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Reviews: Radio Silence No More

Birgit Ulher, trumpet, radio, mutes and speaker


Olof Bright





The Wire

Birgit Ulher 'Radio Silence No More
Gino Robair & Birgit Ulher 'Blips And Ifs'

Radio Silence No More was recorded in Birgit Ulher's Hamburg apartment during summer 2007. She continues to refine her search for possibilities of articulation beyond her trumpet's open tone and on this release intersperses her findings, as the title suggests, with radio noise. At times the two sources are indistinguishable; breath and airwaves fuse. But there's real breadth to her non-conventional vocabulary, from electronic buzz and gush to feline purrs, growls, hollow yawns and fleshy sputtering. Beyond that she has, like most persuasive improvising musicians, a sense of emergent design that conveys inevitability while remaining spontaneous - it has to sound that way because the moment demands it.
The radical affinity between Ulher and percussionist Gino Robair was evident on their 2OO4 duo release Sputter on Creative Sources and it's confirmed by Blips And Ifs recorded in California last July. Ulher again uses radio as well as trumpet. Robair concentrates on the low-grade electronic instruments he refers to as "voltage made
audible". Their music is a conversation conducted in a shared language texturally nuanced and meticulously phrased.

Julian Cowley, The Wire #2009


Sound of Music

english version (for german versions, please scroll down):

Recently Håkan Lidbo and the Swedish radio show “Ström” (Electricity) had the idea of sending electronic music into space by radio waves. The hope was that perhaps some alien life form would pick it up and thus get a positive impression of life on Earth. I don't really know what the music was like or if the project was successful. As far as I know there hasn't been any contact. It might instead be an interesting idea to turn the project around and broadcast Birgit Ulher's latest work here on Earth. Many untrained ears would perhaps believe that what they hear on the radio is some sort of intergalactic communication.

Among names like Axel Dörner, Franz Hautzinger and Ruth Barberán, Birgit Ulher is one of the most celebrated players in the field of improvisation that do the utmost to reach the limit of what could be done with a trumpet. It is not only an experimental approach; it is literally the limit of the instrument put to the test. The way it lurches, snaps, chugs, and hisses, makes you seriously doubt that it is a trumpet you listen to. How far the research in this area has gone is now possible to take part in on one of Olof Bright’s (the Swedish label run by Thomas Millroth and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson) latest releases, "Radio Silence No More".

Ulher has played with many of the finest musicians in jazz and improvisation, including a brilliant album with the Swedes Martin Küchen, Raymond Strid and Lise-Lott Norelius (check out "Tidszon" on Creative Sources). Her albums mostly consist of various duos or trios, so solo records are still quite rare. In addition to trumpet and mutes, Ulher's instruments on the solo album "Radio Silence No More" are radio and particularly speakers. Also in this area she has stretched the limit for both the speaker's capacity and its functionality. What remains is an element that maybe more accurately could be compared to percussion. Actually, Ulher's playing with radio noise sometimes sounds completely electronic, although the music is essentially acoustic.

How can you approach music such as Ulher's? Titles such as "Längstwelle", "Ultrakurzwelle" or "Micrometerwelle" hardly help to create any associations besides wavelengths, Hertz and distortions. In this case it is the ears, the listening, that has to do the thinking. It is often dense layers, even though everything I hear depends on air, vibration and noise. There are just small nuances, and virtually no dynamics or high and low pitches. The sounds are rather territorial, perceived as a rough surface. I think that Ulher's background as a visual artist is reflected in this spatial thinking. Sounds begin and end with long pauses of silence. The tendency is sculptural or three-dimensional, but the sounds also tend to dislocate the listener, pushing the listener in different directions towards different borders. It is an album that one must listen to in a room and not in an iPod. Sometimes the speaker and the trumpet are so close that it suddenly feels that you are inside the radio, and then, suddenly, perceived from a distance. The trumpet's sometimes "wet" sounds transform the room into a mighty steam engine, but paradoxically, it is also this "wetness" that brings the human traits into the monotonous radio noise.

Many may recognize "Radio Silence No More" as a cold album, but I do not think that Ulher is after a critique of technology. The territory that the album opens is not a dystopia. It is cold in the same way that a play by Beckett is cold without even be close to tragedy. There is something in Ulher's art that makes her a highly interesting musician. Sometimes I imagine her trumpet as some sort of microscope, with a set of lenses that unexpectedly turns a grainy image into brocade.

Johan Redin, www.soundofmusic.nu


Sound of Music

Håkan Lidbo und Radio Power hatten vor einiger Zeit die Idee Funkwellen zu benutzen  um elektronische Musik in den Weltraum zu senden. Sie hofften, dass alle ausserirdischen Lebensformen das Material erhalten würden und damit eine positive Erfahrung des Lebens auf der Erde. Ich weiß nicht wie die Musik klingt und wie  das Projekt verlief. So weit ich weiß ist kein Kontakt  entstanden. Eine interessante Idee könnte sein, das Verhältnis umzudrehen und Birgit Ulhers jüngste Arbeiten in die Atmosphäre auf die Erde zu senden. Vielleicht würden sich viele ungeübte Ohren  vorstellen dass das, was sie im Radio hören, eine Form der intergalaktischen Kommunikation ist.

Neben Axel Dörner, Franz Hautzinger und Ruth Barberán ist Birgit Ulher eine der bekanntesten in der Improvisations Szene, die alles in ihren Kräften Stehende tun, um die Grenzen dessen aufzuheben, was mit einer Trompete getan werden kann. Es ist nicht nur experimentell, es ist buchstäblich die Grenze des Instruments die getestet wird. Die Trompete taumelt, schnalzt und zischt so dass man sich ernsthaft fragt, ob es tatsächlich eine ist. Wie weit man  in der Forschung in diesem Bereich gekommen ist, können Sie auf einer der letzten Veröffentlichungen von Olof Bright (betrieben von Thomas Millroth und
Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson), "Radio Silence No More" hören.

Ulher spielte mit der Mehrheit der besten Jazz und Improvisationsmusiker, u.a. dokumentiert auf einer brillanten CD mit den Schweden Martin Küchen, Raymond Strid und Lise-Lott Norelius ( "Tidszon" auf Creative Sources). Ihre Scheiben bestehen meistens aus verschiedenen Duo-und Trio-Formationen, Solo-CDs gibt es nach wie vor nur sehr wenige. Zusätzlich zu Trompete und Dämpfer besteht die Intrumentierung auf dem Solo-Album "Radio Silence No More" auch aus Radio und vor allem Lautsprechern. Auch in diesem Bereich erweitert sie die Grenzen sowohl der Funktion als auch Kapazität der Lautsprecher. Was bleibt, ist ein Element, welches am ehesten an ein Schlagzeug erinnert. Ulhers Spiel mit Radiosounds klingt manchmal komplett elektronisch, obwohl es sich im wesentlichen um akustische Musik handelt.

Wie nähert man sich einer Musik, wie der Birgit Ulhers? Titel wie "Längstwelle", "Ultrakurzwelle" oder "Mikrometerwelle" verhelfen kaum zu einer anderen Assoziation als  zu Wellenlängen, Hertz und Störgeräuschen. Es ist das Ohr, das Hören, das hier spekulieren kann. Es ist oft eine dichte Schichtung, trotz der Tatsache dass sie aus nichts anderem  als Luft, Vibrationen und Geräuschen besteht. Es gibt auch keine direkte Dynamik, kaum Nuancen zwischen laut und leise. Vielmehr können die Klänge als territorial wahrgenommen werden, als eine raue Oberfläche. Ulhers Hintergrund als Künstlerin spiegelt sich im räumlichen Denken der verschiedenen Stücke.  Die Klänge beginnen und enden mit langen Pausen. Der Trend ist skulptural oder dreidimensional, aber er führt auch zu einer Form der Verschiebung der Zuhörer zu verschiedenen Zielen oder Grenzpunkten. Es ist eine CD, die in einem Raum gehört werden sollte und nicht über iPod. Manchmal sind das Radio und die Trompete so nahe beieinander, dass Sie sich buchstäblich im Radiogerät wiederfinden, dann wieder wie aus weiter Ferne. Der gelegentlich "nasse" Ausdruck der Trompete verwandelt den Raum manchmal in eine große Dampfmaschine, aber paradoxerweise ist es gerade dieses  "Nasse", das  menschliche Eigenschaften in die montononen Radiogeräusche bringt.

Viele können es wie eine kalte Scheibe empfinden, aber ich glaube nicht, dass Ulhers Anliegen eine Kritik der Technologie ist. Das Gebiet, das bei "Radio Silence No More" entwickelt wird ist keine negative Vision. Es ist kalt in der gleichen Weise wie ein Stück von Beckett kalt sein kann, aber als ein Stück, das sich in der Nähe einer Tragödie befindet. Es gibt etwas in Ulhers Schaffen, das sie zu einer der interessantesten MusikerInnen macht. Manchmal stelle ich mir vor, dass ihre Trompete eine Art Mikroskop ist, mit einer Linse die plötzlich körnigen Stoff zu Brokat mach.
.

Johan Redin, www.soundofmusic.nu


Improjazz

Birgit Ulher 'Radio Silence No More
Gino Robair & Birgit Ulher 'Blips And Ifs'

Contrairement à ce qui a été écrit précédemment à propo du CD de Christine Sehnaoui paru chez Olof Bright, ce label est dirigé par Thomas Millroth et non par Mats Gustafsson. Ces deux personnalités ont des liens de collaboration très vifs, entre autres à travers ce label il n'empêche qu' Olof Bright présente des musiciennes impliquées dans une démarche qu'on pourrait qualifier d'art sonore et assez éloignée de la musique explosive que représente (excellemment) le saxophoniste suédois. Après Sehnaoui et son subsaxophone Solo, Olof Bright CDOB 19) et les paysages sonores de l'artiste visuelle multi média Maya Spasova (Maja af Svea Olof Bright CDOB 20-21), voici la trompettiste explorateur Birgit Ulher. Creditée trumpet, radio, mutes and speaker BU crée un universe tubulaire  fait de gris sans éclat lumineux. Radio Silence condense le souffle et les bruitages des pistons et de l'embouchure avec beaucoup de sensibilité en un paysage inoui et sensible. Au-delà des effets sonores, il y a une saveur, une finesse et une poésie véritables qui font qu'on écoute par plaisier. Et finalement, parmi tout ses confrères trompettistes de l'absolu (Ezaki, Kerbaj, Kelley, Dörner, Barberan, Wooley) c'est Birgit Ulher qui me touche le plus.
Son duo avec le percussionist Gino Robair est tout aussi remarquable. Je vénère toutes les productions où on entend Gino Robair et ses acolytes californiens (Tom Djll, feu Matt Sperry, John Shiurba, Tim Perkis, Scott Rosenberg, etc..) en compagnie de Wolfgang Fuchs, Anthony Braxton, John Butcher, Gail Brand et bien d'autres. Robair qui cite Eddie Prévost et AMM comme sa principale influence joue ici du 'voltage made audible' . Les sons électriques du californien rencontrent les préoccupations de la trompettiste hamburgeoise comme dans Sputter, leur précédent opus pur Creative Sources, au point que c'est parfois bien Robair et non les sourdines d'Ulher qui produit ces curieux sons aquatiques. Pratiquant une vision de l'improvisation radicale et très épurée, ces deux artistes parviennent à insouffler dans leurs rencontres en apesanteur une dimension ludique et rythmique. Rastascan est vraiment un label à suivre.


Jean Michel van Schouwburg, Improjazz 156


aufabwegen

Man muß den euphorisierten Linernotes zur Rolle der Trompete nicht unbedingt folgen, um Radio Silence No More wert zu schätzen. mit diesem Album ist der Mikro-Improvisatorin Birgit Ulher aus Hamburg ein feiner streich gelungen - nicht zuletzt, weil sie den Charme brutzelnder radiowellen als Beiwerk und Klangteppich nutzt. Besonders in den Parts, wenn die Klappen schnalzen und bassige, fast rülpsende Töne aus der Trompete stieben, übt diese Platte ein eigenartige Faszination aus.

Zipo, aufabwegen, 15. März 2009


Junkmedia

Around 1986 or so I had a friend who shared my enthusiasm for running with a Walkman, the music accompanying the pay off release of endorphins. While I favored a strong pulse-based soundtrack, say King Sunny Ade, my friend ran for a long while listening to Bill Dixon’s Collection, an exhaustive documentation of Dixon’s investigations of the solo trumpet. While a fan of Dixon myself for many years, it seemed an odd choice for a six-mile run. When I remarked on it, my pal said Dixon had created an entire world in that distilled, exacting setting, and it satisfied many listens and moods.

Much earlier, in 1978, Bakida Carroll delivered a bracing solo document of trumpet, prepared and otherwise, on his Hat Hut release, The Spoken Word. Since that release, there is a trajectory of solo trumpet works available for anyone interested in the possibilities and perils of that undertaking. Well under the radar are Korean trumpeter Choi Sun Bae’s 1998 release Freedom/Solo Trumpet Improvisations, closely followed by Franz Hautzinger’s Brospa [2000], and Greg Kelley and Axel Dorner’s nearly simultaneously released solo works sharing the reductionist title, Trumpet [2001].

Recorded in Ulher’s apartment in the summer of 2007 and released nearly a year ago on Mats Gustafson’s Olof Bright imprint, Ulher’s well documented exploration of the sonic terrain beyond the open trumpet continues. Ulher has developed her sound since settling in Hamburg in 1982, performing, recording and curating a new music festival for a decade. Working for many years in a wide range of ensemble settings and configurations, Ulher also offers the occasional solo outing [2006’s Scatter, one of her many releases on Creative Sources, is the precedent for a solo work balancing this area of sound and silence].

The basic tools are trumpet and radio noise, the radio speakers placed inside of mutes. There are nine pieces, comprising 45 minutes, so there is a somewhat episodic feel as Ulher moves through strands of granular radio signals, percussive valve manipulation, and a lexicon of plosives, aspirations, growls, kisses and occlusions. Ulher’s training as a visual artist is evident in several ways, primarily in how astutely she places sounds and silences in a given piece, conveying a strong regard for structure, however abstract her materials. This is, to my tastes, one of the vexing problems endemic to undertaking a solo work , especially in this area of music - how to go beyond a cataloging of effects, to a work with organicity, shape, flow and form. Ulher has managed well, integrating her highly visceral trumpet sound with silence and sonic detritus.

Ulher works here within a fairly modest range of the horn, with few occasions for visits to the extreme high or low pitches. Timbrally she recalls, at times, trombonist Gunter Christmann, as well as Greg Kelley, the latter especially in the unsettling, reverberating wail of track nine. Her simpatico work with vocalists and percussionists such as Gino Robair is as evident as any horn referents - cries, whispers, cavils, splutters and spit are her melodic material.

Lest anyone imagine Ulher’s sound to be sterile or, the charge against much abstract art, dryly jejune, have a listen - this is music so wet, pliant and visceral as to seem recorded from the uvula and intestinal tract. Some sections are splenetic, some form an architecture of kisses and tonguing. I swear track six sounds like a trumpet with sleep apnea.

Ms. Ulher is touring the U.S. in January/February of 2010, an opportunity to experience this carefully-crafted sound world breathing and sputtering, as it should be, fully in the moment.
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Jesse Goin, www.junkmedia.org, January10 2010


Music Works

Treating as full partners the extended drones and blurry hisses that emanate from a stand-along radio and its speaker, Hamburg-based trumpeter Birgit Ulher uses mutes plus her improvisational prowess to shape this program. On nine mid-length tracks here – all with the suffix “-welle” or “-wave” – buzzing mouthpiece growls rubbed metal abrasions and prolonged, strident whines enliven, wrap up or complement the unpremeditated wave forms and sideband echoes heard from the untouched appliance.
Propelling air through her horn’s iron tube without valve movement, humming nonsense syllables along with discordant tones or gutturally popping split tones, Ulher amplifies her oral attack with lip bubbling, shrill whistles and chromatic tongue slaps, often reaching sibilate rapprochement with the barely audible static interference. Although carefully inserted bell-mutes impede full-force blowing, she prominently exposes understated droning burrs, altissimo whistling cries or pedal-point forced guttural tones on tracks such as “Langwelle”. Or she uses throat gargles and reflux as a unique performance strategy as on “Dezimeterwelle”.
Cunningly divorcing her horn sounds from its characteristic showy brassiness, Ulher patches and breath-propels startling – and highly appropriate – trumpet textures into the mix, matching the other wave forms. By refusing to acknowledge a brass instrument’s rote sound, plus not acquiescing to serendipitously created sonic oscillations, she has produced an original and memorable CD.

Ken Waxman, MusicWorks Issue #106


The Watchful Ear

 ........Tonight I have been listening to a disc on the Olof Bright label, which appears to be partly the brainchild of Mats Gustafsson, which explains the profusion of wind and reed instruments present on their releases, which come wrapped in a nice Cathnoresque oversized card sleeve.
..........
The thing is, if I didn’t know in advance that radios were at use here, and if they were not specifically mentioned in the liner notes, as they are in this case, I wonder if I would have noticed their use at all. On first listen here I was a little disappointed that there is little present on this recording that clearly resembles a radio. There are no voices, no bits of melody, no tunes layered under static etc… In fact, it is often really very difficult to tell what is radio sound fed through the trumpet and what is just the rush of air. The radio sounds are almost all white noise or similarly constant, completely abstract sounds. Often they sound just like Ulher’s breathy, hissy extended techniques, and it takes careful listening to separate them. Thinking about it, did we need to hear a CD of a trumpet playing along to bits of the shipping forecast? The ambiguity surrounding the origin of many of the sounds here increases my interest in this CD a great deal. As an album of solo trumpet playing its not bad at all, not that dissimilar to parallel efforts from the likes of Axel Dörner, Masafumi Ezaki, Ruth Barberan etc…but the involvement of this additional musical impetus, and the subsequent questions I wonder about how much of the radio sound was controlled and how much pure chance makes the disc that little bit more of an enigma.
Ultimately, the radio hums and whistles and fizzes quietly and Ulher plays along with it, improvising into the sounds it makes, shifting her technique and response as the radio signal changes, stops, starts. I can only assume that she had some control over the radio’s off/on output, though I would guess that for each of the nine tracks here it was tuned (or detuned) in some way and then left to do whatever it would do rather than have this side of things adjusted mid-flow. So the music is generally muted and understated (quite literally in a lot of places) remaining in the realm of hiss and burble rather than squawk and wail. While remaining in the lower registers though, it doesn’t ever fall into silence and is quite busy on the whole, scurrying whispers rather than full-on gabbiness. My interest then really does revolve around this combination of the acoustic and electric, human and machine, and the blurring of these boundaries. The difference between the output of the radio and Ulher’s playing is often slight, probably deliberately so as she seems to attempt to mimmic its sound quite often. Do I always manage to separate the two? Is every gesture I attribute to Ulher really her? I don’t think I get it wrong all that often but there’s enough uncertainty there to make me wonder. Another good one to add to my already long list of decent solo trumpet albums then.


Richard Pinnell


Touching Extremes

My first contact with Birgit Ulher’s idiom occurred during a time in which her trumpet – together with Ruth Barberan’s – was being featured on Creative Sources (a never enough sung label, if you ask me). I vividly remember the instant admiration for two women who were producing unheard sonorities through such a classic instrument, entirely discarding typical jazz-related contexts and relative routines. This record comprises home recordings from 2007, in which the Hamburger Lady (Throbbing Gristle pun intended) utilized radio, mutes and a speaker to conjure up more gurgles, fizzes and groans from the same old machine. While living in a noisy condominium many years ago, this reviewer used to blast impolite neighbours with ruthlessly jarring records as a punishment for their lack of civility. Had Ulher lived and practiced this craft in those people’s place, our relationship would have been lovely. The sounds may be gritty and grumpy as ever, yet the informal quality of the music remains at the forefront; one can imagine responding to the aborted quacks, toxic bubbles and broken flutters with a smiling explanation of how certain physical reactions get perfectly in tune with those codes. Shortwave washes and vocal enhancements are a welcome addition to a palette that hasn’t changed too much over the decade, but that still highlights a conceptual solidity that lots of today’s improvisers desperately need.

Massimo Ricci, June 17, 2011, touchingextremes.wordpress.com


Nutida Musik

Hamburgbaserade Birgit Ulher tillhör de musiker som under senare år har slagit sönder de traditionella instrumentens klangliga konventioner. Inte för att söka efter dramatiska effekter utan för att hitta nya ljudliga former att arbeta med. I en intervju i den brittiska tidningen The Wire säger Ulher exempelvis att trumpetens möjligheter inom mer expressiva musikaliska former som frijazz, i vilka hon också verkat, är begränsade. Detta eftersom förändrade och utvecklade tekniker på just trumpeten jobbar alldeles för lågmält och tyst för att kunna hävda sig. Kanske är detta ett av svaren till varför just detta instrument är så väl representerat inom den så kallade lågdynamiska improvisationsmusiken med utövare som Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Franz Hautzinger, Greg Kelley som några trumpetande exempel. Förutom Birgit Ulher då.
Hela det klangliga register Ulher uppvisar på de ovanstående duoskivorna manifesterades redan på den viktiga soloskivan ”Radio silence no more” som spelades in för fyra år sedan. De klangliga strecken dras upp, punkterna markeras, det susar, viner, bluppar och bubblar. Till och med ett muterat spräcksolo träder fram. Det är en mycket formstark musik hon spelar, flyktig javisst, men mycket tydlig. När hon spelar solo kan hon också arbeta mer med tystnad, eller pauser om man så vill. Här bryter de av, lyfter fram det spelade, förtydligar. En avgörande skiva i Birgit Ulhers utveckling, men också en betydande skiva för trumpetens breddade klangvärld.

Magnus Nygren, Nutida Musik (No 2, 2011)








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