George Lewis & Splitter Orchester’s Creative Construction Set™ (Mikroton) makes connections between the new German Echtzeitmusik scene and America’s Great Black Music.
Echtzeitmusik is a Berlin-centric but internationally collaborative movement, involving a wide and open caste of musicians who are developing a distinctive new electro-acoustic music. The 23-piece Splitter Orchester is its summit, and George Lewis, on this occasion, is the Orchester’s principal, guest musician (trombone, electronics) and composer.
Lewis (b. 1952), a member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, plays trombone (check his News for Lulu trio with John Zorn and Bill Frisell), innovates in interactive electronic and computer music, and works as composer, conductor and installation artist. He’s also the current Professor of American Music at Columbia University. In the past he’s worked closely with Anthony Braxton, as well as with groups such as Musica Elettronica Viva, and the Globe Unity and ICP Orchestras. He couldn’t be more perfect for the Splitter Orchester.
Lewis’ 3-piece Creative Construction Set™ is a text-based score that evidently allows the players (who include Axel Dörner, Simon James Phillips,Werner Dafeldecker and Burkhard Beins) considerable autonomy, while also imposing a structure that’s produced a remarkably nuanced and finely calibrated set.
The album was recorded over two days in broadcaster SWR’s studios, retaining the immediacy of a live performance. Its three parts, each around 20 minutes long) are presented out of sequence, with the densest and most changeably dynamic piece, “Creative Construction Set™ #3”, opening the album before we’re returned to #1 and #2. #1 seems to me the best way in though, kicking off as it does with urban field recordings, taped human voices that are soon commingling with orchestrated instrumentation.
And orchestrated is the word: brass instruments sounding off against dramatic percussives in controlled detonations before yielding to the egoless equilibrium of mutual conduction: the piece, Lewis explains: “proceeds by way of text instructions that ensemble members propose to each other during a performance”. So the flow is restless and constantly animated, with lots of little stress tensions bound together in the improvised engineering of a coherent musical architecture.
The players each make their mark, and there’s a heightened sensitivity, moment to moment, to specific instruments or combinations (pianist Simon James Phillips insinuates a lovely, pacifying melodic motif into the latter stages of “Creative Construction Set™ #1”), but the real pleasures of this listening are in their aggregation, and the fine balance the Orchester strikes between viscerality and sensitivity; the play of skittish microsound against bolder gestures.
“Creative Construction Set™ #2”, which closes the album, is increasingly slow, deep and coagulant. It has a brooding, ominous quality, but enfolds brittle turntablism, an exquisite looping effect in brittle strung wood stresses, contrastingly deep and breathy brass and woodwind sounds, and the occasional violent irruption of percussive clatter amid much beautifully stressed delicacy.
Orchester members Boris Baltschun and Burkhard Beins, in trio with Serge Baghdassarians, recorded one of the highlights of 2016 in the shape of Будущее совершенное., and that album might make a better introduction to Echtzeitmusik for the uninitiated, but the revolutionary dynamics of Creative Construction Set™ take us deeper.
Liz Allbee trumpet; Boris Baltschun computer, analog synthesizer; Burkhard Beins percussion; Anthea Caddy cello; Anat Cohavi alto clarinet, soprano saxophone; Werner Dafeldecker double bass; Mario de Vega objects, electronics; Axel Dörner trumpet; Kai Fagaschinski clarinet; Robin Hayward microtonal tuba; Steve Heather percussion; Chris Heenan contrabass clarinet; George Lewis composition, trombone, electronics; Matthias Müller trombone; Magda Mayas clavinet; Andrea Neumann inside piano, mixing board; Morten J. Olsen percussion, vibraphone; Simon James Phillips piano; Julia Reidy guitar; Ignaz Schick turntable, objects; Michael Thieke clarinet; Clayton Thomas double bass; Sabine Vogel flutes; Biliana Voutchkova violin; Marta Zapparoli electronics, reel-to-reel tape machine.
Buy Creative Construction Set™ direct from Mikroton.