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Sunday, October 17, 2010

John Butcher & Claudia Ulla Binder - Under The Roof (Nuscope, 2010) ****½

Very few of the people I know would call this music, but for those of us who can enjoy these sonic explorations, all the rest seems bland by comparison. John Butcher plays tenor and soprano, Claudia Ulla Binder plays piano and prepared piano.

Both of them can be lyrical in the traditional sense, lining up notes in a somewhat regular and repeated sequence, but more often than not they explore the space around them, and it shouldn't surprise us that they choose "everything under the roof" for this one. Butcher loves resonating spaces to play in, but here the result is more homey, but intimate and calm.

The result is impressionistic, evoking those elements in the environment, not as they are, but as they appear. The music can be light-footed, as in "Umbrella" or "Raincoat", or full of dark tension, as in "Troves" and "Coffer", the latter becomes possible because despite the limits of their instruments, both musicians manage to stretch their tones to the infinite, by scratching the piano strings, or by circular breathing.

They can also conjure up the weirdest sounds, like the bird whistling on "Black Martin, Female" and "Black Martin, Male": it is fun and well played, or the Butcher's stretched multiphonics on "Cantilever", accentuated by Binder's sparse voiced keys.

But their music is definitely not about the technical skills alone. It's about the music itself. It's about the sonic environment they create out of nothing: a world that opens before your ears, full of sensitivity and tenderness, full of fear and joy. And they don't need spectacular things to do that, just the careful juxtapositions of the right tones, all at low volume and full of caution.

The world "under this roof" is fragile, even if not every place is welcoming. An exceptional result.

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© stef