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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Martin Taxt - First Room (Sofa, 2020) ****

By Keith Prosk

First Room is a droning ode to the Japanese tea room from Martin Taxt (microtonal tuba, sine waves) and Inga Margrete Aas (contrabass, viola de gamba). Taxt intends it as the first in a series of works examining relationships between music and architecture, not necessarily in a site-specific sense but rather that architectural decisions inform compositional decisions. This score is based on the mat layout of a Japanese tea room, pictured on the cover. The live performance includes recordings from the previous day in the same room, à la Blurred Music though considerably less ambiguous, creating four voices from two; additionally, Kjell Bjørgeengen provided video during the performance, though I don’t hear any clicks or hums from his projector in the recording. I believe this is the first time Aas and Taxt have recorded together, though readers may remember Aas from her work with frequent collaborator and violinist Vilde Sandve Alnæs on Silfr and Makrofauna , the latter of which Stef considered one of the best ECM recordings in its 50-year history ; they’ve also released How Forests Think this year, also on Sofa. And readers may remember Taxt from his work with Microtub or Toshimaru Nakamura , among numerous other fruitful relationships.

As can be expected from a tuba/bowed bass pairing, the music can be low and deep, taking advantage of those instruments’ long waves to create richly-textured, undulating drones, at times guttural and quaking. However, this music seems lively and nimble compared to, say, the microtonal tuba and contrabass duo of Reidemeister Move or similar microtonal drone music, with four voices often simultaneously playing different techniques, durations, volumes, and pitches to provide a sense of significant movement. Only occasionally do tracks synchronise to simulate something like harmonic beating. The focus seems more on the sound in front of you than overtones. More interested in displaying multiple facets of the instruments than tricking the listener with multitracked ambiguity. A sine wave substrate or some plucked and scraped viola de gamba complement the environment. And there’s also plenty of extended technique to diversify these musicians already impressive range, with creaking wood like shoji, rubbed strings like shuffling feet, or clanging metal against the horn like clinking tea sets. These associations are probably imagined, as are the associations between four voices or four parts and four mats, three silences and a three part ceremony (meal>tea>smoke), or two instruments or two tracks (studio/live) and thick and thin tea.

While, given the limited information about the score or project, I’m not necessarily certain of the connections these sounds have to the architecture of a tea room, First Room approaches a wabi-sabi aesthetic of austerity while still remaining, like good tea, eminently enjoyable. Architecture is a deep well from which to draw inspiration and, thanks to Taxt’s clever composing, this is a fine first step in a project that seems well worth following.

First Room is available on CD and digitally.