Somnambule - Writing About Music

Ekkehard Ehlers, Josef Suchy, Fritz Hautzinger ~ Soundchambers

Soundchambers is a recording by laptop musician Ehlers, trumpeter Hautzinger and guitarist Suchy. The group were formed to provide sound for an art installation in a park in Porto, however the outcome is a much more musical affair than might have been expected for such a project. Whether Soundchambers is a temporary grouping or an ongoing one is unknown, though on the strength of this offering it’s to be hoped the latter will be the case.

The first of the five untitled tracks begins in rainforest mode, full of birdcalls and insect noises. This chorus is joined by the breathy, metallic sound of air resonating through Hautzinger’s trumpet: initially too gentle to create music, it’s atmospherically rich in itself. Then music comes in long slow notes, supported by germinal rhythms, popping and clicking and almost indistinguishable from the tapestry of the forest canopy. Suchy’s liquid guitar completes the ensemble to create a rich sonic mulch. Track two appears to take place in a metal quarry where blasting reverberates across large expanses while Hautzinger traces mournful fanfares in the air above. On track three Ehlers introduces piano samples (from fellow Staubgold artist, Adam Butler) that freeze, fragment and stutter in brief loops, and across which Suchy slurs reversed guitar. Hautzinger’s playing here owes a notable debt to Jon Hassell’s work as well as, at one point, to the mournful/noble signature of Nils Petter Molvaer (himself a sometime Hassell acolyte). In fact the whole sonic landscape of Soundchambers may be traced to the wellspring of Hassell’s oeuvre, particularly ‘The Surgeon Of The Nightsky Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound’ (1987). Track four rises out of hiss, radio signals, sundry bleeps and breath like the atmosphere rising out of a tropical swamp.

In David Toop’s recent book, Haunted Weather, the author recounts his experience of a two part concert in a Tokyo bar-cum-performance space. The first part of the evening consisted of a network of laptop performers distributed amongst the audience and interacting relatively anonymously to improvise a limnal dronescape. For the second part the network was joined by two musicians playing traditional instruments whose sensitive, but more traditional performances caused their laptop-based colleagues to fall into awkard silence. Toop views this as a significant experience symbolic of the difficulty of the interaction of two different approaches and disciplines. Although it may sometimes appear that the world is awash with a flood of electronica of almost biblical proportions, there are of course whole other musical worlds centred upon the exploration and discipline of instrumental technique. Two parallel but independent strands of jazz – surely one of the genres most focused upon technique – present significant potential for interaction with electronica:

Soundchambers sits at the convergence of electronica, soundscaping and improvisation and is fascinating for the viability and attractiveness of the resulting synthesis. It’s an area brimming with possibilities but relatively under-explored; the gradual appearance of laptops in the more forward-looking jazz ensembles has failed to result in any significant engagement with electronica’s abstraction or its love of sound. For example, Ikue Mori’s laptop contributions to Dave Douglas’s Freak-In band appear to provide coloration rather than any structural recombination or deconstruction. A love of both sonic and musical interaction is clearly audible on Soundchambers and makes for fascinating listening. It can only be hoped that this trio will reconvene and explore these possibilities further.

Colin Buttimer
May 2004
Published by Milkfactory