MEMBRANE - REVIEWS
Although we have three well-known players from the field of improvised music here, playing instruments such as concert bass-drum (Burkhard Beins), tenor & soprano saxophone (John Butcher) and amplified 32" paiste tam-tam (Mark Wastell), the recordings captured on this release, made in concert at the Cafe Oto on 13 April 2014 sound very electronic. That is because each of them also uses analog synth & live electronics (Beins), acoustic & amplified feedbacking (Butcher) and mixer (Wastell). It may take some time, but then at one point in 'Membrane 1' you hear the saxophone coming out this mass of drone like sounds, crackles and deep space, but throughout this remains very minimal and on the atmospheric side. None of the percussion instruments are played here in a percussive way, but something that is not unlike resonant spaces creating smaller and larger walls of sounds. Towards the end of 'Membrane 1', this wall collapses and this trio shows some more 'regular' improvised skills. It's interesting to note that they never played as a trio before, but in whatever form as duo they did, and yet in 'Membrane 1' they make that everything is very much together. 'Membrane 2' on the other hand is relatively more open piece of music. It surely sounds a bit dark with those big drums and tam-tam sounds, vibrating on a low plate, but the saxophone plays a much freer role here, and at specific points things explode into a wild, free improvisation, and the percussionist play around with sticks; along goes the electronic ornaments, which burst, crackle and plop around. Two quite different pieces of music. Excellent release which comes with some interesting liner notes in an oversized tin can - Confront's usual high standard.
- Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly -
This marvellous release from Mark Wastell's Confront label documents a meeting of these three heavy hitters convened at Dalston's Cafe Oto, last March. This was the first time all three had played together, although, as John Eyles remarks in his liner notes, they had all worked with each other, before, in outfits such as Polwechsel (Butcher and Beins), The Sealed Knot (Beins and Wastell) and Chris Burn's Ensemble (Wastell and Butcher).
This familiarity, combined with rigour and expertise of their respective improvisational methodologies, means this is a very accomplished set. These guys know what they're doing and so there's no faffing about. They’re locked in from the first seconds of Membrane 1, setting up a long, ringing sequence of notes, driven by Wastell's metallic tam-tam murmurs. At first things are slow and sub aqueous, Wastell setting up a liquid sonic field that makes everything like it is taking place at the bottom of a cold, clear ocean.
Butcher comes in sensitively at first, his breathy hisses moving through the shimmer like an eel. At around 11 minutes, he casts forth some simple, abstract phrases, before slipping back into the depths. Beins is even more circumspect and, occasionally, it's tricky to figure out whether the electronic tones and chain-like rattles that occasionally ripple across the surface of this piece are him or one of the other two. There's definitely something going on, however, something creating that sense of textured depth that seems, on the whole, organic but sometimes humming like a vast, dormant machine. At times, Membrane 1 approaches the timeless, womb-like states to which late 90s ambient post-rave comedown music aspired, but rarely achieved. There's a heavy strangeness and thickness to the sound, which those ambient gurus missed in their layers of synth and whale song. Mind you if I was listening to this piece in a chill out room at 4am after a night of hedonism, I doubt I would be chilling out - rather the opposite, I suspect.
For Membrane 2, things are rugged and earthy rather than glistening and watery. Again, the trio sets up a dense sonic ecosystem, Butcher braying atonally at first, his blasts punctuated by, hollow hisses and underpinned by a tempestuous, glowering tam-tam drone. Wastell keeps up the intensity throughout the first half, his fast, rhythmic beats giving things a stormy momentum as Beins comes in with a whole lot of wiry scratches and fuzz, jostling with Butcher's hollow, hostile exhalations.
The second half of Membrane 2 is wiry and metallic, sharp, echoing clangs followed oxy-acetylene hisses, all of which seems to force gasps of pain from Butcher's horn. It feels like we're listening to some mechanical entity under duress, about to fall apart. Yet just as suddenly as it started, it stops, gearing down to something more subdued, a series of churning hums and brassy whispers.
- popsmargree, We Need No Swords -
Membrane was recorded last spring, and features a couple of tracks of shifting resonance, investigations of breath & struck or rubbed materials. In some sense, the percussion dominates in that Mark Wastell (who operates Confront) drives the proceedings on amplified tam-tam, and Burkhard Beins combines the resonances of a bass drum with feedback & electronics. (I had heard Beins before in e.g. the recent Traces of Wood, a rather composition-oriented album by Polwechsel, with whom Butcher has also recorded. This was my first encounter with Wastell, at least that I remember.) However, the breath does factor strongly into this interaction, and indeed one might view such an exploration as akin to the Japanese shakuhachi repertory (mentioned here a week ago). In any case, the electronics seem mainly to function to align the volumes/intensities between the different material resonators, without a lot of feedback, in order to explore close interactions of the different resonances themselves. There's a metallic quality that underscores much of this interaction, starting with the tam-tam, serving to structure the contributions of wood & breath. The music might proceed from a quiescent state to a throbbing surge, with some resonances emerging as distinct (countable) beats. ... Membrane thus does have a background quality to it, but draws one's attention explicitly to such background vibrations. It's an exercise for one's attention in that sense, an exercise that may be figured broadly, and never particularly overwhelming in any dimension.
- Todd McComb, Medieval.org -
The first (? as far as I'm aware) oversize metal box issued by Confront, presumably to house the 4x6" photo cards included, with text by John Eyles on the reverse, documenting a
live set at Cafe Oto this last April, Beins on feedback 28" bass drum, analog synth and electronics, Butcher with his tenor and soprano (with assorted feedback) and Wastell on amplified 32" tam-tam and mixer.
It begins as a fairly calm, brooding set, all the instruments generating long tones, Wastell's ringing tam-tam and Beins' low thuds offset by thin, sputtering lines from the saxophone. The trio lingers in this area for a good while, manipulating the levels with subtlety and richness, gradually increasing the volume. The texture granulizes with feathery strokes on the metal, key-triggered burbles from Butcher, the sound remaining continuous, just getting drier, repeated percussive taps from various sources urging matters anxiously forward. An abrupt cessation and collapse, matters settling down to a swiftly burbling simmer. It breaks apart further, quite beautifully, into shards of bell tones, sax feedback pops and other resonant, though short, elements, very welcome. The second of two tracks starts out in more fevered fashion, Butcher overblowing, Beins (I think) hissing furiously, Wastell churning something beneath and behind. It's unsettling, serving as a good tonic to the calmer portions of the first cut, the intensity maintained throughout, buzzes and clangs over a steady bed of electronics, feedback sax roaming above, very strong.
Overall, rather what I would have envisaged from these three musicians--intelligent work with a marked sense of corporeality and visceral presence. Make room in your oversized release shelf.
- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside -
I never knew what a tam-tam was until I saw it listed on a Stockhausen record. It is a type of gong that looks like an archer's target. The music of this disc begins with a the cosmic drone of a gong, slowly reverberating, the suspense carefully building. Slowly Mr. Butcher's tenor sax enters little by little as well as somber/eerie electronics or feedback, growing incrementally. The sound of the tam-tam and electronics is quite similar so it is hard to tell them apart. The combined sounds of the trio are extremely focused and immensely haunting. It sounds as if the reverberations are slowing down and this seems to have an effect, like time being stretched out. John Butcher is just the right man on saxes for this trio as he consistently changes the sound of his saxes to fit the strange sounds that his partners evoke. Is that a tea kettle whistling or Mr. Butcher playing? This is an extraordinary recording and consistently fascinating from the first sound until the last one!
- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery -
'Un pour tous et tous pour un', ecrit John Eyles a l'interieur de la boite Confront pour evoquer l'esprit de cet enregistrement de concert (Cafe OTO, 13 avril 2014). Les trois musiciens impliques accorderent la autant de pratiques instrumentales amplifiees : Burkhard Beins a la grosse caisse de concert et au synthetiseur analogique, John Butcher aux saxophones tenor et soprano et Mark Wastell au gong.
Les deux improvisations debutent sur quelques frappes en resonance - peut-etre est-ce la leur seul point commun. Car la premiere va bientot sur le rythme d'un pouls regulier, les notes de saxophone y sont endurantes et dans le meme temps timides, quand l'electronique s'y fait une place en douce. Le jeu sur clefs de Butcher presse un peu le discours, que le trio prolongera en seconde plage. Alors, le saxophoniste (au soprano) accentue, appuie - sur l'instant : incruste ses notes -, auquel ses partenaires opposent des inspirations soudaines valant aspirations. C'est un souffle d'artifices dans lequel John Butcher s'inscrit.
- Guillaume Belhomme, Le son du grisli -
Ytterligare en trio med Wastell hörs på Membrane, men här spelar han inte cello utan förstärkt 32-tums tam-tam. Övriga triomedlemmar är Burkhard Beins på elektrifierad 28-tums bastrumma mm., John Butcher saxar och elektronik och som det står i John Eyles liner-notes, har dessa tre herrar spelat ihop på ett eller annat sätt under en lång tid. De är alla mästerliga musiker som förfinat sina instrument och tänjt på gränserna för vad som är möjligt att göra med/på dem. På Membrane hör vi en konert på Cafe Oto i London i April 2014 och det är bara lyssna och tappa hakan.
Det handlar om otroligt detaljerad improvisationsmusik som utveckals långsamt och flyter ut i alla riktningar. Trion arbetar med ganska minimalistiska uttryck och låter tiden ha sin gilla gång. Mark Wastells tam-tam ger ett magiskt lätt skimmer och ligger samtidigt som en tjock filt över musiken. Beins 28-tums bastrumma är som väntat mullrande, vibrerarnde och störsignalen från hans analoga synt känns självklar. Slagverksinstrument kontrasteras fint med Butchers saxofon som klangligt tränger sig in mellan dånande basfrekvenser och anslagens klyftor.
- Joachim Nyberg, Sound Of Music -