Fracture Mechanics - Reviews

The Stressed Metal Effect
Superior quality session of electro-acoustic improvisation from an all-star quartet on Fracture Mechanics at any rate, the names Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece and Martin Küchen should be well-known to all readers who have been following this strain of improvised music for the last 15-20 years approx. Paul Vogel is a new name to me, though. A percussionist and clarinet player, he's appeared on a few recordings from the Homefront label, and has worked with Mark Wastell, Lee Patterson and Fergus Kelly, suggesting he's as much at home with sound-art as he is with free improvisation. There's also his partnerships with David Lacey and appearances in Chipshop Music, who if nothing else are a group that appear to have a sense of humour about their work.
Fracture Mechanics may be aiming at something quite serious, though. The label remind us that "Fracture Mechanics" is a term that comes to us from the worlds of engineering and manufacturing (not music), and concerns itself with the study of physics of stress on certain materials. To put it more plainly, why do steel girders crack and break? Our quartet of players may be trying to map this realm of study into music, and thus their work constitutes a series of fundamental questions about music and sound itself. To put it more plainly again, how far can they take things before the music itself breaks under the strain? The same line of thought might well apply to the genres we as an audience have imposed on free music - and as a rotten music critic, I've already suggested at least two of them in this review alone - and whether these pigeon-holes have also reached their breaking point, or outlived their usefulness. If any of the above holds a grain of truth, then the group have set themselves an ambitious ongoing task, perhaps concerning the nature of music itself and our perception of its cultural worth. The last time we flirted with these deep ideas was I think on our brief appraisal of Polwechsel, of which Burkhard Beins happens to be a member.
The record itself is not an especially "difficult" listen, though. Indeed on moments of 'Pebble Snatch', it seemed the quartet were discovering the joy of playing simple thirds and droning happily away with uncertain stabs at chords. But matters do become more complicated as we get further in, particularly on the long track 'Transmogrification', which gives me an impression of a strange, halting line of thought revealed in small, precise details; where it's hard to join ideas together in some way, as though a focus group or breakout group were sketching ideas, words, and diagrams on a flipchart at some abstruse conference. The assurance with which these seasoned players go about the task is a given; we don't need to tell you how good they are. Where I'm not clear is what territory they're trying to explore, what points are being discussed, what questions are asked. But I'm certain it's all pretty important, and deep.
In addition, there's some suggestion of alchemical processes at work, implied in the tune titles and the press note reference to turning "base liquids into nectar", though this may not be significant; music writers have been applying the "alchemy" trope to music for a long time now, usually when discussing musique concrète. It may be yet another cliché which, Fracture Mechanics warns us, we need to learn to do without; let's throw off these mental straitjackets. On the other hand, I can't ignore the credit assigned to Paul Vogel right there on the front cover: apparently he plays "air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware". I honestly have no idea what this refers to. As a phrase, it's almost poetry, lending an air of alien mystery to the entire record. It may turn out to be something as prosaic as a snow-shaker, but even so I can't translate it to a known musical instrument. It's as though Simon Magus or John Dee suddenly appeared from antiquity to start playing the theremin solos in live renditions of 'Dazed and Confused'. At one point in the olden days, activists like Cornelius Cardew used to warn us about the dangers of "mystification", and attacked the idea that a musician or composer could hide behind a veil of secrecy by cloaking ideas with what he regarded as flowery, spiritual, language; this sort of thing put unnecessary barriers between composer and audience, he claimed. This credit line alone probably would have given poor old Cardew seizures.
None of this vapouring of mine tells you anything about how the music on this sounds, which although slow and minimal-ish, is somehow far richer than many other outings into similar turf that have crossed our desk in recent years. Best to leave it to Mikroton's shopping list: "drum-head friction, precise gurgling, conceptually static noises, analog synth putter, ultra minimalism, radio distortion aesthetics, and disassembled wind instruments".
- Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector -

If you're a fan of the contemporary improvised music scene, just the combination of the four principals involved here should enough to wet your whistle. Beins, Capece, Küchen and Vogel have each produced a large volume of extraordinary music over the past couple of decades. What would they get up to as a quartet?
The first track, the brief 'Transubstantiation', is something of a surprise, an overlaying of conversation that may well have been recorded in the studio prior to the music making. Nothing earthshaking, but it might bring a smile to one's lips. 'Pebble Snatch' reminded me, as it began, of the area investigated by Swiss musicians like Günter Müller and others in the mid-oughts: an underlying pulse over which scattered, more abstract sounds are arrayed. But as it develops, the hints of rhythm grew fainter and ghostly, shakuhachi-like sounds from the reeds emerge, very effective. [I should say that Paul Vogel is listed as performing "air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware", so I shall be forgiven if not correctly identifying his contributions to the proceedings, though there are a number of moments where air blown across bottles might well produce the sounds heard.] Over the course of the improvisations, the music veers wildly across this terrain, arriving at new quasi-rhythms, sometimes hollowly metallic, sometimes with the richness of deep drums. "Pendative" is more...pensive, a set of ringing bell-tones, low saxophone flutters, deep hums and more, splayed into a broad, slow-moving soundscape, quite colorful and a even a bit languid. The final track, 'Transmogrification', is more abstract and spread out yet and, in my opinion, the most successful piece here. In fact, the album is likely better perceived as a whole, migrating from (after the intro) the density and pulses of 'Transubstantiation' to this one, 30 minutes of swirling metal, reed harmonics, rough scratches and, very probably, alien air; marvelous.
- Brian Olewnick, The Squid's Ear -

Hermetic in their experiments like technicians in an air-tight chamber, the four members of Fracture Mechanics have generated an hour plus of sounds which relate as much to the first part of quartet's name as the second. While most of acoustical properties are related to instruments more mechanical than manual, the virtue of this presentation is how wave forms, sound envelopes and processes are fractured to create a unique program.
Like contemporary scientific endeavors, Fracture Mechanics crew is multi-national as well with the CD itself recorded in a radio studio in Ljubljana. Except for the engineer though, none of the participants are Slovenian. Berlin-based, Argentinean Lucio Capece plays soprano saxophone, soprano saxophone samples and wireless speakers; Paul Vogel is a Swiss/Irish specialist in clarinet, electronics and domestic glassware manipulation; Martin Küchen, who plays tenor saxophone, flute, radios, ipod and speakers is Swedish; and Burkhard Beins, a German, who also lives in Berlin, employs a hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects. Ignore the first track, apparently added for vanity's sake, which captures the musicians discussing where, what and how spatially they should improvise. The "Transubstantiation" or substance conversion occurs on the following tracks.
Essentially the extended interactions differ little from one another. You accept Fracture Mechanics' definition of a sound world or not at all. Rejection would be a mistake though, since you would miss insight in how seemingly incompatible textures can be intertwined into a intriguing sound tapestry. Although three reed players are involved nowhere are expected saxophone or clarinet cadences audible. Crying puffs, flat-line air expelling and bubbling shrills curve and vanish with the same frequency as the other so-called real instruments' sounds make their presence known. Only on "Pendentive", when deep drum reverberations serve as the track's introduction, are the instruments' traditional sonic properties exposed. Nonetheless, when synthesizer-created loops and flutters also pock-mark the connective narrative, like comparing the taste of butter and margarine, the properties which separate acoustic from electric instruments become gratuitous. Besides ring modulator gonging and tick-tocking percussion suggestions, the same track is distinguished from the general miasma when faint samples of non-western radio-sources enter the mix. Divergent broadcasted noises, consisting of half-heard voices in unknown languages also mark "Transmogrification", the extended final track. Continuous rotation of whistling pops, backwards moving flanges and tuning static define the wave forms here as the aural equivalent of a snake eating its own tail. Eventually though, the fractures and cracks are stitched together to create a scrapping metal whole, which pulsates like an indivisible mass. Finally fire-engine-like blares re-splinter the mass into squeals, strokes and blows, which ingeniously relate back to "Pebble Snatch" the first musical outing.
Solo-less and at points an impenetrable tone cluster, the CD is mostly for those whose musical acceptance is akin to literary followers of the non-linear new novel.
- Ken Waxman, Jazzword -

An allusive take on multidimensional improvisation from this collection of veterans, most of whom exist as points on the Echtzeitmusik/reductionist/electroacoustic axis.
'Fracture Mechanics' is enigmatic and considered. Long, breathy saxophone hoots waft across a jittery bed of interference. Glottal clicks rattle between glassy tones like a spittle flecked metronome in a temple. In 'Pebble Snatch', two saxophones - Capece on soprano and Küchen on tenor - moan in prehistoric lament. 'Pendentive' sets a cavern of ritualistic percussion against lattices of frowning gurgles and hand-bell tinkles.
There's a lot going on under these unruffled surfaces. A wide-ranging array of equipment - the usual speakers, iPod, radios and objects you'd expect from this milieu, plus saxophones, hand oscillators, e-bowed zithers, monotron, snare drum and, best of all, 'air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware' - yields a rich matrix of effects, but the space is never crowded. Restraint is as important as variety, the cumulative experience of the four players giving them an intuitive sense of when to hold back and when to push out.
Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, 'Fracture Mechanics' is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of 'Transmogrification' a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed.
- Paul Margree, Radio Free Midwich -

Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, 'Fracture Mechanics' is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of 'Transmogrification' a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed. Fracture Mechanics is a European quartet of sonic sculptors - experimental German percussionist Burkhard Beins, who plays here on hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects; fellow Berliner, Argentinian soprano sax player Lucio Capece, who plays here also on sax samples and on wireless speakers; Swedish sax player Martin Küchen, known from the Angles 9 band and the Trespass Trio, who plays here on tenor sax, flute, radios, ipod and speakers; and Swiss-Irish clarinetist Paul Vogel who plays here on "air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware" transform the concept of Fracture Mechanics into a unorthodox but highly inventive sonic texture.
By definition, Fracture Mechanics is a scientific field focused on studying the cracks in any form of material. This metaphor is used for a careful, alchemical process of creation and investigation of sounds - in all its forms and manifestations, their ever-evolving elastic shapes, and their noisy breaking points. The quartet was recorded on October 2014 at Radio Student in Ljubljana. After a short vocal introduction that suggests the coming dynamics the quartet offers three extended improvisations. 'Pebble Snatch' is the most engaging one, obviously, in its own weird manner. It is a quiet, colorful and highly cinematic soundscape, that may depict a lone journey in a deserted, icy scenery where the senses of time of space are almost frozen, turning into abstract yet tangible entities. The following "Pendentive" dives even deeper into minimalist oceans, where all stands still, except ritualistic, exotic oscillation of distant sine-waves and radio stations. The last, 30-minutes of 'Transmogrification' expands the the methodical investigation of ultra-minimalist, static sonic terrains into a dreamy, meditative soundscape.
- Eyal Hareuveni, The Free Jazz Collective -

Following forty minutes of wall of sound approach it is perhaps good to step back, sit down and relax and the quartet that offers 'Fracture Mechanics' provide exactly the right soundtrack for that. We have here four veterans of the improvisation scene; Burkhard Beins (hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects), Lucio Capece (soprano saxophone, soprano saxophone samples, wireless speakers and preparations), Martin Küchen (tenor saxophone, flute, radios, iPod, speakers) and Paul Vogel, who gets the most curious instrument credit in some time; 'air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware', whatever that is. There is a short, introduction opening piece of people speaking (maybe the musicians), but the main portion are three very long pieces, with a total length of seventy minutes, of some very careful improvised music. Lots of very remote sine wave sounds from whatever sources and the saxophone of Capece sometimes being the only instrument that can be recognized for playing small waves above the abstract mass of sound that meanders below. There is a wealth of sound events happening, and sometimes it is way below the threshold of hearing, and sometimes quite a lot above that.
- Frans De Waard, Vital Weekly -

'Transsubstantiation' und 'Transmogrification' sind mit ziemlichem Anspruch belastete Vorstellungen, 'Pendentive' klingt als deutscher Hängezwickel zwar albern, ist aber als Quadratur des Kreises grosse Baukunst. Und 'Pebble Snatch' meint ebenfalls etwas Meisterliches, nämlich sich die Murmel zu schnappen und damit zu zeigen, dass man kein Grashüpfer im Kung Fu mehr ist. Somit richtet Fracture Mechanics (mikroton cd 56) den Sinn auf Höheres, verortet sich und uns aber noch unverwandelt und diesseits. LUCIO CAPECE (soprano saxo­phone, bass clarinet, wireless speakers, sound selfies), BURKHARD BEINS (percussions), PAUL VOGEL (electronics, vase, clarinet - wobei 'Luft von anderem Planeten, enthalten in irdischen Gläsern' vielversprechender klingt) und MARTIN KÜCHEN (saxophones & speaker) bereiten erstmal nur rumorend und bruitistisch sprühend das Feld. Die Luftsäulen sind als potentielle Vertikale nur ganz verhuscht und gedämpft, schnarrend und röchelnd oder viehisch schnaubend erkennbar. Beins Monotron und E-Bow, oszillatorisches Ticken oder metallisches Schleifen, auch ein gläsern feiner Klingklang, haben aller­dings einen thaumaturgischen Anstrich, vor allem das gepaukte Pochen. Dazu erklingt auch mal ein beschwörender orientalischer Gesang. Wobei letztlich diese AMM'sche/Keith Rowe'sche 'Mystik' doch akusmatisch verborgen bleibt, die Absicht ebenso wie das undurchsichtige Procedere. Hinter der weihevollen Aura könnte sich ebensogut die Zubereitung von Rührei und Tee abspielen.
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

La rencontre date d'octobre 2014 : une radio etudiante de Lubiana (89.3 FM) recevait et enregistrait Burkhard Beins (caisse claire et objets, cithare sous EBbow et oscillateurs), Lucio Capece (saxophones soprano, enceintes sans fil et préparations), Martin Küchen (saxophone tenor, flute, radio et iPod) et son compagnon de Chip Shop Music Paul Vogel (je cite : "air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware"). Elle parait aujourd'hui sous le titre Fracture Mechanics.
Sur les quatre pieces du disque, les musiciens vont au son d'une improvisation (forcement) electroacoustique qui fait grand cas du ou des rythmes. Ainsi l'auditeur y penetre-t-il au son de conversations ayant precede cette prestation "on air" avant de faire face aux premiers graves de percussions diverses - on ne saura que rarement si la "percussion" enregistree repond a l'agacement d'un instrument ou a celui d'un objet "quelconque". Certes, l'environnement reste electronique mais les saxophones n'en demordent pas : une place leur est reservee dans ces labyrinthes de rythmes minuscules. Alors tiennent-ils une note quelques secondes durant ou en repetent une autre comme pour ramener le groupe a la raison : la musique n'est-elle qu'une suite de parasites tremblants ? de rythmes individuels que l'on se passe sous le manteau ? de raclements d'objets ou de craquements radio ?
D'une enceinte, perce soudain une voix d'un autre age, c'est-a-dire d'un autre art musical : elle offre  un supplement d'ame a l'exercice electroacoustique partage par quatre habitues du genre. Leur association, en plus d'etre rare, est epatante.
- Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son Du Grisli -

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