Brace yourselves as improv duo go surfing on sinewaves…with a trumpet
Simon Reynell’s Another Timbre imprint has developed a reputation as a go-to source for improvised recordings, and releases on the label often find musicians utilising electronics alongside other instruments as a core part of their improv process.
‘Tocando Fondo’ finds trumpeter Leonel Kaplan performing with programmer and electronic musician Klaus Filip at a session in Kaplan’s adopted home of Buenos Aires in January 2014. Although entirely improvised, an element of “composition” went into the final two tracks in the sense that some consideration was given to how certain passages sat alongside others as they were carefully edited down to a CD-length duration. Apart from that, what you hear is precisely what the duo played one sticky evening at Kaplan’s pad.
Filip specialises in an extremely niche area of electronics, namely the use of pure sinewaves. What he plays is like alchemy in reverse – reducing electronic sound to its basest elements, a considered, almost scientific approach to sound. His contribution takes pure waveform synthesis and manipulates that into shapes ranging from passive, pleasant, ethereal tones, bass-y drones and onward to screeching, violent, eardrum-bothering noise. The result is somewhere between the test tone recordings engineers used to employ to test hi-fis and the thrillingly nostalgic sound of a ZX Spectrum loading up a program. It’s possibly the closest electronics can ever come to a raw, primal energy.
Against this backdrop, Kaplan’s trumpet is a powerful and complimentary counterweight. Like Filip’s sinewaves, his playing is mostly pared back to base form, whether that be scratchy, semi-rhythmic sounds, hissing, sibilant noises or gravelly held tones that remind you the core input to a trumpet’s distinctive brass rasp is human breath. It’s only on the second piece included here that Kaplan’s instrument, briefly, actually sounds like a trumpet. By that point it’s hard to tell it apart from a droning sinewave from Filip’s arsenal, which perhaps best illustrates how well-matched these two players are.
Acting with such extreme technical restraint might suggest a session that’s devoid of interesting colour, but ‘Tocando Fondo’ is anything but. The two pieces here shift from subtle, discreet ambient soundscapes full of intricate detail, right through to heavy, intense blocks of sound that would test the mettle and resolve of most heavy metal fans. In between are moments of eerie, queasy calm and unsettling, horror soundtrack-esque moments of tension, particularly when Filip’s sinewaves approach Theremin frequencies.
As music reviewers, we’re often reminded of the old adage that writing about music is like dancing to architecture. On that measure, think of ‘Tocando Fondo’ as a little like shuffling your feet to stone before it’s been quarried, or iron ore before it’s been converted to structural steel, a periodic table of sonic elements.