La Voyelle Liquide

La Voyelle Liquide Günter Müller (percussion & electronics), Lê Quan Ninh (surrounded bass drum & electronics)

La voyelle a (4:28), La voyelle e (21:27), La voyelle i (13:00), La voyelle o (8:04), La voyelle u (8:10), La voyelle y (8:36), La voyelle liquide (11:16)

Recorded in January 2000 at the Studio of CCAM - Vandoeuvre - France

Ertswhile Records 010

Reviewed by: François Couture for the site All Music

Two percussionists with a reductive approach to their instruments meet in Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy (France) for a two-day, four-hour long recording session, and 75 minutes of selected music from the session find their way to La Voyelle Liquide (The Liquid Vowel), released on Erstwhile, one of the only American labels to give a channel of expression to improvisers working with electronics. Günter Müller and Lê Quan Ninh both perform on as few drums and cymbals at a time as possible. They try to extract every possible sound from their instruments, enhancing the palette with electronics. More from less; this axiom defines their approach, but also the resulting music. These improvisations remain quiet, delicate, often on the verge of collapsing from their own fragility -- and yet they don't. The listener is torn between two choices: trying to understand how they did it (which sounds are "natural" manipulations and which are electronic transformations -- and, for that matter, transformations of what sound source?) or simply letting go and embarking on this peculiar aural journey. Things can get noisier and busier at times (in parts of "La Voyelle U" and "La Voyelle E"), but the music usually remains low-key, developing by successive impressionistic touches (on "La Voyelle I," it becomes so sparse that it is hard to grasp). The most adventurous ears will be delighted. The artistic success of La Voyelle Liquide resides in the fact that the listener never feels the instrumental limitations the musicians imposed on themselves.
Reviewed by: Philippe Robert for Jazz Magazine - July-August 2002

Les percussions présentent un penchant naturel pour le travail sur le timbre. Avec elles, le bruit devient une composante possible, pour ne pas dire évidente, de ce qu'est la musique. John Cage le savait qui a composé dans ce sens de nombreuses pièces dont certaines furent interprétées par le célèbre Quatuor Hêlios. De cet ensemble, Lê Quan Ninh, que l'on retrouve sur bien des fronts, fait partie. Autre figure majeure de l'instrument, le Suisse Günter Müller anime depuis quelques années le label For 4 Ears. Leur rencontre était logique, d'autant qu'ils ont en commun une passion pour la pratique de l'électroniqus. Comme des géologues qui s'affaireraient à inventorier leur matériau strates après strates, le duo invente un vocabulaire qui n'a rien à voir avec la traditionnelle syntaxe harmonique, le son de cette pièce étant articulée en autant de parties que de voyelles, plus une, imaginaire. C'est, basé sur l'écoute réciproque, que l'ensemble s'organise et progresse, nourri d'une complicité de chaque instant. Des éléments, sans cesse, apparaîssent, par bribes, surgissant du silence, distordus et amplifiés, avant que d'autres ne s'effacent progressivement, comme liquéfiés. Fondé sur la mise en place de sons qui s'enchevêtrent dans des maillages ultra-sophistiqués, le rythme s'installe, sans hiérarchie, entre deux hommes envisageant leur instrument comme un atelier où s'invente une musique concrète, sans solfège, dont seule la nécessité vibratoire serait le moteur. Loin de s'adresser exclusivement à l'intellect, cette musique se révèle puissamment sensuelle.
Reviewed by: Gil Sherman on the site Fake Jazz - February 2001

A brave new form of improv was in full swing in 2000, thanks to the devoted efforts of labels like Erstwhile and For 4 Ears. Perhaps no document has showcased the exhilarating possibilities of the new improv better than La Voyelle Liquide, a summit of two superbly talented percussionists. Günter Müller's star has been steadily rising, its ascent captured on wonderful recordings with guitarists Keith Rowe and Taku Sugimoto, onkyo exemplars Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M, and cracked-electronic specialists Voice Crack. Though less established, Lê Quan Ninh has been more prominent since his brilliant 1995 solo set Ustensiles (on Müller's For 4 Ears label). Müller and Ninh share an open-minded, forward-thinking outlook. For La Voyelle Liquide, they've extended their scaled-down kits (Ninh plays only a "surrounded bass drum;" Müller sticks with his "selected drums") with electronics (both) and minidiscs (Müller). Inspired by Gaston Bachelard's "Psychoanalysis of Water"--the writer's visage peers sagely from behind the CD tray--Müller and Ninh explore the multiverse of worlds associated with water. If you're expecting 75 migraine-inducing minutes of pounding and pummeling, look elsewhere. These astonishing creations could be mistaken for a collection of field recordings. "La Voyelle e" is a stunning descent into the depths, sinking slowly like a steel-hulled bathyscaphe, scattering frightened fish in its wake, weathering compressive currents that threaten to crush it like a discarded aluminum can. Ninh's bass drum bubbles through dense clouds of grit stirred up by the underwater activity of "La Voyelle o." The closing "La Voyelle Liquide" is a powerful piece of nautical impressionism, laden with ominous sea bells, crying gulls, creaking planks, and choppy waves. On "La Voyelle a," electro-acoustic treatments dissolve percussion into waves, creating refractive shoals into which fragments of rhythm are cast like so many handfuls of sparkling stones. "La Voyelle u" begins similarly, the play as poetic as that of moonlight upon the ocean, but builds to a frenzied pelting. "La Voyelle i" and "La Voyelle y" are notably different--more ice than water, if you will--with frequencies and crystalline droplets skittering across frigid reflective skins.
Reviewed by: Ermes Rosina on the site All About Jazz

Era quanto mai "necessario" che due fra i musicisti, il cui contributo all'estensione - se non al superamento - delle potenzialità sonore della percussione si è rivelato indubbiamente significativo, si incontrassero in un progetto discografico.
La Voyelle Liquide soddisfa appieno le aspettative del caso.
Sufficientemente ampia la gamma espressiva dell'opera: alla quieta enigmaticità del primo brano, in cui i metallofoni di Lê Quan Ninh si intrecciano, generando sottili stratificazioni, con la cupa pulsazione elettronica evocata da Günter Müller si contrappone la policromia che caratterizza la lunghissima seconda traccia.
Grazie all'uso sapiente di delays eloops , l'ascolto pare galleggiare su superfici liquide ora dense, ora rarefatte: le percussioni del francese, in un primo momento immerse nel mare in bonaccia, si trovano a fronteggiare flutti sempre più minacciosi, richiamando alla memoria le splendide registrazioni en plain air immortalate in Montagne Noire (ad affiancarlo, nell'occasione, erano Michel Doneda e i "captatori" di suoni Marc Pichelin eLaurent Sassi ).
Qui come allora, si è piacevolmente sospesi nella compenetrazione fra suoni "naturali", campionamenti, elaborazione elettronica in tempo reale: gli uni e gli altri si fondono in un coacervo in continua permutazione; la logica costruttiva a questa sottesa non priva, comunque, la percezione di punti di attrazione, per quanto labili.
Non meno degne di nota le sonorità "quasi-spettrali" che danno avvio alla sesta traccia, dove frammenti di percussione intonata vengono scandagliati/liquefatti/sovrapposti in un gioco di estrema raffinatezza, per poi assumere contorni più definiti, accompagnate da poliritmie campionate.
Talune lungaggini presenti qua e là (specie nella statica "voyelle y") vengono pienamente riscattate nell'apoteosi finale de "la voyelle liquide": tenui fruscii e battimenti trasmutano in scosse telluriche e detriti percussivi fluttuanti in loops , per ritornare, verso la conclusione, alla stasi iniziale, sempre mantenendo irrisolta quell'ambiguità/deformazione delle fonti sonore che costituisce uno degli aspetti più affascinanti di questo lavoro.
Reviewed by: Steven H. Koening on the site Jazz Weekly

Erstwhile Records has done improv lovers a great service by filling in a niche not covered by other labels. As Bernhard Gunter has done for various types of ambient-at-the-verge of disappearance with his Trente Oiseaux label, and Ryoji Ikeda has done in the click-and-sine-wave genre, label head Jon Abbey (his name nowhere to be found on the packaging) has offered us electronics, usually with live instruments, or in live performance, that cannot be used as background music. Exemplary is his initial offering, a double disc of Gerry Hemingway in duet with electronics whiz Thomas Lehn. Their live gig at Phill Niblocks Experimental Intermedia performance space is where I first encountered Abbey, whose face was familiar from concerts, and discovered his new imprint.
The disc at hand presents improvisations with percussion and electronics. There are no notes regarding the music other than it was recording in Vandoeuvre-le-Nancy, France in January, 2000. Müller has long been known as a European sound-maker; I know his work only through collaborations with Christian Marclay, and others I have on anthologies. Ninh is not a new name either, but I believe this is my first encounter with his work. The track titles are the vowel sounds, a liquid concept. Indeed, the title in English would be The Liquid Vowel.
The sounds are rumbles, chimes, scrapes. The first sets a stage. The second plays hard, with the sounds scrunching in on each other, The sounds these two create is, despite electronics, very concrete. The gurglings and cyclings might (and might not) be machine made, but theres nothing mechanical or rote here.
Each segment could be listened to separately, or the whole, though at 75 minutes it is a bit long for one session at home, though I could easily sit through this at a concert. The final track is sort of a culmination of all the sounds heard throughout, from sub-bass roar to mosquito-like metallic ring, none of it MIDI-queasical. The percussions and airplane-deep bass do honor to a good audio rig.
Reviewed by: Richard di Santo on the site Incursion

Two established and adventurous percussion/electronics improvisers team up for these dynamic performances recorded in January 2000, now released on Erstwhile Records. Müller has been exploring the potential of electronic improvisation in recent years, most notably with his releases on his own For 4 Ears label. Ninh has also been working with integrating electronics and percussion improvisation, and as a percussionist he has been performing with the new classical percussion ensemble Hêlios Quartet. The two met in 1988, and have occasionally been performing together since then.
The music on this disc has really grown on me over the past few weeks. There are so many subtle shifts, the sounds move in and around these compositions with such delicate movements, it amazes me more and more the fine details that are contained within these 75 minutes. The tracks are long, and each has its own voice, tone and direction. Percussions flutter to and fro, creating a body of multifarious textures and incongruous rhythms. Electronic processing sometimes interferes but mostly the crackles, tones and waves are integrated so as to make an harmonious whole. This is a superb work, full of the most minute details that will no doubt reward the attentive listener. Highly recommended, and one of the finest from Erstwhile's strong and growing catalogue.
Reviewed by: Mike Trouchon on the site Opprobrium

Being one who has paid zero attention to the work of both Günter Müller and Lê Quan Ninh prior to receiving this release in the mail, I can declare with a big dunce cap upon my head, "Oh, what a fool am I." Maybe I can just chalk it up to "So much music, so little time", or "No one ever told me about Müller and Ninh", but in the end neither scenario finds me submerging my ears in their glorious tone streams and experiencing the wonderful sounds they have to offer. La Voyelle Liquide provides a fantastic, 75-minute pan-sonic voyage to parts unknown filled with all sorts of percussive promulgations embedded in a churning matrix of basal and incidental sounds. The seven tracks presented here are a unique hybrid of live, live-processed, and post-production-processed soundscapes that were distilled from a marathon four-hour recording session that took place at Studio CCAM in Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy, France in January 2000. Müller and Ninh skillfully spin small and large vortices of sound that collide with one another, morph into different forms, and travel parallel trajectories until they're absorbed by the attendant countercurrent directing the here and now. An elemental study of the creation of nature literally unfolds before your ears as the two percussionists build layer upon layer of multi-timbre glissandi, tittering clicks and throbs, sweeping pitches and drones, and all manner of clanging, tinkling metal. I can only think of a deep space variant of Nachtluft (another excellent electro-acoustic ensemble featuring Müller as a member) as a contemporary sound unit creating anything close to what is heard on La Voyelle Liquide . Although these abstract improvisations draw from a multitude of disparate sound sources over the course of their duration, they never seem to lack a sense of direction. While the listener can (and will) get extremely lost in the processing of this music, the music itself maintains a discernible course set by the keen minds of Müller and Ninh. It isn't often that I find myself sitting through repeated listens to music of this genre (especially since the laptop generation has been responsible for producing much of it), but Müller and Ninh are so far ahead of their peers in this arena that listening to La Voyelle Liquide a couple of dozen times is almost a matter of obligation. In a post-Company landscape, the dialogue of the impromptu hasn't sounded this vital and this refreshing in years. Outstanding.
Reviewed by: P. Hemptinne on the site Disco Graphie July 2001

Un monde rare de frottements, brisures, crachouillis, auscultations laser du vide, des limbes électro. C'est très fluide, en prolifération constante et anarchique, dans un noir absolu, tout un cosmos qui scintille, grince, craque et claque, bave et perle ses laitances sonores. Une musique d'érosion surtout, souterraine. Elle creuse des galeries, des cavités, crée des éboulis dans les assises solides. Injecte des liquides fluo et corrosifs dans les armatures du trop-plein de matière. Doucement, elle vide, elle évacue. Illuminations blafardes et ouvertures rayonnantes. Inquiétant? Sur le fil entre allergie et extase? Fantastique travail en tout cas. A écouter très fort pour entendre les détails: le vacarme abrasif de ce minimalisme vaut de l'or! Sur le label Erstwhile qui se spécialise dans l'édition de musique électronique originale, de recherche.
Reviewed by: M.H. for Peace Warriors #16 - February 2001

Disque de percussionnistes pour qui le rythme serait moins un temps marqué, délimité, qu'un territoir sonore à arpenter, fait de zones d'intensités et de calmes, de matières en mouvement. De nombreux improvisateurs passent aujourd'hui d'une instrumentation acoustique aux nouvelles technologies, et utilisent microphones et lecteurs dans leurs dispositifs pour reconstruire le corps de leur instrument par l'électronique, Günter Müller et Lê Quan Ninh sont de ceux-là, animés par une curiosité du phénomène sonore et l'envie de sortir des conventions et des rôles. Ils se révèlent très différents dans leurs approches de la percussion, du jeu : Günter Müller est dans une grande économie du geste et du son (utilisant quelques éléments de batterie, des mini-disques et des effets électroniques), quand Lê Quan Ninh (bass drum & electronics) est dans l'actions, l'énergie, le mouvement incessant, dans un jeu plus dynamique, capable aussi d'une grande finesse, presques de sensualité avec ses différents éléments percussifs. Ce qui donne un disque de textures et d'événements très riches, remix non plus de mémoires matérielles, mais de gestes et de sons captés live, s'imbriquant dans une construction imaginaire spontanée. Günter Müller travaille beaucoup autour de la figure de la boucle, qu'il compresse et distend à l'infini, jeu sur le passage du temps et son énigme, comme forme électronique première du rythme. Ils sont dans deux approches opposées du temps musical, ou tout au moins complémentaires, entre un temps circulaire (sans début ni fin) pour Günter Müller et une temps linéaire/historique construit sur une succession d'événements pour Lê Quan Ninh. Se perfre dans ces différentes temporalités, ce territoir bruissant, polyrythmique, transporte l'auditeur en dehors de ce temps comptable d'un quotidien soumis à la police des horloges. Sans aucun doute, un des disques les plus intéressants du label Erstwhile, et au-delà de cet intérêt critique, il y a un plaisir rare à prendre, y perdre le temps.