Arie Altena

DNK text
On electroacoustic improvisation

Arie Altena

In 2007 I wrote a 2 or 3 longer texts to introduce concerts organised by DNK-Amsterdam. They were sent, as far as I remember with the e-mail announcing the concerts. On my own harddiks I was only able to locate the text which you can find here.

Interestingly the description I gave of electroacoustic improvisation in this one ended up referred to in the (English) wikipedia article on EAI:

"Critic Arie Altena suggests that a defining characteristic of EAI is its "anti-virtuoso" aesthetic, arguing that conventional instrumental techniques are rarely emphasized in EAI, and thus there are few occasions when traditional technical virtuosity are considered appropriate. Critics also note that many musicians in EAI studiously avoid traditional sounds and timbres, and that "extended techniques" (unorthodox playing practices) appear to be standard in performance. [5]" (checked 05062009).

Plus strings / strings attached
3 sets with different combinations of strings & electronics

1. Jeff Carey: Point Source 1
performed by Koen Nutters (double bass)

Jeff Carey's music will be well-known to faithful followers of contemporary electro-acoustic music in Amsterdam. He is a member of the N-Collective and plays laptop in Office (R), USA/USB (with Bjrnar Habbestadt) and SKIFF++ (with Robert van Heumen and Bas van Koolwijk). If you haven't catched him in one of those outfits you might have heard his electronic compositions, or know his no-input mixer work and soundscapes that he released under the name of 87Central. He lives in the United States, but regularly visits Amsterdam.

Tonight Koen Nutters, also of the N-Collective and Office (R) will perform Jeff Carey's new work for double bass and live electronics, Point Source 1. It uses an interactive and flexible approach to layering sound. Basically the composition consists of three layers. The first layer is a score for double bass solo, written by Jeff Carey in close cooperation with Koen Nutters, searching for those sounds and notes that work well in this particular composition. The second layer consists of an electronically manipulated real-time playback of Koen Nutters interpretation of the score. The third layer is generated through a time-structure. At certain pre-defined moments the sounds that Koen Nutters play are recorded, to be electronically manipulated and played-back at later moments. One could also regard the whole composition as a time-frame in which the instrumentalist places sound events. The flexibility of the score enables a complex interaction between the double bass playing in the moment, reacting on and responding to the layers of live electronic play-back. It may sound simple, but Jeff Carey's subtle way of working with live electronics in combination with Koen Nutters' bass playing will probably create a sort of dense and tightly structured complex beauty...

2. Jozef van Wissem / Tetuzi Akiyama
Jozef van Wissem (ten-course Renaissance lute)
Tetuzi Akiyama (nylon string resonator guitar)

Many guitar-players in the contemporary scene take a restrained, not-in-your-face approach to playing the guitar, an approach that is often highly personal and seemingly anti-virtuoso. They bring the guitar in new directions, in areas that maybe even Derek Bailey and Keith Rowe did not touch upon, drawing us even further into the specific sound of the guitar. One could think for instance of Anette Krebs, Taku Sugimoto or Olaf Rupp. And, of course, one should mention the Tetuzi Akiyama.

Tetuzi Akiyama initiated the famous Off-Site series of improvised music in Tokyo (together with Toshio Nakamura), a series that became one of the birth-places of 'silent' electro-acoustic improvisation. As a guitar player Akiyama has performed solo, and cooperated and recorded with amongst others Taku Sugimoto, Gnther Mller, Jason Kahn and Bo Wiget. Sometimes these collaborations lead to very sparse improvisations, with sounds that are on the brink of silence; sometimes they resulted in a layering of sound combining bleeps, clicks, shrieking electronics with relentless, yet not necessarily loud, sounds from Akiyama's guitar. In his playing of both nylon- and steelstring acoustic guitars, and various electric guitars, Akiyama focusses very much on resonance and timbre. This is most apparent on what is without doubt his most appealing release until now: the aptly titled Don't Forget to Boogie (2004). On this cd Akiyama plays the most rudimentary blues-licks often using a distorted guitar sound. He repeats the same lick over and over again, until it begins to 'boogie', and in the monotony of the repeated lick he brings out various overtones and rhythmic figures and little noises that are idiomatic to this type of guitar playing, but would normally be suppressed. The result is pure rapture and hypnotizes the listener, it is exuberant, restrained and minimal at the same time. Although in his duo with Van Wissem we probably will not hear the 'rock 'n roll'-side of Akiyama (his latest band seems to be called the Satanic Abandoned Rock 'n Roll Society), there is even in Akiyama's playing of the nylon string guitar, some sort of grainy, rudimentary influence of the blues filtered through 40 years of improvised music.

Jozef van Wissem probably plays the most unlikely instrument in the world of contemporary improvised music: the Renaissance lute. He has accomplished the strange feat of bridging the idiom of seventeenth century lute literature and twenty-first century free improv of the silent type especially in his working duo with Tetuzi Akiyama. Although Van Wissem uses subtle electronic sound manipulation, he has largely stayed faithful to the particular timbre, resonance and playing technique of the lute. This turns out to blend particularly well with Akiyama's prepared guitar. Van Wissem first came to be noticed a few years ago because of his radical conceptual approach to Renaissance lute music: he deconstructed existing compositions, for instance by playing them backwards. He also composed his own pieces for lute, using palindromes and mirrored structures. His music therefore does not have a traditional linear progression, nor leads to a climax, it rather stays on the same level of intensity. His music is quiet and not so much demands concentrated listening, as it will bring the listener in a state of concentrated listening an aspect that makes Van Wissem a natural ally of the current post-reductionist improvising musicians. Van Wissem also manages the BV/Haast label, and performs regularly around the world in duo with guitar-wizard of Captain Beefheart-fame, Gary Lucas.

3. Martin Siewert solo
Martin Siewert: guitar & live electronics

Martin Siewert comes out of the Vienna scene of laptop/improvised music, a scene from which also Fennesz emerged to achieve world fame with Endless Summer in 2001. Last week Siewert's project My Kingdom for a Lullaby, in which he collaborates with Christoph Kurzmann (clarinet, theremin, laptop) and with live video by Billy Roisz and Michaela Grill, was part of the Gaudeamus Live Electronics Festival. Monday night he will perform solo. Siewert plays in various bands, amongst which Trapist, Efzeg, Komfort 2000 and sssd which means that he regularly plays with the likes of Taku Sugimoto, Dieb13, Boris Hauf, Joe Williamson and Werner Dafeldecker. (Of course one could add the names of Oren Ambarchi, Fennesz, Wayne Horvitz, Jim O'Rourke, Yoshihide Otomo or the Kammerflimmer Kollektief). His solo work for guitar and electronics is often quite melodic, and even melancholy. He is quite close to the more poppy, moody and laid-back indietronic scene (think of Radian). This side of Siewert also comes out on a recent cd-release of B. Fleischmann's The Year of Slow Days (2006). The magazine Dubfrog wrote about it that these musicians and Siewert is one of them know how to "filter electronics through emotional charcoal".

Be prepared for a concentrated listening experience.

Jeff Carey Tetuzi Akiyama

Jozef van Wissem

Martin Siewert

Written for DNK-Amsterdam, November 2006, published at
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Arie Altena