Bird Saw Buchla



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Rothenberg/Hein/Tammen create a meeting point of different aesthetic languages, processes of thought and approaches to sound.

On Bird Saw Buchla these three voices come together to form a trialogue within a field of differential forces, which brings forth creative confusions and aesthetic dissent as well as mutual agreement upon discursive sonic objects. The music wanders in between driving rhythmical structures, flowing layers, melodic elements and a myriad of other musical topographies.

Performed by David Rothenberg on clarinet, bass clarinet, contralto clarinet and iPad, Nicola L. Hein on guitar and circular saw, and Hans Tammen on Buchla music easel

Composed by David Rothenberg (Mysterious Mountain Music, BMI), Nicola L. Hein (GEMA) and Hans Tammen (GEMA)

Cover art by Jaanika Peerna
Photo by Peter Gannushkin/

Scheduled for release on September 14th, 2k18 on the ever active Clang-imprint is “Bird Saw Buchla”, a collaborational album effort created by the triumvirate of David Rothenberg, Nicola L. Hein and Hans Tammen which created a conjunctional six track journey spanning over 57 minutes on this longplay piece, employing an array of instruments including a variety of clarinets, iPad, guitar, circular saw and the legendary Buchla music easel in the compositional process. Opening with “Must Springtime Fade?” the three artists bring forth a free floating Jazz Noir-like approach contrasted by a harsh take on ultra-electronic background Funk, “Then Cry All Birds And Fishes” gravitates more towards experimental DarkJazz territories and “Cold Pale Eyes Pour Tears” sees the bird mentioned in the title coming into play before the Buchla provides a clean retro-futurist sound environment for all sci-fi scoreists out there, building up maximum tension with minimalist bleeps, busy tweets, moving fluids and raw vintage bass pulses for those who know. With “Now In Sad Autumn” the three composers bring forth more deep Jazz melancholia, “As I Take My Darkening Path…” sees lively clarinet movements in combination with spiraling modulations and the final cut “A Solitary Bird” weighs in more dark’ish, swampy atmospheres accompanied by seemingly field recorded clangs and percussive elements, seductive bass movements as well as bits and bops of, oftentimes mutated, background Jazz blown over from faraway venues. Well interesting, this.

This is a unique trio of three musicians from different backgrounds, each of whom has appeared here at DMG on occasion. David Rothenberg plays clarinets, recorded a duo CD with Marilyn Crispell for ECM, an author of books about animal sounds. He spoke here at DMG a couple of weeks ago, discussing an upcoming book by Elliott Sharp… German guitarist, Nicola L. Hein is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Over the past year, he has played at DMG several times with a diverse cast of partners: Chris Pitsiokos (outstanding!), Robert Dick, Viv Corringham and Mia Zabelka. He played differently for each duo. Hans Tammen also plays guitar (on his lap or table top), leads an orchestra and has a guitar quartet. But here he is playing an ancient(?) Buchla Sound Easel, one of the earliest synthesizers. An odd trio, nonetheless…

This is an extraordinary trio: Mr. Rothenberg is an incredible clarinetist, fluttering soft waves of notes, his tone often pure while Mr. Hein adds a stream of percussion banging on his guitar with a object and small circular saw. Mr. Tammen also provides a soft cushion of electronics underneath. At times, it sounds as if Mr. Tammen is on the verge of exploding with select bursts of distortion. The further that Hein on guitar and Tammen on synth push things out, the more Rothenberg adds a more natural balance with his most acoustic playing. All of the song titles have sad natural themes like Then Cry All Birds and Fishes. Is there an imbalance between Mother Nature and Technology or between acoustics and electronics sounds??? This is is a perfect example of the way these extremes can work so well together. On one level, very hopeful indeed. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

The guitarist, soundartist, philosopher and composer Nicola L. Hein is one of the busiest players on the German scene of improvised music. He plays the guitar with his hands and plectrum but also with a lot of different objects: screws, rulers, iron wool, violin bow, abrasive paper, magnets and many other objects which are part of his musical vocabulary. The result is his very own world of sounds, which is using the rich potential of the guitar as a creator of sounds. The manual creation is a very important character of this sound world, which never gets distorted by the use of electronic effects.

Musician and philosopher David Rothenberg wrote Why Birds Sing, Bug Music, Survival of the Beautiful and many other books, published in at least eleven languages. He has 16 CDs out, including One Dark Night I Left My Silent House which came out on ECM, and most recently Berlin Bülbul and Cool Spring. He has performed or recorded with Pauline Oliveros, Peter Gabriel, Ray Phiri, Suzanne Vega, Scanner, Elliot Sharp, Markus Reuter, and the Karnataka College of Percussion. Rothenberg is Distinguished Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Hans Tammen likes to set sounds in motion, and then sitting back to watch the movements unfold. Using textures, timbre and dynamics as primary elements, his music is continuously shifting, with different layers floating into the foreground while others disappear. Whether richly processed guitar sounds from his hybrid interactive guitar/software instrument Endangered Guitar, traditionally notated material for his Third Eye Chamber Orchestra, or graphically notated elements for the all-electronic Dark Circuits Orchestra, his music flows like clockwork, “transforming a sequence of instrumental gestures into a wide territory of semi-hostile discontinuity; percussive, droning, intricately colorful, or simply blowing your socks off” (Touching Extremes).

There’s a purist streak to the way these three musicians have brought their own instruments- primarily clarinet, guitar and a 70’s vintage Buchla music easel- to bear as equal thirds of this almost-hour-long collection of improvised works that sit on the border of avantgarde jazz and experimental electronic sound-scaping. Sometimes toying with their own instruments, for example playing a guitar using saw motors rubbing the strings, at times it sounds like three decidedly introspective noise-makers whose simultaneous audibility is more coincidence than design; at other points, there’s a clearer sense of musical responsiveness between the performers.

“Then Cry All Birds And Fishes” is a prime example of the latter, an expertly moderated nine-minute work of slow tension and build. In pieces like “Now In Sad Autumn” there’s strength in contrasts, the clarinet expressing the titular seasonal rustic melancholy but offset against bleeps, whirrs and scratches that map out a different path. One of the most interesting bits of sound-scaping comes in final track “A Solitary Bird”, which at first glance appears to be a found sound cliché that reveals itself to be imitation bird noises constructed from oscillations that gradually devolve and lose their disguise while the Buchla steps out a sort of proto-techno pattern.

I’m very fond of the tonal qualities of clarinets, but even I have to admit that it perhaps over-dominates here at times. In mixing terms I might have liked to hear some of the rumblier electronic noises brought to the forefront, but they’re often crushed- obviously doing interesting stuff that’s buried underneath the bassier tones of a clarinet that does sometimes does everything except stop. There is some respite though, “Cold Pale Eyes Pour Tears” a successful example of what occurs when the balance shifts.

There are some deeply intriguing ideas at play here and it’s very well executed, certainly a release worth scratching beyond the surface of.

An ad hoc, first-time grouping, Bird Saw Buchla joins the skills of American clarinetist David Rothenberg, German guitarist Nicola L. Hein and German-American Hans Tammen, who uses his textural guitar skills on the Buchla musical easel, a vintage analog synthesizer.

Also a distinguished academic and philosopher with an overriding interest in bird song, the mellow trilling Rothenberg extracts from his clarinets distinguishes Bird Saw Buchla […] and advances another method for creatively joining individual musical parts. As well since the Buchla is old enough and partnered with a guitar the angled flanges and buzzes created by the two plugged-in players undulate intermittently in a contrapuntal fashion alongside the clarinetists flutter tonguing.

Now in Sad Autumn and As I Take My Darkening Path which follow one another are probably the best demonstrations of how this strategy occurs. On the first granular synthesis and spluttering inputs are set up as blurry challenges to the clarinet’s coloratura lines as rubs and shuffles from guitar strings provide the backing. The result is that when Rothenberg turns to arabesques and fluttering trills the connection to electrified burbles and dazzling string shakes is as natural as if the reedist was fronting a string quartet. Hein’s most upfront playing on As I Take My Darkening Path contrasts calculated guitar finger-picking with snores and snorts from Rothenberg’s bass clarinet. With Tammen sounding short-wave-radio-tuning-like warbles in contrast to guitar buzzes and flanges tremolo bass clarinet squeezes provide the underlying and connective rhythm.

Other instances of organ-like pulses, ring modulator-like gongs and repetitive percussive scrapes and rolls are worked into the jittery interface among the three. Still, Rothenberg’s pseudo bird calls and watery slurps ensure that this trio’s work is […] unique [in] itself.

The 21st century has become the intermediate stage of accepting electronic and acoustic impulses as equal partners in sound creation. These two CDs demonstrate how the blend is moving ever closer. Ken Waxman



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