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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Dell Brecht Lillinger Westergaard (DBLW) - Boulez Materialism (Plaist/Soulfood, 2018) ****½

By Martin Schray

In 2017 German drummer Christian Lillinger was awarded was awarded the SWR jazz prize, an honor which has been connected with a laureate concert at the Enjoy Jazz Festival. Lillinger decided to play with both his spectacular septet GRUND and DLBW, his trio with Christopher Dell (vibes) and Jonas Westergaard (bass), which is augmented by Johannes Brecht on live electronics. Boulez Materialism is the live recording of this concert, the title referring to a quotation of a journalist who called the close interrelationship between sound, spatial structures and electronic processing, as well the combination of acoustic instruments and electronic soundscapes of this quartet “Boulez in real-time”. If you consider Pierre Boulez’s music as a permanent generation of musical energy which has to be explored and revised constantly, then the music of this project is quite close to it. In the liner notes Christopher Dell says:
DBLW summarize the crucial hinge between seriality and thematic work as the concept of relation. By reducing the process to the pure musical note, serialism sought to negate subjectivity. It insisted that the note itself could already be ideologically critical to the whole. In this respect DBLW describes relations, which have always been regarded as the epitome of the subjective aspect, as the basic material of music making, which pushes the subjective into the structure by which it lets itself be affected. In other words, the relational moment provokes the subject, which - and here is another connection to Boulez - is informed by the tension from composition and material. DLBW wants the compositional modes of seriality and motive-related work to become entangled in a fresh way and not stagnate in an alternative between the two. So the principal of the serial (of the fragment) has to be combined with that of the motive-thematic work (the relational moment).
Serialism is a compositional method which uses series of pitches, rhythms, dynamics, and other musical elements. The method goes back to Arnold Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique. Some types of serialism also work with sets, collections of objects, but not necessarily with fixed-order series, and extend the technique to other musical dimensions (often called “parameters“), such as duration, dynamics, and timbre. Here DBLW’s approach comes into play. Boulez Materialism is arranged in such sets, sound is created by structure.

In practice you can hear what this means around the three- and the six-minute-mark of “Materialism 1“, the first of two tracks, when Dell repeats a complex phrase several times, supported by a crassly booming bass, while Lillinger delivers off-the-wall rhythms. Brecht uses fragments of this material and adds the processed passages to the composition, kneading acoustic and electric components.
Actually, Boulez Materialism is the orchestration of sound movements, interconnecting the hybrid structure of acoustic music with live electronics resulting in an effect as if you were listening to a chamber orchestra. DBLW develop a huge construction with little basic material, based upon Boulez’s method of so-called “proliferation“. The band replaces musical themes with structural, relational cells. These cells are created through minimal parameters like intervals or rhythmic units, a reduction which allows a maximum of relatively complex relational processing. As a result of this kind of hyper-communication the music is permanently permeated and re-patterned, it’s a continual metamorphosis.

“Materialism 1“, for example, starts with warped and absorbing sounds, musical fade-ins. One gets the impression of huge mechanical doors being opened and closed. Tiny musical phrases are easily jotted down and picked up by the electronics, as if these phrases were tiptoeing through the engine room of a huge container ship. Johannes Brecht only processes music he’s given by the other musicians, there’s no preconceived material involved. This kind of high sensitivity permits a considerable increase as to a greater depth of focus. Even if Brecht is sometimes not audible, it does not mean he’s not participating, since he’s regulating the sound and the volume of the acoustic players. This way, the electronics don’t drown the other instruments but highlight their dialogue. In general, the music is a prime example of extremely dynamic, ultra-intensive playing, often pushed by Christopher Dell’s vibes, which becomes obvious in the repetitive parts at the end of "Materialism 1."

All in all, this might sound very intellectual and DLBW often prefer the more complicated way to the easy one (even the liner notes are a lesson in philosophy, they also explain what the music has to do with “materialism“). Then again, listening to this music is a real challenge, it won’t bore you.

Interestingly, everything on this album is completely improvised. However, the band has rehearsed a lot and they’ve discussed the music subsequently. What has come out is music at the interface of new classical music and free improvisation, it’s great fun to get exposed to such an experiment. After GRUND’s excellent album COR, this is Christian Lillinger’s second stroke of genius this year. What’s more, there will be an album by his new project Punkt.Vrt.Plastik at the end of this year (hopefully). At least the musical future is bright.

Boulez Materialism is available as a CD and on vinyl. I strongly recommend the vinyl version, it’s very beautifully designed and contains a booklet with wonderful pictures from the band’s performance on last year’s A’Larmé! festival.

You can order it from

Watch two short snippets here:


Ernst Grgo Nebhuth said...

Enjoyed your review. Thank you Martin.

The trio of Draksler, Lilllinger and Eldh - PUNKT.VRT.PLASTIK. - is scheduled for November 15 on Intakt Records. (scroll down 'till the end...)

MJG said...

Thanks for the enticing review. I've ordered the LP as you suggest

Martin Schray said...

Thank you for your confidence, it's a very good album indeed.
Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is actually my favorite Lillinger project at the moment.
I'm looking forward to the release. Thank you, Ernst.

Anonymous said...

This German album, as opposed to some others of recent interest, is available from USA retail. However, at least the CD version is a CDR printed at time of order, and does not include any liner notes, etc. FYI.

MJG said...

Unfortunately my LP had a pressing fault on each side that made the stylus stick...