Der Polwechsel. Das Phänomen, dass das Magnetfeld der Erde von Zeit zu Zeit umspringt, und dass dann dort wo Norden war, nun Süden ist und vice versa, ist zunächst rätselhaft. Es geschieht auch nicht oft, aber angeblich schon 18-mal seit es Bewusstsein auf der Erde gibt (das weiß man nicht, weil es den anwesenden Bewusstseinsbesitzern aufgefallen wäre). Außerdem pulsiert das Magnetfeld und ist unterschiedlich stark magnetisch. Am stärksten an den Polen - das ist nicht besonders interessant - und in Australien, am schwächsten in Brasilien, wo bekanntlich dafür Magie und Beschwörung stark und die Erdenschwere gering sind. Solche Phänomene interessieren ... die Gruppe POLWECHSEL. Die Erde als Instrument: Ihr Gründungsmitglied Werner Dafeldecker hat am Südpol einen Schneesturm aufgenommen, also dort, wo das Magnetfeld am stärksten ist. Aber auch die erdgeschichtlichen Dauern als Ideen für Rhythmen und Perioden, als Modellangebote im allgemeinen Spiel temporaler Größenverhßltnisse. Sodann, plötzliche Sprünge, nicht als Hektik, sondern als simultanes kollektives Leben/Spielen mit (mindestens) zwei total verschiedenen Prinzipien. Die Band - ich nenne sie mal Band - ist für die triolektische Synthese aus Post-Neue-Musik-Improv in Wien dasselbe, was die Byrds für den psychedelischen Folk-Rock waren: eine Akademie, ein Campus, ein Trainingslager. Oder die Soft Machine desselben. Ein extrem langlebiges Quartett, dessen Mitglieder manchmal woanders hingehen und neue Welten eröffnen wie Ex-PW Burkhard Stangl, einer der produktivsten Musiker seiner Zeit, zuletzt gab es die programmmusikalische Implosion 'Unfinished. For William Turner, Painter', oder extreme Vergangenheiten haben wie Ex-PW Radu MAlfatti, der schon bei Britherhood Of Breath mitgemacht hat, dem Trainingslager der 70er und 80er.
Die versprochenen zwei Prinzipien sind zum Beispiel: ein Gewaschen-Sein mit allen Wassern einer Unbestimmtheitsästhetik, Klischee- und Gestaltvermeidung einerseits und andererseits das Verbreiten einer Stimmung von Disziplin, von Gesetztheit, von Urteil, von so und nicht anders. Ziemlich beeindruckend.
Das neue Album - das siebte in zirka 20 Jahren: 'Traces Of Wood' - hat vier Kompositionen/Stücke, die von je einem Member ausgehen (wie 'Third' von Soft Machine) und doch, und ich's endlich, und doch: den "Polwechsel", den Austausch der Spannungsbezüge in der Gruppe in derart groß abgezirkelten Coolnesskurven herbeiführen, dass man von Lockerheit sprechen müsste - wäre es nicht eine ziemlich ernste Musik.
- Diedrich Diederichsen, Spex -

For nearly 20 years, over six previous albums and through continually shifting line-ups, Polwechsel have explored a refined aesthetic that has sat on the cusp of composition and improvisation, beginning in the midst of reductionism's inspection of musical minutiae and expanding outwards as the various member's own interests have evolved. As each musician has found their own paths outside of the group, so disagreements about how to progress have occured, some resulting in departures, some bringing tension to the music. Following John Butcher's exit from the ensemble, Polwechsel exists as the quartet of bassist Werner Dafeldecker, cellist Michael Moser and percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr. For Traces Of Wood the group explicitly harness the divergent interests of its membership to try and find a way to work together.
So as Beins's piece 'Adapt/Oppose' focuses on the way the musicians react to one another, so Moser seems more inclined towards how the music evolves and changes through repetition, stretching and moulding of the material, while Dafeldecker beautifully explores the confrontation between the musicians and a field recording of an Antarctic snowstorm. These compositions were then practised and developed at length as a group, so allowing each to make their individual mark on the work and for the resulting music to take on a group personality.
Perhaps partly as a result of the departure of Butcher's sax, Traces Of Wood sounds aesthetically closer to composed chamber music and further away from improvisation than any of the ensemble's previous recorded outings. Conversely, though, if everything certainly sounds like Polwechsel, it all also sounds like an established, experienced ensemble coming to grips with the music of four different composers. The group's voice seems to come first, and the composer second, the understanding of the musicians really shining through. Traces Of Wood is best heard as an exploration of the history and combined aesthetics of a longstanding group than as an album taken in isolation.
- Richard Pinnell, The Wire -

When the ensemble Polwechsel first appeared in the early 90s, they were a harbinger of a genre of music, arguably pioneered in the improve world by AMM, that came to be, to the annoyance of many, known as reductionism, music that concerned itself with low volume, minimal amounts of sound and, indeed, a healthy dose of silence. It was quite shocking at the time, coming at the heels of several decades worth of high energy free improvisation, originally in the US but taken to heart in Europe. Radu Malfatti, one of the original members of Polwechsel, would continue to this day to take this approach to various extremes. While cellist Michael Moser and bassist Werner Dafeldecker were constants in Polwechsel, the other members have rotated a bit. Traces of Wood is the second recording from the incarnation with percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr, an unusual but very tasty two-strings/two percussion set up. Since the extraordinary first recording (Polwechsel, on hat[now]ART, recorded in 1993 and 1994) one problem has dogged subsequent efforts, that being a certain aridity. The group always tried to balance between improvisation and composition and too often the latter predominated, with the pieces themselves registering as excessively dry and formal.
Happily, this new disc resolves much of that issue, despite the fact that each of the four tracks is composed, one per member. Beins, whose own work can rarely be accused of any dryness, leads things off with "Adapt/Oppose", the strings opening with rich, bowed harmonics, deep and lustrous. Cymbals, bowed and struck, appear, forming a huge welter of sound before a sharp metallic clang signals a shift to sparse taps. Sparse but not dry as they suspend in space, very much alive, soon buffeted by cello scurrying, sustained vibraphone and more. A very alive piece, structurally complex, progressively more abstract over its duration, revealing more relationships on every listen. Moser's "Grain Bending #1" begins with a bang as well, a clatter of percussion and arco, but with a very different character than the Beins, here tumbling over one another in a more astringent environment. Moser, probably more than any other member, was most responsible for those arid areas previously cited and there's a little bit of that here but not nearly as suffocating as before. The quiet portions breathe and the percussive events, while reminiscent of all manner of "new" music from the 60s on, indeed possess the grain of the title and feel appropriate and interactive with their accompaniment, nestling right in even as they're flexing their elbows. There's even an overtly lovely, chorale-like portion for cello toward the end. A fine piece.
Given his tenure with Radian over the previous decade or so and his tendencies therein, one might expect a certain amount of rhythmic flash from Brandlmayr but his "Nia Rain Circuit" really only refers obliquely to those concerns. Percussion does seem to drive the piece and one hears the briefest snatches of the kind of high-speed, precision drum work that Brandlmayr is noted for but, on the whole, the composition is a set of somewhat fractured episodes, each offering a bar glimpse into a "room". It flows less smoothly than the preceding two works but, at the same time acts as a kind of tonic for them, a good fit in terms of the disc as a whole. Finally, Dafeldecker's "S 64°14" W 56°37"", using recordings made by the composer at that location in Antarctica, concludes the album in chilly and stirring fashion. The frigid rumblings underpin some splendidly icy scrapings by Polwechsel, very well integrated; often it seems imitative of natural sounds like ice fissures, boreal winds and such. Near its conclusion we hear deep bowed strings once again, recalling the disc's beginning.
Traces of Wood is a welcome return to form, Polwechsel's most satisfying recording since their first.
- Brian Olewnick, The Squid's Ear -

Polwechsel has been around since 1993, and their methodological and instrumental explorations still compel. Centered around the partnership between bassist Werner Dafeldecker and cellist Michael Moser, the group has been justly praised for its explorations of those intersections where idioms - new music, "laminal" sound and latter-day free improvisation - intersect in ways tough to untangle. Tellingly, their early records were released by the Hat Now new music imprint, while the most recent documents have appeared on the more improv-centric Hatology. At any rate, this March 2010 date sports a title that could serve as an aesthetic description of sorts, emphasizing the group's focus on the grain and the warp of music rather than any conventional sense of linearity. It also knowingly implies that this is a music that lives in its "traces," effects, and ephemerality. Now stripped down to a pair of duos, Moser and Dafeldecker, alongside percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr - the music is rich and sumptuous, even as it maintains an air of mystery. When Beins' "Adapt/Oppose" unfurls with an encompassing drone, I was brought back immediately to the gorgeous, surprising, resonant sound of their debut.
Yet while there's an aesthetic consistency despite changing instrumentation, the group has changed as well. For example, Beins was long noted for his resistance to actually striking the drums, but here - as the drone dies down - there are small thwacks and clatters form both players. It's a bustling sound that recurs throughout Traces of Wood, and seems to nod briefly to the sound of more conventional European free improvisation. But the music, both drifting and organically grounded, moves quickly into other areas via clouds of its own conjuring.
One of the group's most admirable features is its ability to sustain atmospheres of particular luminosity but also imbue them with palpable tensions. When you think they're ready to sink into the pleasant embrace of a mid-register drone, for example, Beins and Brandlmayr might slash against your comfort zone with high-end bowed cymbals. Or, as either Moser or Dafeldecker ululates, the remainder of the group might shriek, slash and scuttle beneath.
Moser's lengthy "Grain Bending #1." This cut crashes out of the gates, spilling quickly into reserve before seeming to tumble again into fragmentation and noise, a dynamic oscillation that preoccupies most of the pieces until it dissipates somehow, its pitch shifting downward as if pulled by some eldritch gravity. Brandlmayr's episodic "Nia Rain Circuit" is a bit more desultory, seeming not to have any definable affect or atmosphere other than to focus on the sudden evaporation of textual clouds at the downstroke of a drumstick or other declamation. But even when things don't succeed altogether, it's impressive to follow Polwechsel's communication via whine, shimmer, rustle, and thwack.
Dafeldecker's composition closes the disc, a hushed whorl of sound flirting with inaudibility until what could almost be a construction noise upends it towards its conclusion. As the disc fizzles out in a series of small punctuations - a squiggling arco slash, a rimshot, a low churn - you come to the conclusion that this is a group gifted with the ability to generate sound seeming to transcend articulation. And if at times its transitions seem just a touch mannered, Traces of Wood on balance leaves a marvelous, mysterious etching.
- Jason Bivins, Dusted Magazine -

Diese anfangs ganz österreichische Formation nimmt eine Schlüsselstellung ein für das, was grob gesagt Reduktionismus heißt, schöner aber 'Ereignislose Musik' (Burkhard Stangl, 1996), 'Schnee' (derselbe, 2000), 'Die Geschichte des Sandkorns' (Antoine Beuger, 1992), 'Der Bruch der Gefäße' (Klaus Lang, 1995) oder 'Das Profil des Schweigens' (Radu Malfatti, 1997). Der Bassist Werner Dafeldecker und der Cellist Michael Moser, die beiden Polwechsel-Konstanten, waren beim Polwechsel-Urknall 1993/94 mit Stangl und bei Durian Records im Auge des Hurrikans positioniert. Der Drummer Martin Brandlmayr, neu seit Archives of the North (2006), hat sich dafür qualifiziert mit so sprechenden Projekten wie Autistic Daughters (mit Dafeldecker) und Trapist. Burkhard Beins, ebenfalls 2006 dazu gestoßen, vereint quasi die Berliner Echtzeitmusik, zu deren Hauptvertretern er gehört durch Projekte wie Phosphor, The Sealed Knot und Trio Sowari, mit einer ihrer wichtigsten Ein- und Zuflüsse. Moser, der inzwischen bei Zeitkratzer Anschluss fand, sieht mittlerweile die reduktionistische Welle auf dem Rückweg vom Pol der Stille, den beckettschen Endspielen einer fast nur noch gedachten Musik (explizit: Dachte Musik, GROB, 2001). 'Grain Bending #1', seine Musik für Cello, Kontrabass und zweifache Percussion, operiert ungeniert wieder mit wuchtigen Schlägen, energischen Clustern, und deren Nachhall in Gestalt von zitternden Klangfarbschlieren der Streicher und ebenfalls strichförmiger Perkussivität, wie Kratzern übers Becken oder sirrend angestrichenen Metallkanten. Der elektroakustische Eindruck ist dabei nicht nur eingebildet, denn Elektronik ist auf subtile Weise mit im Spiel. Das finale Crescendo ist aber zweifelsfrei ein Crescendo. Beins' 'Adapt/Oppose' ist eine weitere seiner Kollektivkompositionen, die von den titelgebenden Parametern gesteuert werden. Dröhnminimalistisch summende Strings spinnen sonore lange Fäden. Die Gegenthese erklingt in perkussiven Flocken, die Streicher passen sich an. Abwechselnd erfolgen so im Kontrast aus Haltetönen und pointillistischen Gesten, aus ruhigen Momenten und massiver Intervention, Vorschläge für den Fortgang, mit großer Aufmerksamkeit für klangliche Feinheiten. Bei Brandlmayrs 'Nia Rain Circuit' wäre zu ergänzen '...und Live-Sampling'. In der Weise, dass in bestimmten Zeitfenstern frische Klangspuren mit soeben erst gesampleten interagieren. Lektionen aus der 'Schule der Wahrnehmung', wie der Musikwissenschaftler Matthias Haenisch den Reduktionismus in den Linernotes nennt, finden hier unmittelbar Anwendung. Die Gestik ist die bislang bewegteste, quecksilbrigste, flüchtigste, aber, obwohl eine Art Pol=Locking (um heute an Arno Schmidts 100sten und eine andere Schule zu erinnern), dabei eher bedächtig als freiweg impulsiv. Dafeldeckers 'S 64°14" W 56°37"' konfrontiert die Musiker per Zuspielband mit dem eisigen und stürmischen Sosein der antarktischen Trinity-Halbinsel, der argentinischen Schwanzspitze des Südpolspermiums. Die Reaktion ist teils vorgegeben, teils freigestellt und wechselt zwischen feinen frostigen Geräuschen und heftigeren perkussiven Akzenten. Da muss man mit abgefrorenem Arsch offenbar nachsitzen und die Ohren nachspitzen. Ohne dass sie spitz genug würden für die Sprache von Tsalal oder "the perfect whiteness of the snow".
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

To compose, at least by propensity, is to give to do, not to give to hear but to give to write. The modern location for music is not the concert hall, but the stage on which the musicians pass, in what is often a dazzling display, from one source of sound to another. - Roland Barthes, "Musica Practica"
The liner notes of Traces of Wood begin with a Bartesian epigraph. I've chosen a different one, taken from the short essay "Musica Practica." In it, Barthes speaks of a divide between an older "practical music" and a new way of "coding" music that he sees pivoting around Beethoven's work. The musical fantasy had shifted, and if you wanted to imagine a place for yourself in music that engaged you, it could no longer be as the source of the song, but only as a conductor, orchestrating something far larger than the individual subject. And so Barthes proposes a new practical music, an effort to sidestep the problematic move from music that had its heart in the individual interpreter to music of the "technician, who relieves the listener of all activity... and abolishes in the sphere of music the very notion of doing."
For Barthes, the composition should not exist as some static product or commodity to be passively consumed. Instead, like the reader of a modern text, the listener is to take an active role, to "cross [the composition] with an new inscription," to not simply hear, but to do: to work through a piece to uncover their own application.
Though written about music we now find antiquated, it's a program that's well-suited for modern music, particularly of the sort made by groups like Polwechsel. The four compositions on Traces of Wood feel like a culmination: a summit where distinctions between composition and improvisation have become moot, and a place where the only logical approach to the music is an active working-through, on the part of both musician and listener. Each member of the quartet (Michael Moser on cello, Werner Dafeldecker on bass, and the dual percussion of Martin Brandlmayr and Burkhard Beins) contributes a composition, though it's quickly apparent that what they each offer is less a rigid score than an environment in which a "composing" can take place. Traces of Wood marks out a realm where composition is unseen, or to evoke Barthes again, inaudible. There's a sense in which Polwechsel represents both the furthest reach of the original abolition of "practical music," and the best candidate for the mode of listening Barthes suggests to reboot it.
Traces of Wood is Polwechsel's first album since their 2009 collaboration with John Tilbury, and the first since the departure of John Butcher later in that year. It opens with Beins' "Adapt/Oppose," which engages in the intense dialectic its title suggests. The musicians move in and out of alignment with each other, and the music is jostled between long, collaborative drones and sections bristling with short blats of strings and light percussion. It establishes Traces of Wood as a music of friction. As the album progresses, we feel the resistance in a number of planes of movement, not just those of bow on string or stick against membrane.
"Grain Bending #1" is a fascinating piece in which each musician's instrument is outfitted with a transducer that relays sine waves and other samples into its sounding box, allowing them to "act both as loudspeakers…for external sounds and as independent sound producers," as Matthias Haenisch describes in the liner notes. It moves from periods of violent activity to eerie calm, as the musicians tease out a complex harmony from the bed of sinusoid tones. Perhaps most remarkable is the melody that eventually emerges: minimal and unobtrusive, yet surprising in the context of Polwechsel's output. Moser's piece maneuvers covertly into a position where this melodic turn can be accepted and integrated into the larger, abstract thrust of the entire work.
"Nia Rain Circuit" also uses technology in a subtle way. As the group performs, snippets of their playing are recorded and then re-injected into the performance on a predetermined schedule. The result makes for engaging and disorienting listening: I often believed I was hearing the musicians playing in real time, only to have the sound source abruptly cut short, revealing that it was a recording and the musicians were in fact focused on another element of the music.  Here we feel the friction between technology and performance, between what we anticipate and what we actually get.
The final piece, "S 64° 14" W 65° 37"," juxtaposes sharp interjections from the musicians against field recordings of a storm Dafeldecker made during a trip to Antarctica. Often, the music serves to interrupt the continuity of the raging blizzard, but at times, the group seeks to supplant the very storm itself. It's the most aggressive of the four tracks, and perhaps appropriately so, standing in as it could for nothing short of the primitive showdown between man and nature.
In the end, it is far easier to engage this difficult, slippery music in listening than in writing. Even in detailing how it was produced or the history that shored up its making, Traces of Wood eludes easy description. The words are always inexact, loosely-fitting. This could be the last type of friction that's touched upon: that between language and music. Again Barthes, this time from "The Grain of the Voice:" "if one looks at the normal practice of music criticism, it can readily be seen that a work (or its performance) is only ever translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective. The adjective is inevitable: this music is this, this execution is that."
And so I'm left to sit back, hit play once more, to wrestle between this and that, and try to start again from the beginning.
- Dan Sorrels, The Free Jazz Collective -

Une demarche passionnante qui releve d'une discipline et d'un sens de l'ecoute quasi-ascetique. Fascinant.
- -

The music of Polwechsel lies at the intersection of surrealism, pop-art, wholly improvised and wholly programmatic music. Such a sonic landscape can only be enriched by its individual influences; an agglomeration of moving pictures and musical narratives that lie at the heart of a high and transcendental art. Traces of Wood suggests a visceral; an almost intuitive acoustical journey marked by tuned percussive elements with the bass and cello lines that act as the glue that holds it all together and often to create the dramatic effect that dazzles like a brilliant sun in a dense musical tapestry. There are melodic elements that inform the dramaturgy of the percussion and they are unlike anything that has been heard before. Rarely is there anything so loud and out of place that the percussionists appear to intrude on the inner landscape of the music; if anything, they are responsible for creating not simply a centering pulse, but also giving the music a tonal centre of gravity. The strings make the music come alive as if around the spectral heartbeat of the percussion.
The opening bars of "Adapt/Oppose" a single note, with its attendant overtones, played con arco creates monumental tension that expands and contracts throughout the music of the recording. However, here it is central to the musical narrative, which is heralded by the ringing of what sounds like a temple bell. The momentary release of the tension seems to be an invitation to the percussionists, to make the abstract imagery of the song come to life. The dramatic energy soon returns as the music penetrates deeper into spectral dimensions of the piece. Roughly halfway through the piece the raison d’être of the tension returns: this is a piece about the existential push and pull of life. The narration of this is ascribed once again to the bass and cello, although the depth bombs on the bass drum do describe all the more the urgency of the piece. This kind of kinetic propulsion apprises the next piece "Grain Bending #1," which is also an exquisite composition made in an elemental graphic mode. The music is more evenly distributed among percussion and strings here as the intent is to ascribe a more graphic geometry to the architecture of the music. It is a credit to the musicians that the notion of horns and even a keyboard is suggested in the impulse of this mighty composition, not the least because of the bouncing of the bow upon the strings of the cello and the bass, as well as in the wondrous manner that the vibes are played.
It should come as no surprise that viscosity and a superb coloration is also part of this set for although percussion of various elements and intensity is how a majority of the music is expressed the palettes of the individual musicians are vast and varied. In "Nia Rain Circuit" the interaction between strings and tuned percussion is almost inseparable. Both contribute to a musical expedition that is surreal and expressionistic in a great clash of painterly styles. However, what gives the music its greatest attribute is the almost Germanic exactitude; a deeply mathematical sense of how the music unfolds and flows from one sequential notion to another; from one sketch to another in an altogether multi-cellular manner. It is in the integration of these musical cells that the unity of the music is achieved. The arrival of "S 64°14" W 56°37"" is heralded by the music of a blizzard that was recorded at the height of winter in Antarctica, by the bassist, Werner Defeldecker. This elemental chill creates the musical environment for a proverbial warming of the sketch that follows. The howling of the wind creates an opening for not just percussion, but also tempered playing on cello and bass before the music meanders in and out of the chill of the composition, finally returning to the howl of the wind and the blizzard once again.
This is a powerful recording, which suggests that much can be achieved with a clever balance of composition and improvisation and then goes on to show how beautifully this aspect of music can be achieved.
- Raul da Gama, Jazz Da Gama -

Gegründet in den 1990er Jahren, komplettieren seit einigen Jahren neben den beiden Gründungsmitgliedern, dem Cellisten Michael Moser und dem Konrabassisten Werner Dafeldecker, die beiden Perkussionisten Burkhard Beins aus Berlin und Martin Brandlmayr aus Wien das Quartett. Traces Of Wood ist die dritte CD in dieser Besetzung, diesmal allerdings ohne Gäste. Interferenzen, Reibungen. Adapt - gestrichene Beckenklänge treten hinzu. Sachte Steigerung, Kontinuität. Abbruch. Pause. Oppose. Einzelne Aktionen der Perkussionisten, sacht, pointiert. Adapt/Oppose nennt sich das Stück, das Beins für Polwechsel entworfen hat. Es steht in einer Reihe von Konzepten, in denen er Struktur und Organisation von Musikern untereinander untersucht. Klare Spielanweisungen dienen dazu, innerhalb der Gruppe in ausführlichen Proben gemeinsam ein Werk zu erarbeiten. Brandlmayer arbeitet mit minuziösen Unterschieden von Zuspielung und Live-Gespieltem, mit Interaktion der Musiker untereinander und mit ihren eigenen Aufnahmen. Dafeldecker konfrontiert die strukturierte übertragung eines Schneesturms mit frei improvisierten Passagen. Moser schafft mittels kontinuierlicher Entwicklung und Veränderung einen dramturgischen Bogen mit einer für Polwechsel überraschenden Klimax. Kontinuitäten und Kontraste, Fragen nach Interaktion und Konfrontation, so ließe sich die CD ebenfalls betiteln. Jeder der vier Polwechselmitglieder hat ein Stück hierzu beigetragen. Eigenkompositionen oder Konzepte zu erarbeiten ist Usus bei dieser Formation. Es sind konzise Spielkonzepte, die Notationen und Anweisungen verschieden. Immer aber sind es Kompositionen, die klar für diese Formation formuliert werden. Es sind Spielentwürfe, die die jeweiligen Identitäten der Musiker genauso berücksichtigen wie die klangliche und musikalische Identität der Gruppe selbst. Die Musik der Formation Polwechsel ist charakteristisch - über all die Jahre hinweg. Und dies nicht etwa, weil die Musiker sich auf einmal Gefundenem ausruhten. Sie verfolgen konkrete Fragestellungen. Ihre Positionen sind klar und in steter Entwicklung begriffen. Sacht, nicht radikal. Über all die vielen Jahre ihres Bestehens ist Polwechsel der Gestus der Ruhe geblieben, der Fokus auf Präzision, Genauigkeit und Sensibilität im Spiel - eines jeden Einzelnen wie in der Interaktion als Gruppe. Es ist die Subitlität in der Klanggestaltung, in der Entwicklung eines Klanges oder kleinen Motivs, aber auch die sachte Kontinuität darin, wie die Musiker Prozesse gestalten, die ihre Musik erkennbar und zugleich spannungsreich macht; eine Klarheit in der Struktur, in der Proportionierung von Spiel und Pause, im Innehalten und Weiterstreben. All dies sind - unter anderem - Erfahrungen, die sie in ihrer Phase der sogenannten Reduktion gesammelt und erarbeitet haben. Hinzu gekommen bzw. deutlicher hervorgetreten ist im Lauf der Jahre das Spiel mit traditionellen Gestaltungsmitteln, mit Relationen. Das In-Beziehung-Setzen von tonalen oder harmonischen Bezügen, das Spiel mit rhythmischen Einwürfen, mit Kontrasten und nicht zuletzt auch eine gewisse Expressivität, die impulsiv, drängend spürbar wird, ob in ruhigeren oder dichteren Passagen, die jedoch nie plakativ ausgestellt wird.
- Nina Polaschegg, freistil -

During its two-decade existence this Austrian ensemble has frequently changed personnel - only cellist Michael Moser and bassist Werner Dafeldecker remain from the original quartet - but it's never abandoned its focus, exploring the fine line between controlled, abstract improvisation and minimalist composition. Polwechsel is widely credited with launching the style of reductionist music - whether composed or improvised - that took hold in urban centers such as Berlin and London in the 90s. On Traces of Wood, the group's first album in four years, Moser and Dafeldecker are joined only by percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr (the leader of art-rock band Radian), and both of them generate as much bowed and rubbed frictive sound as the string players. Each member composed one of the record's four lengthy pieces, which situate gratifying turbulence and noise between Zenlike meditative passages, and even the most serene moments are distinguished by often viscerally articulated gradations of color. It's the group's most charged music in more than a decade.
- Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader -

Initially percussion-free, Polwechsel was centred on the interplay of first Radu Malfatti's trombone then John Butcher's saxophones, with Burkhard Stangl's guitar, Werner Dafeldecker's double bass and Michael Moser's cello. Today however, the band now consists of only Dafeldecker and Moser plus Burkhard Beins and another percussionist Martin Brandlmayr, who is also one-third of the Radian band. Despite the additional percussion capability, the quartet still promogulates a distinctive otherworldliness, where mellowness vies with abrasiveness. Reducing the range of sustained timbres means that the result is also often divided between rubs and scrapes from the percussionists plus spiccato and sul ponticello lunges from double bass and cello. Although there can be crescendos, the implicit drama arises when certain textures which stand apart from the others, are stretched into neo-electronic pulses. Ironically the track on which vibraphone resonations, drum ruffs and bass string thumps are most easily defined is "Nia Rain Circuit", which could also be characterized as the most delicate and pastoral composition of the set.
"Grain Bending #1" on the other hand is Traces of Wood's longest, loudest and most characteristic performance. Built up from stentorian percussion crashes plus string grinds and wood stretches, the polyphonic climax is reached when droning wave forms take on keyboard-like glissandi properties before shuddering into silence. A coda of rumbling percussion japes, soon pricked by buzzing strings, confirms the band's toughness as well as its connectivity.
Chronicles of the sonic journeys rather than the destinations, (Tree and) Traces of Wood demand concentration and a willingness to sacrifice simple musical rewards. (But both) provide suitable cerebral interest if given the proper attention.
- Ken Waxman, Jazzword -

Bei manchen Formationen kann man sich darüber streiten, ob sie eine "Berliner" Band sind oder nicht. Bei Polwechsel steckt die relative Instabilität
örtlicher Fixierungen jedoch schon deutlich im Namen. So braucht es nicht weiter zu stören, dass drei der vier beteiligten Musiker österreicher sind. Sie leben, wenn nicht fest in Berlin, so doch zwischen dieser Stadt und Wien - oder kommen oft zu Besuch.
Polwechsel ist eine der prägenden Gruppen der freien improvisierten Musik. In Berlin etablierte sich diese radikal reduzierte Art der Improvisation unter dem Namen "Echtzeitmusik", zu der sowohl der Polwechsel-Schlagzeuger Burkhard Beins als auch der aus Wien stammende Bassist Werner Dafeldecker, der schon seit Jahren in Berlin lebt, gerechnet werden. Charakteristisch für diese Musik sind minimalistische Gesten, in denen Rhythmus und Melodie wenig bis gar keinen Platz haben. Stattdessen erkundet man die Grauzone von Klang und Geräusch.
Auf seinem aktuellen Album "Traces of Wood" wartet das Quartett mit Neuerungen auf. Zum ersten Mal ist jeder einzelne Künstler - neben Dafeldecker und Beins gehören der Schlagzeuger Martin Brandlmayer und der Cellist Michael Moser dazu - mit einem eigenen Stück vertreten. So lassen sich die unterschiedlichen Temperamente erkennen, zudem pflegt man einen offeneren Umgang mit der gemeinsamen musikalischen Sprache: viele individuelle Gesten sind zu hören, Mikro-Melodien und ein sehr bewusster Umgang mit Struktur und Entwicklung. Das Ensemble bewegt sich dabei sehr fein nuanciert zwischen Improvisation und Komposition.
- Tim Caspar Böhme, die tageszeitung -

Since the late '90s, the European outfit known as Polwechsel has brandished a strikingly unique sound campaign. Other than the dual-drummer percussionists' attack consisting of polytonal cymbals swashes and soft timbres, the music predominately emanates from the lower-register schematic via double bassist Werner Dafeldecker and cellist Michael Moser's earthen-toned string implementations. Nonetheless, the quartet depicts a rather surreal paragon with subtle surprises, as an element of the unknown remains a constant throughout its repertoire.
It's interesting how the band produces otherworldly treatments without using electronics. With buzzing arco lines, creaky cymbals and ricocheting drum patterns, the musicians intersperse antidotes to all things considered conventional. Some of the passages are framed on unnerving quietude and minimalism. They also execute edgy and raw contrasts with moments of understated beauty, employing resonating percussion and the string performers' faintly altered extended notes. In a sense, they weave nearly inexplicable song forms into a tantalizing soundstage.
On "Grain Bending #1," the quartet alternates understated subplots with creaky and foreboding soundscapes, peppered by the percussionists' sweeping snare drum rolls and unforeseen shifts in strategy. But they also lash back with some venomous, saber- rattling breakdowns amid blustery drums and bombastic cymbals crashes, as if an agitated deity has entered the picture. And during "Nia Rain Circuit," either Beins or Brandlmayr use a mallet instrument to add color, sparking an additional perspective to the asymmetrical flows.
Traces of Wood does not reside within the easy listening category but, on the other hand, the program is not over-cooked or gushing with garrulous statements. The musicians' approach could represent the narrative for a scenario, where a master craftsman is sculpting wood, along with the trial and tribulations of designing a priceless piece of art.
- Glenn Astarita, AAJ -

Sans plus de souffle - meme si le violoncelle singe parfois l'orgue -, Polwechsel enregistrait en mars 2010 et janvier 2011 ce Traces of Wood ayant valeur de tournant : "Faire moins de bruit, c'etait se taire", explique Michael Moser. Alors, Polwechsel passe commande a ses quatre elements de partitions qu'il fleurira d'improvisations.
Sur Adapt/Oppose, Burkhard Beins fait des archets l'instrument principal (sur contrebasse, violoncelle et cymbales), qui lentement vont ensemble avant de se repondre, comme d'une vallee a l'autre et sur peaux frottees : les combinaisons sonores, minuscules, forment un corps fragile qui basculera pour demontrer son adherence. Les archets seront distants, sur l'ouverture de Grain Bending #1, de Moser. La composition est plus nette, dramatique au fond, qui peu à peu focalise les quatre voix avec un art plus fabrique.
Nia Rain Circuit, respecte, lui, les courants usages de son auteur, Martin Brandlmayr. La piece echapperait pourtant au repertoire de Trapist ou de Radian pour jouer de nombreuses pauses et de redirections tranchees avant de convoquer des archets unanimes sur les resonances d'un vibraphone. Les coordonnees de l'endroit du monde ou Werner Dafeldecker enregistra le blizzard qu'il injecte a sa composition donnent a celle-ci son titre : S 64°14'' W 56°37''. Plus efface, mais perturbe d'autant, le groupe lutte contre les elements a coups d'eclats et de drones qui laissent en effet des traces. Trois, au moins. Et tenaces.
- Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son Du Grisli -

Polwechsel är tillbaka! Denna supergrupp med bakgrund i Wien och Berlin som på 1990-talet var pionjärer inom den koncentrerade och lågmälda impron. Ett nytt album har varit på gång länge, men varför det dröjt så länge ligger bortom min vetskap. Om det ens är denna inspelning som varit den tänkta skivutgåvan vet jag inte heller. Den är från mars 2010 och januari 2011. Skivan kom i slutet av förra året. Det hade naturligtvis varit mer spännande med en färskare inspelning. Men i det stora hela är det en fantastisk musik kvartetten Polwechsel - Burkhard Beins, Werner Dafeldecker, Martin Brandlmayr och Michael Moser - framför. Alla fyra är improvisatörer som har betydligt närmare till Morton Feldman och Helmut Lachenmann än till frijazzens stora eller en Evan Parker eller Peter Brötzmann. Släktskapet sträcker sig snarare mot brittiska AMM och John Tilbury samt italienska Gruppo di Improvvizazione Nuevo Consonanza.
Nog med namedropping. På Traces of Wood har medlemmarna bidragit med varsin komposition. Men det är inte kompositioner som i konventionell mening följer ett skrivet partitur. Med hjälp av Matthias Haenisch omslagstext kan man tränga ner i teoretiska men inte speciellt svårbegripliga beskrivningar av förutsättningarna för musikens tillblivelse, men man kan också bara låta sig översvallas och överraskas av musikens koncentration och detaljrikedom. Jag gillar att Polwechsel inte har fastnat i den reduktionistiska sfären - som i och för sig var nödvändig under 1990 - och 2000-talet för att släppa fram nya klanger och leda in improvisationsmusiken på nya områden - på Traces of Wood kan man hitta såväl högst dramatiska rörelser som mättade och täta droner. Jag gillar också att musiken tar olika vägar och att alla fyra komponerar på så olika sätt men ändå bygger samman musiken till en tydlig helhet.
Burkhard Beins komposition "Adapt/Oppose" inleder. Han har under de senaste åren utvecklat ett eget "verktyg" för gruppimprovisation som Polwechsel inte är första grupp att använda. I centrum för hans intresse står i egentlig mening inte musikens struktur och material, utan de beslut och handlingar som leder fram till den. Parametrar för kompositionen finner man i olika kombinationer, riktningar, i vilken ordning saker sker och vid vilka tillfällen. Det är naturligtvis en öppen form av komposition, där deltagarna såväl bestämmer detaljer som längd på de individuella sektionerna inom kompositionen. Men det individuella står hela tiden i kontrast till det kollektiva. Gruppimprovisationen är viktig, om än den till viss del är styrd. Det ger också upphov till stor dynamik i uttrycket. Spänningen mellan det individuella och gruppspelet är stor. Det är det i och för sig genomgående när det handlar om Polwechsel, oavsett vad de gör alstras energi i musiken.
"Grain Bending #1" av Michael Moser är inte lika distinkt som "Adapt/Oppose". Efter en dramatisk inledning går kompositionen in i en längsgående riktning. Klangerna är utdragna och rör sig runt Mosers stråkspelade cello. En känsla av tillstånd inträder, som dock då och då bryts av effektfulla klanger. Långt in i kompositionen utvecklas en upprepad, enkel och skör melodi. Det är mycket vackert.
Martin Brandlmayer är en av mina favoriter som slagverkare. Jag vet ingen som har en så fin klang i trummorna och med mycket små medel skapar han rytmiska sammanhang. Jag drar mig för att använda ordet sväng när jag pratar om Polwechsel, deras kvaliteter ligger på andra håll. Men i "Nia Rain Circuit" närmar sig musiken ett sväng, ett mycket långsamt sådant, ungefär som när Brandlmayer trummar med gruppen Trapist, men trots allt ett sväng. Samtidigt är det den låt på skivan som arbetar mest med tystnad. Och med minnet! Under kompositionens gång spelas det spelades materialet in och spelas upp och redigareas live, samtidigt som musiken ääven spelas i realtid. Således ett samspel med det tidigare spelade och mellan gruppmedlemmarna. Och samtidigt väldigt sparsmakat och lågmält, om än det även här dyker upp dramatiska händelser.
Slutligen så Werner Dafeldeckers "S 64°14" W 56°37"". Tyvärr den minst lyckade kompositionen. Den bygger på ett samspel mellan å ena sidan ljudet av en snöstorm som Dafeldecker spelat in på Antarktis och å andra abrupta akustiska inslag skapade efter ett slumpmässigt schema ("chance operation"). I ljudbilden ligger fältinspelningen ganska lågt vilket får de instrumentala punktmässiga eruptionerna att nästan närma sig det vulgära. Att Dafeldecker intresserar sig för konflikter känns inte överraskande. Men det hjälper inte.
- Magnus Nygren, Sound Of Music -

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