Amelia Cuni & Werner Durand: Already Awake in the Night
Freiband: Stainless Steel
Two new releases from ini.itu perpetuate its commitment to explorative music-making, with one based on Indian music (specifically, on the “Hindustani Raag Lalit and its modulation to Raag Todi”) and the other a new outing by Frans de Waard under the Frieband name.
Already Awake in the Night is a three-part, forty-two minute piece by Amelia Cuni, David Trasoff, and Werner Durand recorded and mixed between 2004 and 2010. All three bring extensive backgrounds to the project. Cuni, who currently lives in Berlin with Durand and teaches Indian singing at the Vicenza Conservatory in Italy, brings more than ten years of training in the tradition of dhrupad singing to the recording, with the Berlin-based singer having studied between 1978 and 1997 in North India under the guidance of the R. Fahimuddin Dagar, Dilip Chandra Vedi, and Bidur Mallik. Trasoff studied sarode performance and North Indian classical music with the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922 - 2009), while Durand has performed his own music for saxophones, Iranian ney, and self-made wind instruments since the late 1970s and has collaborated with David Toop, Ulrich Krieger, and many others.
The sparsely arranged, vinyl-only release, hand-numbered and available in 250 copies, layers the sounds of Cuni's voice (with bamboo resonator) and Trasoff's sarode against a sine-wave drone generated by Duran (he's also credited with blown kalimba, phase shifters, and digital delays). The side-long title piece is a spectral meditation (appropriately, the Latin text is a Cistercian hymn from the 10th-12th century sung by the monks just before dawn) of peaceful character which effectively conveys the stillness of night-time and its slow transition into morning. On side one, Cuni's mournful voice ululates against the subdued sine wave backing, her voice deftly swooping between the notes, after which Trasoff takes his turn. With slow exhalations heard alongside the drone, the music seems to gently breathe as the bent notes of the sarode mirror the melodic paths navigated by Cuni. Eventually both appear together, their respective murmurs coiling around one another. The time-slowed ambiance carries over to the second side's “Wavering Twilight,” the meditation still in play but with Cuni's vocals absent, until her voice reappears during “Morning Surge,” this time in slightly more agitated form. In truth, the musical material doesn't stray from the curdling tempo established at the outset, but perhaps that's in keeping with the performers' attempt to distill a time-transcending state of stasis into an album-length format.
Freiband is the alias Frans de Waard uses for computer-based pieces, but it's hardly the only one he's adopted, with Kapotte Muziek and Goem two of the other, better-known names he's used (in both cases, with Roel Meelkop and Peter Duimelinks); de Waard is also known as the director of the labels Korm Plastics, Moll, and Plinkety Plonk. That Stainless Steel (also issued in a hand-numbered edition of 250 vinyl copies) promises to be a somewhat unusual affair is suggested by a note on the back cover that indicates side A should be played at 33rpm but side B at “any speed.”
The twenty-one-minute, side-long “Stainless (software)” incessantly churns, sounding at times like an amplified bicycle chain or crackling table saw. The material evolves through loud and soft episodes, with corroded tones resounding loudly at one moment and a gamelan pattern emerging from silence at another. The metallic and industrial sounds carry relentlessly on until a sudden pause brings them to a halt before they just as inexplicably start up again, this time flattened into a steely thrum. All manner of convulsions and seizures appear thereafter, with each rupture jarring in its own way. Side B's “Steel (hardware)” begins with machine-driven rhythms that are syncopated enough they could almost be called funky, but they're quickly derailed and transformed into alternating high- and low-end patterns. The focus on skeletal rhythm elements calls to mind the more minimal tracks Carsten Nicolai issues under the Alva Noto name, though there's a randomized and erratic quality to the Frieband material that's absent in Nicolai's ultra-clinical style. “Steel (hardware)” less rigidly adheres to set patterns and consequently has perhaps more in common with experimental electronic artists who allow chance to seep into their working methodologies (incidentally, played at 33rpm, side B clocks in at eighteen minutes). We're told that the album presents “two sides of radically reworked gamelan,” and at moments the description legitimately applies, even if most of the time the extensive manipulations renders the form of the originating material—whatever it might be—unrecognizable.