Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Lisa Ullén & Nina de Heney - Carve (LJ Records, 2009) ****½
The advantage of writing fewer reviews is that I can listen a lot more to the same album, and I have listened dozens of times to this double CD in the past few weeks, first hesitantly, then becoming mesmerised by the beauty of it, then wanting nothing more than to listen to it again, and again.
The musicians are Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén and bassist Nina de Heney, both as skilled as adventurous, treating us to eighteen improvisations of three to five minutes, ranging from voiced instruments, as on "Luminal Sung" to extended techniques only. The result are sound sculptures, as the album's title suggests, with tonal creations carved out of raw sound material, sometimes familiar, often quite new to the ear, yet each full of wonder, full of surprise and fragile beauty.
I am rarely touched by descriptions in liner notes, but this one is quite accurate : "Carving is an ancient hand craft ; whether done in ice, wood, stone or bone, it’s process takes time. Carving could be seen as the the art of surrendering to the element by the understanding of the element. When achieved, it can last for centuries, or melt within a day".
Some pieces are reminiscent of nature, with organic sounds arising out of nowhere, from the soft occasional drip of water, the buzzing of bees or the raw tearing of tectonal plates against one another. Other pieces are more tribal, going back to the origins of organised sounds, percussive repetition, enchanting, spiritual. Yet without a real message, nor is there even an attempt to evoke existing sounds: their true work is the new sound itself, with all its possibilities of expansion and juxtaposition, to create new sonic possibilities.
And even if the music is serious, they are not afraid of little jokes and fun, adding a great human touch to it all, full of empathy with the sounds created.
It is minimal, unobtrusive, cautious, precise. Avant-garde music is often denounced as noise. This is the absolute opposite of noise, even if that noise, the primary sound, offers the building blocks for a captivating musical creation.
If you have open ears, you shouldn't miss this one.