Cathnor Vignettes series, review 5, Burkhard Beins, Michael Thieke, & Luca Venitucci – “Roman Tics″

The role of titles in improvised music is an odd thing. It’s strange to use a form of titling better suited to song-craft, for something as ephemeral as free improvisation, but sometimes (like in the case of Ryu Hankil’s “Becoming Typewriter”) it can be brilliant and evocative. In the case of this record though, it’s cringe-worthy. While I understand the “connection to Rome” has something to do with the title, I really wish it was just called Romantics. That would have actually been evocative of what is contained here, and quite clever, where the bifurcation is tedious attempt to be clever at best.

Unfortunately, tedious is also a good description of the music presented here. It’s very difficult to be specific about why however, but I’ll try to make sense of it.

The personell for the recording is: Burkhard Beins: percussion, objects, zither, Michael Thieke: clarinet, zither, and Luca Venitucci: accordion, preparations. The music in general has the sheen of avant-garde music, which is why I think the word Romantic is apt. This may be because the of the entirely acoustic instrumentation, and overall, very traditional (for the avant-garde anyway) technique. Now, I happen to like a lot of avant-garde, but it is mysterious to me why someone would play like this now. Maybe I’m wrong to expect records made in this area to address the psychographic environment that surrounds them, and have fresh comment on it, but I do, and this record does not. At least not effectively in my opinion. There is just something old-fashioned about many of the sounds here.

My other major issue is that the playing here tends to be very episodic. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, and it’s a big part of the reason, I moved away from more “Musical” areas of improvisation in the first place. A constant battle in playing this kind of music, is maintaining the balance between playing with someone, and against them. If you only play with someone, the result can have a follow the leader effect. If you only play against them, things can sound disjointed, unexamined, and opportunities to coalesce effectively can be lost.

Here, the issue from me, is the creation of musical miniatures that become little structural traps along the way. When the players lock into one of these “grooves”, all I can think is, “how are they going to find their way out of this cul de sac?” Mostly, they don’t. Not satisfactorily anyway. More often than not the technique chosen is the “dead-stop” followed quickly by that’s i’ll refer to as the “foundational re-entry”, a technique, where a texture that can be played over is laid down to begin a new section.

So, what’s so wrong about all this?

If I find myself, so overly aware that this “miniature” is wearing thin and needs to go somewhere, or that that transition is being placed because of a dire need to keep propulsion in the music, then any spell the music can have over me is broken. I’m left feeling I’ve witnessed a group of people try and figure out a very difficult problem, and this is just not a desirable feeling.

There are glimmers on this record though. Areas where the music does take hold, and begin to stake out a new landscape for itself. Areas where one does not know what will come next, and doesn’t care, because now feels so nice. Perhaps this is what’s so frustrating to me about this piece. Great moments like the one above dissolve into nothing, for seemingly no reason, and are then too quickly on to the next miniature.

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