by Jason Bivins

Imagine a musical context wherein the challenge is to create using the fewest notes or devices possible. The effect, for both players and listeners, is very roughly analogous to the challenge of creating a painting with but a few strokes of an inkbrush: spare, but evocative and often quite beautiful. Polwechsel has always specialized in just this kind of approach to music making. On this, their third release, the quartet is once again comprised of original members Werner Dafeldecker, Michael Moser, and Burkhard Stangl, and joined for the second time by saxophonist John Butcher, who has filled former member Radu Malfatti's shoes.

The focus here, as with the first two discs, is still on texture and minimalism; but I also hear the group shifting their approach here, intent not so much on breaking up and reconfiguring lines as on the exploration of layering. The starkness and (relative) silence of pieces like "Not Forgetting the Forgetting" and "Floater" call attention to the most elemental properties of the instruments, reducing them to their fundamentals (as it were) in order that Polwechsel might reconstruct the music one stratum at a time. This is most audible to me in Dafeldecker's two contributions—"Government" and "Schlieren"—in which the strategy seems to concern the juxtaposition and merging of tones and timbres (not least on the opening to the former, a blast of electronic noise that is doubly startling to those familiar with the first two records).

The group seem to be pursuing their ideas as effectively as before, but are also toying more exuberantly with the expectations of improv listeners (many of whom balk at the purported lack of "natural" features on such recordings, whether those of familiar interplay or individual voices, and who will surely cringe at the opening to "Government" or the unexpected conclusion to "Mendota Stoppages"). Together with their first two recordings, Polwechsel are creating some of the more beguiling and challenging music heard today.




Nick Cain

POLWECHSEL Polwechsel 3 CD [Durian] Heavily anticipated third album from this always impressive quartet - John Butcher (tenor, soprano), Werner Dafeldecker (double bass, guitar, electronics), Michael Moser (violoncello), Burkhard Stangl (guitars) - whose first two boundary-blurring releases, though initially ignored, have slowly infiltrated the global improv/new music/electro-acoustic consciousness.

Polwechsel 3 presents five new compositions, of which Dafeldecker and Moser contribute two each, and as ever, their respective aesthetics contrast interestingly. Dafeldecker’s pieces are “cold”, segmented, geometric and interval-based: ‘Government’ jump-cuts its way towards a lengthy passage where short instrumental interjections are interspersed with moments of silence, which gradually become shorter and further apart as the bursts of playing mutate and become longer; ‘Schlieren’ unceremoniously adds a layer of sound to and then subtracts if from a slightly wavering pitch at varying intervals. Moser’s tensile, warmly melodic pieces are more readily reminiscent of improv: ‘Not Forgetting The Forgetting’ is a comparatively elegaic exercise in overlapping short-form drones of undulating register; it almost puts me in mind of that La Monte Young CD of two trumpet quartets from some years back. The players time their contributions judiciously, slipping in an out of the mix adroitly, establishing a subtle but insistent momentum. Moser expands on this method in the more dramatic ‘Mendota Stoppages’, whose ever-shifting juxtapositions of ensemble sound gradually thread a delicate tension between group discipline and individual will, quietly exploring the space between composition and improvisation. John Butcher’s appropriately titled ‘Floater’, a loosely drifting instrumental assemblage, closes the disc nicely. These musicians - and the strain of music-making they represent - have received more attention and exposure in recent years, and though totally deserved, it has to an extent familiarised listeners with their vocabulary and approach to playing. Consequently Polwechsel 3 may leave long-term fans feeling that this group hasn’t extrapolated on its previous offerings in quite the way it might have been expected to. By anyone else’s standards, however, this is an excellent release.




Ken Waxman

Sound produced by the Austrian/British band Polwechsel has been described as being not about tunes but textures, and with finding instruments' extreme tonal states as they interact in a very narrow dynamic range.True enough, but as a new music group that plays partially composed creations, the band is also about the anonymity of musicians. Even though the tones devised on this thought-provoking CD are unique, the idea seems to be that they could come from any group playing these instruments. That may be the band's philosophy, but when one group member is British saxophonist John Butcher, who possess one of improv's most distinctive voices, the supposition is rather odd, if not self-defeating. Fortunately, the philosophy seems to be honored more in theory than practice. Take "Schlieren," for instance, the disc's shortest track, and the only one in which Werner Dafeldecker is purported to be playing bass guitar rather than electronics. You can hear the shape of the saxophonist's distinctive note and tone selection and be certain that the vibrations come from metal, keys and a reed. Around them though, are electronic sounds existing at higher and lower frequencies, with the lower ones probably originating in the bass guitar and the higher ones in its six-string cousin. There's also "Mendota Stoppages," written by cellist Michael Moser. Although it seems most concerned with different methods of expressing slow motion creations, almost at the piece's conclusion there's an odd, romantic-sounding interlude courtesy of the saxophonist. Still it's brutally truncated by what sounds like a tape reeling running out. Was this planned or were the other musicians, who walk the fine line between composed and improv music with such ensembles as Klangforum Wien and Ton.Art, fearful of indulging that emotion? Surrounding this passage, after all, is a concerto of miniscule guitar strums, extended cello scratches and reverberating metal-tinged breaths from the sax. Electronics throb first quietly in the background, then loudly in the foreground, then vice versa. Stasis also appears to characterize the Dafeldecker-composed, more-than-16-minute first track. Beginning with whooshes of pure electronic static, which reappear throughout, you begin to wonder which unsetting, often unattached sonic relates to which instrument. Almost soundless in certain sections, thwacks, crackles and squeaks probably result from string and neck finger placement, while expansive air currents, sporadically resembling attempts to contact space satellites, are likely from the saxophone. If you're willing to turn your sound system up and suspend a demand for melody and rhythm, the disc can be particularly fascinating. Your points of resemblance may be awfully limited, though. Polwechsel's self-conscious demand to be accepted on its own terms extends to the packaging. In the past, Durian has limited its product to minimal notes, typeface and designs on its CD sleeves. Now, however, its newest discs arrive in see-through plastic receptacles, the exact shape of a CD, with song titles and composer credits printed on the disc. Any additional information must be found on the label's Web site. It's probably more economical to do things this way, but it's still one more impediment between the music and its potential audience.




Francois Couture

Released two years after Polwechsel 2, this third album features the same quartet: John Butcher, Michael Moser, Werner Dafeldecker, and Burkhard Stangl. The emphasis has been brought back to acoustic instrument, while the previous opus focused on electronic and guitar textures - it makes no difference, it all sounds alien and discorporated. Yet, despite the fact that the quartet continues to walk the path of textural noise and minimal gestures, Polwechsel 3 is very different than its older brothers. Different but just as fascinating, challenging and rewarding. Dafeldeckers two compositions follow the same canvas: cut-throat bursts of noise spaced by silence - Government or whisper-quiet sine waves and free improvisation - Schlieren. The razor-sharp tightness with which the segments begin and end suggests the piece could be the result of editing artistry since it is probably not the case, it makes the performance all the more commendable. Ever heard of a piece keeping you on the edge of your seat? Expectation is the key here. The two Moser compositions on the other hand focus on long, quiet notes. In not Forgetting the Forgetting tones from cello, double bass and soprano saxophone piggy-back on each other, creating the fugitive illusion of sine waves. Butchers Floater applies his findings with Axel Dörner and Xavier Charles to Polwechsel: each musician searches for the organic sound that is not a tone.The piece gurgles and crackles, once again mesmerizing the listener. If this CD sounds less revolutionary than Polwechsel 2, it is only because Butcher, Dafeldecker and Stangl have enjoyed a little more exposure since 1999.




Richard di Santo]

This is the third CD for Polwechsel, a gathering of four composers/performers/improvisers: John Butcher, tenor & soprano sax; Werner Dafeldecker, double bass, guitar, electronics; Michael Moser, violoncello and Burkhard Stangl, guitars. Featured on the disc are two compositions by Dafeldecker, two more by Moser, and a final piece by John Butcher. With characteristic precision, these performers create five demanding, subtle and complex works for our listening pleasure. In the first piece, by Durian's founding father Werner Dafeldecker, subtle electronics dominate the palette, while the less intrusive sounds from the other players occupy the spaces in between. It's a wonderful piece with a series of captivating turns and a beautiful dynamic range. The next piece by Moser opens with what could be the coupling of sax and violoncello, which creates a mysterious harmony, later peppered by the plucking, strumming and grinding of strings. The contrasting textures certainly make for an interesting listening experience. The third piece, also by Moser, sounds best at higher volumes; the clarity and closeness of the recording compliments the dramatic and commanding movements. The fourth piece, again by Dafeldecker, is another compelling arrangement for the quartet, with short drones alternating with higher pitched sounds like sine waves dominating the piece, each shift and pronouncement as surprising as the last. The final piece, by John Butcher, features a compelling performance on double bass and all manner of plucking, grinding, whistling, and electronic textures weaving a tight web throughout. The closer you get to these performances, the more they offer. Hiding behind the sounds in the foreground are subtle sounds and hidden possibilities worth exploring with close and careful listening. Excellent work.




Michal Libera (Jazz&Classics)

Plyta ta moze sie wydac irytujaca. Ogromna konsekwencja w omijaniu tradycyjnych rozwiazan brzmieniowych i kompozycyjnych moze byc odebrana jako nazbyt hermetyczna.

Faktycznie mamy tutaj do czynienia ze swego rodzaju intelektualnym projektem. Nawet jesli jest on interesujacy, wielu pozostawi w stanie glebokiej konfuzji. Plyta to bowiem nieslychanie powsciagliwa jesli chodzi o zaspakajanie przyzwyczajen odbiorców.

Polwechsel tworza kontrabasista Werner Dafeldecker, wiolonczelista Michael Moser, gitarzysta Burkhard Stangl oraz saksofonista John Butcher (który zastapil Radu Malfattiego). To juz powinno nam sugerowac, ze muzyka bedzie podporzadkowana pewnej koncepcji. Dwie kompozycje Dafeldeckera moga byc lekcja przekraczania linearnosci kompozycji. Zestawienie fragmentów - fraz, pocietych dzwieków i wreszcie ciszy - odbywa sie w mysl niezbyt przejrzystej zasady nastepstwa. Raczej zyskuje pewna spójnosc dzieki ciaglym odniesieniom do innych czesci utworu. Nieco inaczej wygladaja kompozycje Mosera: eksperymenty z rózna dlugoscia trwania poszczególnych dzwieków sugeruja pewne rozwiazania rytmiczne, które dopowiada Stangl na akustycznej gitarze. W koncu okazuje sie jednak, ze te proste zabiegi moga prowadzic do zaskakujacych i bardzo zlozonych struktur harmonicznych.

Cala plyta jest bardzo spójna: kolejne utwory zdaja sie byc zestawianiem róznego rodzaju elementów skladajacych sie w niekonwencjonalna calosc. Ta ascetyczna muzyka opiera sie na geometrycznych niemalze przesunieciach, które - jak sie zdaje - uczyc maja tego, jak malo muzyka moze miec wspólnego z dzwiekiem. Z tego wlasnie powodu Polwechsel jest jedna z wazniejszych formacji muzyki eksperymentalnej. Nawet pomimo swej hermetycznosci.