Vocalist Phil Minton's instinctive ability to pull something new from his throat has to be admired. In the company of guitarist Michael Renkel and percussionist Burkhard Beins (known collectively as Activity Center), Minton finds plenty of material within their music and noisemaking to wrap his vocal cords around, all of which allows his creative persona to fully unfurl as the session progresses. As part of Activity Center he opens up with an astonishing array of guttural squeaks, burps, groans and gasps: what sounds like his very soul is straining to burst free. Accompanied by Renkel's sensitively stroked acoustic guitar and zither and Beins's equally emotive percussion and occasional bowed cymbal, the six pieces here range from the humorous to the grotesque. On the elongated "RubbleRubble", all three musicians fuse together in a constantly shifting surge, punctuated throughout with barks, growls and excited pantings in the dark from Minton's seemingly endless store of vocal distortions. Chased around by Beins and Renkel's fractured instrumentation, the trio rock out to a scattered beat of madness, joy and sheer bedlam.
- Edwin Pouncy, The Wire -

Now it's improv going to ambient without being atmospheric at all, and no electronics, only acoustics. Nice to hear.
- Vital Weekly -

Wie im Burkhard-Beins-Feature in BA 46 angemerkt, ist Activity Center, sein bereits in Celle gestartetes Duo mit Michael Renkel, die Keimzelle seiner Improaktivitäten. Beide hat es längst nach Berlin gezogen, vieles hat sich entwickelt, aber ästhetisch ist eher Kontinuität denn ein Bruch festzustellen. Mit ihrem Instrumentarium aus akustischer Gitarre - Renkel - und Percussion - Beins - plus jeweils Zither und weiteren perkussiv einsetzbaren Objekten kitzeln die beiden die Geräuschnarbe, aber vorsichtig, ganz vorsichtig. Minton hält seine Stimmbänder ebenfalls am ganz kurzen Zügel. Mit Poire_z hat er bereits solche diskreten Finessen erprobt. Wer ihn als krächzendes Rumpelstilzchen kennt, dürfte sich wundern, wie zart und luftig er agieren kann. Mit stark gedrosselten Guttural- & Labiallauten bringt er zusätzlich Luft in das ebenso luftige wie fragile Gewebe aus den gezupften, gestrichenen und gepochten Mikroklängen seiner Mitspieler. Alles Spektakuläre und Aufregende ist wie heruntergeschraubt auf Sparflamme. Dennoch wird der künstlich verkleinerte Spielraum ständig für dreipolige Aktivitäten genutzt. Automatisch versucht sich die Wahrnehmung dem neuen Maßstab anzupassen. Und mit 1 : x justierten Ohren füllt sich der Raum plötzlich mit akustischen Teilchen, mit Gitarren-Plinks und Quarks und Zither-Strings und all ihrer Phantomverwandtschaft, kleine Tonflötentöne, ein kehliges Gurren, zischende Wischer. Ein phantastischer Zengarten tut sich vor dem inneren Auge auf, zu ungeheuer, um die Seele beruhigt baumeln zu lassen. Eher werden die seltsamen Dinge hörbar, die in der fremden und seltsamen Welt leicht und gern überhört werden, weil sie einem sonst nur noch fremder und seltsamer vorkäme.
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

Our resident reductionist Berlin bluesman Wayne Spencer was a tad disappointed to see that this latest release on Marcus Liebig's Absinth imprint features none other than vocalist Phil Minton, someone to whom the epithet "lowercase" hardly applies ­ or so one would have thought. After all, Minton in full flight sounds like clots of phlegm sloshing in a dirty ashtray half full of old beer ­ but here, in the company of percussionist Burkhard Beins and guitarist Michael Renkel (both Berliners also play zither) he's remarkably restrained. Not so much a barroom brawl as an after hours wheeze with the landlord lazily strumming on his acoustic while the barman blearily scours out the sink with a Brillo pad. It's supple and subtle, walking-on-eggshells music, the six tracks picking their way tentatively as the trio test possible footholds as they advance. Beins' mastery of timbre and texture is as evident as ever, and Renkel's work, both plucked and bowed, is the model of finesse. As for Minton, well, despite the "fucking risky" soundbite that Liebig included for some reason at the opening of the disc, he's so good at playing the gentlemanly quiet game he could end up doing it full time.
- Dan Warburton, Paristransatlantic -

Activity Center adds Minton's vocal projections to the established Berlin duo of guitarist Michael Renkel, who is in the Phosphor band with Dörner, and percussionist Burkhard Beins, who often plays with other Brits like harpist Rhodri Davies and guitarist John Bisset.
Oddly enough, Minton begins Activity Center by clearly stating "too risky". Considering his vocal gymnastics, the only activity that might be riskier would be to produce an utterance while sword swallowing. Nothing like that is in evidence, although if the Activity Center was a circus, Minton would very much be in the ring master. Only rarely does Renkel resort to blunt frailing from his guitar; mostly he seems content to strum almost tonelessly and definitely acoustically, occasionally also adding haphazard plucks and plinks from his zither. For his part, Beins, listed as playing selected objects as well as percussion and zither Ð Renkel adds percussion as well Ð introduces timbres that range from stentorian to near silence. He claps his cymbals, resonates tam tams and scratches, slaps, shakes and ratchets the rest of the kit producing tones that sound like dominos being scuffled across the studio floor. Expanding the percussion tones so that they occasionally resembles random Morse Code tapping, elsewhere he bolsters Minton's vocalization and on the odd occasion replicates crickets chirping or carnivorous animals gnawing. Additionally, on "Hi! Friction", some instrumental combination brings forth harmonium-like textures that cushion Minton's whistle and gargles. These are the least of the throat-clearing noises expended by the soundsinger. Throughout the CD's six tracks he grumbles and mumbles, gargles and blows raspberries, and variously captures what you figure are budgie twitters as well as the noise of a bear snoring during hibernation.
- Ken Waxman, Jazzword -

"Too risky! It´s too fuckin´ risky, I think, these days. Yeah, ahhh. I dont think I could take it anymore." With that preamble from Minton, this unlikely project takes off. Unlikely in the sense that, going in, one might have a misgiving or two on pairing the voluble vocalist with a duo that, at least as far as prior recordings evidence, tend toward the recondite and austere. Well, it turns out just fine, Minton generally adapting his mouth sounds toward the quieter, more contemplative end of dial where Burkhard Beins and Michael Renkel happily reside. This is not to say that Minton doesn´t occasionally burp forth some post-digestive eructations, but they don´t usurp the proceedings and instead happily coexist alongside the gentler meanderings of his mates. The Beins/Renkel duo are a nicely offsetting pair themselves, Beins´ stringent but rich percussion well-balanced by Renkel´s slightly-to-the-left-of-Stangl´s nearly melodic strumming. Minton adds a fresh color, a rather more liquid presence, bubbling freely between them, gurgling around the edges. It´s a plus, I think, when male free improv vocalists operate in the baritone-bass range as they´re able to sink under the other activity and have a greater chance of "disappearing" that is , allowing the listener to momentarily forget that he/she is hearing a singer. Some of the most effective minutes on this disc are precisely when that occurs, when, as with much good improv, the instruments themselves are subsumed by the music, a difficult trick given the psychological reactions listeners automatically have to the human voice. The handful of times the voice becomes too identifiable with a given emotional quality, as on the groaning sections of the second track, "Pick Force", one is jerked a bit out of the "now" and into an area of pathos perhaps better left to other forms of music. Happily, this is a rare instance and for the most part the trio maintains a serene, richly-detailed surface with the odd flash of brilliance. The longer pieces, "Hide" and "RubbleRubble", are well-paced, varied without any sense of the grab-bag and evince careful listening by the musicians - not merely call and response but additive and creative solutions. When Minton breaks into quasi-song during the former, over a near-vamp by Beins and Renkel, it´s a lovely and oddly welcome surprise. A few moments later, his buzzy whistling over koto-like guitar and the clacking of sticks manages a similarly wonderful, if brief, time suspension. The final cut, "Hi! Friction", cemented early on by another Stanglesque guitar figure, is perhaps my favorite of the bunch. Beins´ bowed zither (guessing here) blends in perfectly with Minton´s strained, saliva-laden gasps and questioning low tones, the seven minute piece achieving a solid, almost compositional feeling. Good job. As with everything else so far on Absinth, well worth hearing, no risk at all.
- Brian Olewnick, Bagatellen -

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