Biliana Voutchkova & Michael Thieke | Blurred Music
I’m catching up with this set of live performances which is also the first release from new imprint on the block, Jersey City’s own Elsewhere. The limited edition set features Berlin-based duo of Bulgarian violinist Biliana Voutchkova and German clarinetist Michael Thieke. Recorded in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York in 2016 it boasts lovely 6-panel gatefold cover artwork by none other than David Sylvian.
We first travel to Chicago on the first disc. The space is cleared with some fidgety actions by the pair. In between the sawing and air pops is a drone flare that dis/appears with odd timing. The stage is set for this fifty minute singular work to unfold in what appears like a melancholy overture at first. “Improvised parts alternate with fields of pre-structured material…virtually identical fragments of the live performances synchronize simultaneously with the playback.” The instruments, both known for their ability to create sounds as voluptuous as they can be shrill, seem to be in a hardy conversation that doesn’t skip a beat, even without a beat structure at all. That’s right, this is going raw, without percussion. The tweets and tweaks of notes writhe above the contorted melody in such a curious way. If you like way out jazz mixed with contemporary cut-up classical your ears will be dancing in disquietude.
It’s been less than ten minutes in and these guys are circulating the space, following each other, in both opposition and in concert. There’s this loose feel that suddenly tightens and shifts dramatically when you least expect. I particularly like when there are those few and between moments of very intimate solo playing where, for instance, you can hear Thieke’s raspy last breath like a hissing snake, or where Voutchkova’s bow sounds as though its whittling down its last fiber. In these moments you can hear effects like gurgling birdcalls that are likely vocal treatments and amped breathing. There are resilient moments of heavy fiddling, and when its layered it becomes interestingly unbalanced. I’m momentarily reminded of Sun Ra somehow.
In Philadelphia (CD2) their atmospheric sound is tuned in, glaring bright. Here they make sounds that are slightly more cosmic, with slight alterations, drawing fine lines with a gray air about it. The performance starts off much more understated and chilly than the previous. Voutchkova picks at her strings in short plunks that sound like pecking, this is further visualized by the additional bird snaps and flaps. The sound board mix is perfect, you can easily hear tiny chattering of finger movements along with the way in which their playing fills the surround of the space itself. They jig and play with micro-effects until colliding in a stringed call to action, with its sharp pitch and wiggly aftermath. This is an introverted set projected outwardly with a certain fearlessness.
Then CD3 takes us to their performance in New York which seems to pick up almost exactly where they left off in the Midwest. The disc includes four additional short excerpts from each of the performances which offer some sweet focal spots. It’s the longest of the three performance, with more of an abstract classical feel. That is until the deep field sounds start to emote, they are in the thick of it and contend by offering a peculiar prepared sound. The instruments chirp in flux until they let go with a sudden, cavorting and extended wail. This then shifts into lower tones followed by a pleasing and lengthy respite of small sound effects: cracks, sloshes, and other acoustic bending.
This is a very physical record. I’m unsure how they created thtrain chugging sounds but that alongside the squiggly strings make for a uniquely playful portion nearly forty-five minutes in. They bring the long horns and singular squeaky pops with warbly voice into the final minutes, leaving an uncertain stillness in the room.