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Two contrasting releases from Charlotte Hug on the Fundacja Słuchaj! label

John Eyles By

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For many followers of improvised music, their first experience of Switzerland's Charlotte Hug was around the turn of the millennium, as a viola player, an instrument on which she was classically trained. In collaborations such as the all-female trio with Maggie Nicols and Caroline Kraabel, or the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO), she soon gained a reputation as a striking performer who was not shy of deploying innovative or experimental playing techniques.

Gradually, the picture of Hug was filled in with more details; listeners discovered that she sometimes used electronics with her viola or employed her voice with it. Her talents and interests also extended to visual art, using video and giving performances in unusual spaces such as dungeons and underground Roman baths. While some of those activities have not been evident from Hug's modestly-sized discography, they have been represented in the log of concerts and exhibitions on her website . Now, two Hug releases on the Polish Fundacja Słuchaj! label spotlight contrasting aspects of her music....

Charlotte Hug
Son-Icon Music
Fundacja Słuchaj!
2018

"Son-Icon" in this album's title refers to "sound drawings," a particular type of graphic score developed by Hug, inspirational objects "which can be turned and reversed, and can be read in reflection, backwards or in retrograde." (An example of a son-icon is helpfully pictured on this album's front cover.) As with many other graphic scores—Cardew's "Treatise" springs to mind—they can be read precisely as a score, but without constraining the players.

Son-Icon Music is the first album of performances using Hug's son-icons. It features a three-part orchestral piece, "Nachtplasmen," recorded at the Lucerne Festival in September 2011, and a three-part choral one, "Inn Cammino," premiered at Klangspuren Schwaz—Festival for New Music in September 2013. In each case, Hug herself was the conductor, sometimes employing conduction techniques developed by Butch Morris and used by the LIO. For each piece, the first and third parts were conducted while in the middle part the musicians were left to their own interpretations of the son-icons.

All the work and planning that went into realising these two performances was worthwhile as the resulting music is first rate. The orchestral and choral pieces, running for thirty-six and sixteen minutes, respectively, are very different to one another but obviously from a common source, thus giving the album variety and coherence.

From a subdued opening of swirling sounds, "Nachtplasmen" gradually builds up an enchanting layered soundscape centred around strings and woodwinds. The mood continues in the second part when control shifts to the musicians, with ominous lower frequencies becoming more prevalent. In the extended third part, the mood shifts back again to that of part one, the strings giving it a brooding, edgy feel which remains unresolved through to the end; altogether, it is as dramatic as many a through-composed piece.

Remarkably, the choral piece, "Inn Cammino," is totally different but just as successful, being a complex interwoven tapestry of a multitude of voices that avoid being a cacophony and meld together into a satisfying totality. As a whole, this album is an excellent showcase for Hug's son-icons and leaves one longing to hear more realisations of them.

Charlotte Hug & Lucas Niggli
Fulguratio
Fundacja Słuchaj!
2018

In total contrast to the above, Fulguratio finds Hug on familiar territory, albeit in a new setting. She has an impressive history as a duo player, having previously recorded in a variety of duos with such luminaries as Pat Thomas, Chantale Laplante, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Elliot Sharpe, Frédéric Blondy and Stefan Pastor. Given that they are both residents of Zurich, it is surprising that Hug and drummer Lucas Niggli had never played together as a duo. Yet that is exactly the combination which was invited to perform at the September 2016 Ad Libitum festival in Warsaw. The duo's set of five pieces, altogether running for just under forty-four minutes, was recorded and is here in its entirety. So, a familiar format but with a new partner.

Whoever decided to invite the pair to the festival knew what they were doing; the two show they are both experienced, expert improvisers who can adapt to any setting. Here, they soon click together like pieces of a jigsaw and sound as if they have had years of experience as an improvising duo. The combination of viola and drums (with Hug's voice occasionally added, for good measure) is highly successful, with neither dominating and an impressive series of fluent back-and-forth dialogues happening as a result. Yes, textbook improv at its finest, a joy to hear.

On this showing, we must hope that the Fundacja Słuchaj! label has plans for more Hug releases to continue this winning streak.

Tracks and Personnel

Son-Icon Music

Tracks: Nachttplasmen: Part I 1, Part I 2, Part I 3, Part II, Part III ; Inn Cammino: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Personnel: Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra (1-5); via-nova choir Munich (6-8).

Fulguratio

Tracks: Obliqua Fulmina; Rumbrum Spiritus; Lacunosus; Virga; Perlucidus.

Personnel: Charlotte Hug: viola, voice; Lucas Niggli: drums, percussion.

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