Friday, July 26, 2019

Werner Dafeldecker - Small Worlds (Edition Telemark, 2019) ****½

 By Keith Prosk

Small Worlds is a Werner Dafeldecker (contrabass) composition recorded here with Burkhard Beins (percussion), Martin Brandlmayr (percussion), Klaus Lang (organ), Michael Moser (cello), and John Tilbury (piano) at the 2004 Swiss Taktlos Festival, one of just three performances of this commissioned composition with this sextet. Except for Dafeldecker, who recorded with each musician in the years preceding this performance (perhaps most famously and consistently with Moser in Polwechsel and on Ton-Art’s Mal Vu. Mal Dit.), the musicians had not previously recorded with each other. This constellation of musicians worked together well enough that Beins and Brandlmayr were added to future incarnations of Polwechsel, with Tilbury even appearing on Field. And it worked well because Dafeldecker curated the performers to compliment the composition.

The composition (partly pictured above) is a set of simple rules notating dynamics rather than tone. It is for six players, which are divided into two trios. Each trio has a dynamic leader (indicated with a circled letter), which guides the content of the trio and plays at a higher volume. Every three minutes, the dynamic leader changes as does the formation of each trio. On the score, the changes in trio formations are traced with lines; every time a line crosses, those players pause. Every performance lasts 42 minutes, or 14 cycles. The score serves to subvert cliches in free playing, such as the loud-quiet-loud dynamic that is as predictable as the head-solos-head structure.

Sonically, the composition and performers combine to create a deep soundscape that prioritizes timbre over tone. Extended techniques are utilized frequently, if not mostly. It’s quiet, but never silent. It’s tense in its atonality but released every three minutes. Pulses breach and subside. Drones grow and crumble. The music is fluid and liminal: vibraphone-like keys blend into percussion, bowed percussion blends into strings, tapped string bodies blend into percussion, inside-piano blends into strings; a homogenous sound but maximal dynamic range with intricate interactions; constantly shifting communications; a structure imposed to play more freely.

The tightly-timed structure requires players to listen more closely than usual as dynamic leaders and trios change frequently but also to become listeners themselves with each pause. Likewise, the composition provides a fun test for the audience’s ears, listening for more obviously audible changes every three minutes, listening for and identifying the dynamic leaders and tracking changing trio formations, and listening for pausing players.

It’s easy to gloss over the subtle soundscape, but Small Worlds invites and rewards close listening with a depth and multitude of layers not present in most playing.

For additional listening, Small Worlds was also performed by Quiver:

Small Worlds is an LP-only release. You can find ordering information here:

1 comment:

Colin Green said...

Also available as a download:

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