the piece to make it both engaging and satisfying. All credit to Thut and his fellow musicians for an impressive achievement which demands to be heard again and again...

Tracks and Personnel

Atama

Tracks: Atama Tokyo—Solothurn

Personnel: Stefan Thut: cello, recording; Taku Sugimoto: guitar.

Among

Tracks: Among I; Among II; Among III; Among IV; Among V; Among VI; Among VII.

Personnel: Stefan Thut: cello; Félicie Bazelaire: double bass; Léo Dupleix: sine waves; Fredrik Rasten: acoustic guitar.

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