Birgit Ulher: trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker, objects
Antizyklone (3:51) / Hochdruckkern (4:38) / Zwischenhoch (6:37) / Grenzschicht (3:31) /
Inversion (4:36) / Polare Kaltluft (5:46) / Hochdruckzone (4:42) / Isobaren (5:09)
Recorded 21-24 June 2010 at Q-02, Brussels, by Ludo Engels. Mastered by Boris Vogeler at Red Room.
Thanks to Boris Vogeler, Allon Kaye and Q-02. For Bill Dixon.
CD, First edition of 200 copies, 2012
The evening of our arrival in Västerås, we walked to the home of Johan and Lina Gatte Redin for a get together with many of the people responsible for the festival. There was also music to be heard in the living room, including a wonderful solo set by Ulher, my first opportunity to hear her in person. This disc isn't worlds away from what transpired that night and deserves wide attention. Ulher works in an area that's not entirely unfamiliar to most readers here but brings to the horn a sensibility that's certainly her own. To me, it's an odd combination of implied rhythms and a special kind of patience. The vocabulary is recognizable--the breath tones, burred edges, the scrape of metal on metal, some electronics, the vibrating mutes and metallic sheets--but the uses they're put to taken, interestingly enough, something of a some structure. I'm reminded of a similar feeling I received from the best of John Butcher's solo work. The eight pieces here are all relatively brief, between four and seven minutes, and have that contained kind of quality, each a concise expression and exploration of not only a given attack, but the mold in which they're formed. Ulher is very open and unmysterious about what she's doing; sometimes that detracts from a piece as when a ribbed object is stroked back and forth along the horn, the jiggly tone rising and falling predictably. But more often it's refreshing, a straight-on examination of these techniques, their apposition to each other, the tense structures they form. There's a Carver-like (Raymond--admittedly on my mind lately) sense of the clear wonderment of the everyday . Tough and graceful, a very compelling combination. Her set with Andrea Neumann was perhaps my favorite of the festival and this disc relives some of those fine moments.
Brian Olewnick, 8th May 2012, www.olewnick.blogspot.de
Tonight’s CD then is another release on the Entr’acte label, this time a solo release by the German trumpeter Birgit Ulher named Hochdruckzone. The title would seem to translate to High Pressure Zone. Ulher has been exploring the potential of the trumpet for many years now, producing some interesting albums along the way. For this new solo release she seems to push things on a little further technically, bringing in new ideas about how to extend her instrument on further and making this a more interesting release than just another solo trumpet improv album. If I have read the notes on the release at the Entr’acte site correctly, the way she has done this is to build small speakers into the mutes she uses on her trumpet that she plays radio noise through, so turning the trumpet into a resonating chamber for these additional sounds as well as being something she blows through. She also uses metal sheets to create brittle buzzing sounds. While the metal sheets is nothing new, the way Ulher plays radio sounds back into the trumpet while she plays it is I believe, quite an original way of working.
The resulting music captured on the eight tracks here then seem to be pieces designed to showcase these techniques at the same time as existing as complete tracks in themselves. In fact in the liner notes it is stated that “ The internal structure of the sounds is as important as the the structure of the piece.” As with all solo releases of this type the danger is always that the music will end up merely as a catalogue of the different approaches and techniques available to the musician, but here on Hochdruckzone that doesn’t feel the case to me. The music stands up nicely on its own. There is an airy quality to the music here, formed primarily from the sense of space that runs through the eight tracks. Even when there is little to no silence the clean, slow way that the blocks of sound that Ulher works with are arranged gives a sensation of grey shapes placed against a white background, some overlapping, some sat surrounded by space, with each of them individually textured and full of detail perhaps passed over by the casual eye/ear. There is a sense of poise and calm control to the music. In general only two things ever happen at the same time, and while many of the sounds here have quite a harsh, industrial feel to them as metal is vibrated hard, often as white noise is blasted out of the mini speaker, there is still a feeling of careful placement. A wild visual metaphor maybe, but I am put in mind of Richard Serra sculptures- simple, geometric structures that reveal a sharp edge and grainy detailed textures when viewed closely. Indeed, pleasure can be found in this music both through hearing how it all fits together, but also through putting each of the sounds under an aural microscope. Hochdruckzone sounds improvised, but I can’t help hear a well defined structure in the work that reminds me a little of Wandelweiseresque composition, with the simple, often extended lines of sound placed adjacent to one another, held apart in other places by silence. A lovely, highly listenable CD then, easily the most mature and individual work I have heard from Ulher yet.
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear, 8th May 2012