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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Violin & Bass

By Stef

Vilde&Inga - Silfr (Sofa, 2017) ****½

Three years ago I praised ECM for having had the courage to release Makrofauna, a daring musical exploration by two young Norwegian musicians, Vilde Sandve Alnæs and Inga Margrete Aas, who met during studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music and started to play together in 2010. In autumn last year they received The Lindeman Prize for Young Musicians, a significant music prize in Norway. Despite the quality of their music and the general acclaim for their debut album, it took several years for the second album which is now released on Sofa. 

Each composition has its specific angle of attack or musical concept, which can be based on relentless and repetitive violin phrases as on "Silfr", the title track (see video below), with the bass offering some slower moaning ground tones or joining in with the frenzy. Things change on the second piece, which is more subdued, quiet and slow-paced, now with the bass laying the foundation for eery flageolet sounds by the violin. The third piece, "Urtjern", is completely built around the contrast of low and high tones, almost flute-like, sparse, precise, slightly wailing over the rhythmic throbbing of the bowed bass. "Røjkkvart" starts with unvoiced rumble and scrapings, and the occasional pluck on a bass string, capturing the attention and building the tension and it stays that way, full of expectation but it never gets resolved. "Sprø Glimmer" is a little mad and playful, with little pizzi notes jumping around like crazy, only to be calmed down by some low bass strokes. "Karbontiden" starts with slow beautiful arco, both instruments together almost sounding like an organ, with double stops on the strings, and gradually distortion sets in, with notes shifting off-kilter, timbre transforming from pure tones to scraping, but every so slightly, controlled and well-paced, until the original fluency has changed into a walk through deep mud. 

Most track titles refer to minerals and metals, including silver, smoky quartz, mercury, gold, mica, or to other ancient natural forms, such as "Urtjern" or ancient lake (which actually exists in Norway) or "Karbontiden" which is the Carboniferious period some 350 million years ago. At the same time they use words like "flimmer" (flicker), "skinnende" (shining) or "glimmer" and the choice of titles all stay within the same realm of hard and basic matter, as core ingredients whose existance creates a reflection, an intangible perception of light and lightness. The tension between the hard and the ethereal, between the everlasting and the ephemeral is what this music is all about. 

I can only recommend this very highly. 

Gunda Gottschalk & Peter Jacquemyn - E Pericoloso Sporgersi, Ma Non Prohibito (El Negocito, 2017) ****

In 1999, Gunda Gottschalk and Peter Jacquemyn released "E Pericoloso Sporgersi" (re-issued in 2009), a first duet between violin and bass, offering seventeen short improvisations, and which was awarded a prize in the young artist forum of the International Society for New Music. The title means"Leaning Out (the window) Is Dangerous", the first sentence in Italian most European kids learned when travelling the continent by train several decades ago, as did your servant. Today, they take it a step further, "leaning out is dangerous, but it's not forbidden", a title that gives a good idea of where the duo is taking us, far beyond the limits of safety. 

And that's how the album starts, with "Viaggio 1" as a staccato dialogue of bowed strings, with short bursts and physical scrapings of strings and wood, and even when Jacquemyn brings something that ressembles a pattern, Gottschalk keeps delivering short and violent attacks with her bow, relentlessly and full of raw energy. 

Gunda Gottschalk is classically trained, yet she switched quite rapidly to improvised and contemporary music, having played and released albums with Peter Kowald, who was also one of the mentors of Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn, a self-taught musician and visual artist. 

"Viaggio 2", the second piece is of a totally different nature. The dark tension of the first part gradually shifts to minimalist repetitive phrases, uncanny and bizarre, over which Jacquemyn sings his wordless overtone singing, learned from a Mongolian tuva singer. 

The long third piece shifts the whole time between moods, with even passages on the violin that could be labeled as melancholy or sad, or quiet and subdued, brought by a more paced and less intense dialogue, with both musicians often moving the music forward in the same direction. It offers a gentler side to Jacquemyn's playing, but one of strong interplay and joint musical vision. 

I will not go into the detail of each track - four more to go - of completely improvised music, all called Viaggio (journey" in Italian). There is no plan, no concept, just interaction in the moment, and the duo varies a lot. They tease, they battle, they walk hand in hand, they quarrel and they find beauty, only to tear it to pieces with as much pleasure it took to create it, but most of all they explore, the unearth sounds to show the other, who gets inspired to do the same or to challenge, but they travel on the same journey, they make the journey. It's not easy to be invited with them, but once you are, it's a rewarding trip, participating in the creation of music.