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>> malfatti / rowe interview
published in: erstwords.blogspot.com/ Monday, February 28, 2011
interview by Jon Abbey

> Die Temperatur der Bedeutung / Das Profil des Schweigens

Edition Wandelweiser Records EWR 9801
by Dan Warburton

Whitenoise   CD, w.m.o/r, 2004

> Review by Dan Warburton
The Wire, June 2004.

> Review by Andrij Orel
Autsaider issue 5


Radu Malfatti

Die Temperatur der Bedeutung / Das Profil des Schweigens
Edition Wandelweiser Records
EWR 9801

by Dan Warburton

Trombonist Radu Malfatti was born in Innsbruck in 1943, and lived and worked in Holland and Britain in the 1970s, where he encountered and played with the pioneering spirits of European modern jazz and improvised music, including Chris MacGregor, Paul Rutherford, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Misha Mengelberg, Fred Van Hove and Tony Oxley (to name but a few).

In recent years Malfatti has concentrated increasingly on composition, or rather the interface between composition and improvisation, and has become a leading figure in the ultra-minimal "Berlin school" (though he currently lives in Vienna). He has also worked with fellow Austrian Werner Dafeldecker in the group Polwechsel, whose first album dating from way back in 1993 has become something of a landmark document since its reissue on Hat(Art) a year or so back.
This album, dating from 1997, consists of two Malfatti compositions for, respectively, solo trombone (played by the composer himself) and string quartet. Each piece lasts exactly 2000 seconds - a parallel with the painting inevitably springs to mind: it would seem that Malfatti has chosen this duration in advance, in the same way that a painter selects the canvas before setting to work, therefore having certain given variables regarding the works’ eventual size and scale.

What is remarkable about these two works though has nothing to do with such pre-determined considerations (if indeed pre-determined they are: in the absence of textual clarification on the part of the composer, that is just my assumption based on their particular duration of 33’20"): what is extraordinary is the extreme, minimal austerity of Malfatti’s sound world. Quite simply, even the most delicate late chamber piece by Morton Feldman sounds as opulent as a Mahler symphony in comparison with this: "Die Temperatur der Bedeutung" specifies nothing more than particular methods of blowing into the trombone (at particular angles, or with certain "specified shapes of the mouth cavity"), while "Das Profil des Schweigens" calls for the four string players to bow on pegs, tailpieces and other parts of the body of the instruments, rather than the "normal" contact point on the strings between bridge and fingerboard. (It seems, moreover, that the four instruments were recorded separately on different dates and the recordings superimposed later; I’d be curious to see how Malfatti chose to notate this music, since such recording circumstances would seem to indicate that precise coordination between the performers is not necessarily required.)

At no stage in either composition are there any clearly discernible notes whatsoever, nor any metrical regularity nor rhythm in the accepted sense of the word; there is blowing or bowing ("blasen-klingen" or "streichen-klingen", to quote Antoine Beuger’s well-nigh untranslatable liner notes), interspersed with silence. And that’s it. Or rather that’s just the beginning of what turns out to be a really thrilling sonic adventure: we know now, thanks to John Cage of course, that there is in fact no such thing as silence. In optimum listening conditions (I recommend on headphones in the middle of the night), one is aware here not only of all the tiny sounds that the musicians make in the studio environment which are inevitably captured by ultra-sensitive microphones (breathing, occasional creaks and clicks of chairs, and the ever-present and ultimately acoustically rich audible hiss of the recording itself - these works must have been an absolute nightmare to perform, and especially to record), but also the plethora of sounds that occur outside the confines of the recording - even through good-quality headphones I became increasingly conscious of distant traffic sounds (as heard through closed double-glazing at 5.30am!), the rumbling of water pipes (several floors above my apartment), not to mention the myriad, tiny creasing and rustling sounds of my own hair on the back of the chair I was sitting on, as quietly as I could.
To draw another parallel with the visual arts, one thinks of Duchamp’s "Large Glass", where the viewer cannot see the artist’s distinctive shapes and surfaces without also perceiving the "real" world beyond through the transparent material.

With Malfatti’s music, changing the context of the listening experience modifies the whole perceptual mechanism of the work: out of curiosity I took this album into the streets with me on a hissy audio cassette in the trusty old Walkman: in over a decade of using public transport I can honestly say I’ve never been aware of how aurally fascinating it can be. Of course, I seriously doubt whether Radu Malfatti ever intended anybody to listen to this music in noisy underground stations, but be that as it may: in the sense that they lead us to appreciate the all-too-often ignored sonic richness of the world around us, these two compositions work better than more notorious pieces such as Cage’s "4’33" and La Monte Young’s "Poem", for the simple reason that Cage’s legendary work by definition provides nothing for the listener to use as a reference sound with which to "measure" the other elements of the surrounding "silence", while Young’s sounds, though interspersed with long stretches of "silence" are themselves so raw and distinctive that they continue to resonate in the listener’s mind long after they have ceased to exist acoustically, thereby imposing clear and memorable structure upon the work. Malfatti’s sounds, on the other hand, are sufficiently neutral in terms of their pitch and rhythmic identity so as not to interfere with our perception of the inexorable passing of time; as sounds they are both instantly discernible and instantly forgettable; they are either there or not there; when they are there we listen to them (sometimes, especially in the string quartet, the long continuous passages are so acoustically rich that one can be fooled into thinking this is some complex electroacoustic work), and when they’re not there, we don’t miss them. There are other sounds around us to listen to instead, more than we could ever have imagined. Thank you to Radu Malfatti for cleaning out our ears.

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CD, w.m.o/r, 2004
Review by Dan Warburton
The Wire, June 2004.

It's rare to come across someone expressing equal admiration for artists
as wildly different as Radu Malfatti and William Bennett, but Basque
laptopper Mattin namechecked both on his recent excellent TwoThousandAnd
outing Gora. While we wait for a collaborative venture with Whitehouse,
here's Whitenoise, two twenty-minute pieces sourced from improvised
sessions in Amann Studios in Vienna. Mattin recalls that trombonist
Malfatti provided several suggestions as to how to proceed: "in the
first we were to make one sound each at a time, in the second piece I
would be constant – but we broke the rules!" Malfatti has often invoked
the use of silence as a structural element in his work, but whereas in
the previous recordings it enabled listeners to focus outwards onto
their sonic environment, here it's as if all extraneous sound is being
sucked into the music. "Gripping" and "scary" are hardly adjectives one
associates with his ultra-sparse work (best exemplified by his 1997
Timescraper release die temperatur der bedeutung), but Whitenoise is
both. Compared to the comfortable digital puffs and wisps of much
contemporary laptoppery, Mattin's subtly changing backdrop of filtered
noise underpinning the second track sounds amazingly organic – imagine
clamping your ear to one end of a long tube and listening to waves
breaking on a distant shore, or a gentle wind blowing through a vast
pine forest. And whereas Futatsu, Malfatti's collaboration with Taku
Sugimoto, was more a question of when the next sound would appear than
what it might be, Whitenoise contains some genuine surprises: not only
do several tones and timbres reappear, but Mattin's unsettling use of
extreme registers and ominous feedback hums give the impression the
whole thing's ready to blow. However, apart from a vicious scree of
noise five minutes from the end, the musicians manage to keep the lid on
it. In setting the fragile close-miked trombone glissandi in the context
of subtle computer feedback, Mattin has done what none of Malfatti's
collaborators since the early 1990s has managed, namely respect the
trombonist's current preoccupations while subtly reactivating the fiery
emotional nature of his pre-1993 work. As a result, Whitenoise is not
only Mattin's most impressive outing to date, but also arguably
Malfatti's most significant release since die temperatur.

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Review by Andrij Orel
Autsaider issue 5

Radu Malfatti is a trombonist, composer, European improv scene vet; he
is a musical ascetic, who criticizes himself for having released too
many albums (most of which have gone out of stock a long time ago).

Mattin is a younger improvising musician, computer feedback
anti-virtuoso; his new solo works and collaborations go out in the
underground market or internet nearly every month.

“Whitenoise” documents their meeting in Amann Studios in Vienna – the
studio of choice for many contemporary artists practicing
electro-acoustic improvisation (eai). The album is made of two 20-minute
exhibits, silence, rather than music, being exhibited.

The first track of the album is a silence receptionist desk. The two
musicians take their turns, at long intervals, to enter the silence,
show it one single sound, long drawn-out or short-cut, warm or cool, and
to exit its area tacitly, leaving behind themselves emptiness. The
sounds, which check in at this silence, are neither phrases, nor notes,
but rather exhalations. Malfatti exhales a timbre, saturated and pale at
the same time, with his trombone; the exhalation goes though various
stages sometimes beautified with touches of nose-blowing, choking up,
tummy-rumbling, lip-smacking, yawning… vapour rolls up dissolving in
emptiness… empty. It’s empty. Empty. Some time later Mattin eventually
checks in; steady hiss of the computer’s blood circulation system
substitutes for silence. And it’s empty again. Empty. How can one
quantize this silence?.. The trombonist steps up, and down again; his
partner’s apparatus does the same some time later. In the course of the
20 allocated minutes, neither artist appears to have broken the silence
more than 15 times. At one moment the microphone listens to winds
blowing deep inside the trombone, at another a door is heard to be
opening to a hot boiler-room, then something draws liquids, something
clangs, and some heavy object grinds along the floor. Sounds turn their
sides to the silence; sometimes they invade its domain in pairs,
freezing in figures not designed for comprehension; they linger a little
bit longer in the end, and the silence receptionist desk starts turning
into something more like a kitchen.

Curiously enough, this is the music – with its long obscure pauses –
that does not let the listener turn away from it. Expectation of sound
becomes more interesting than continuous flow of sound which the ear
usually loves to get accustomed to.

The second track of the album is quite continuous – Mattin’s
luxuriantly-static computer feedback goes on and on. Music gets
suspended in an unstable position; it blindly blunders against obstacles
inside itself; it’s squeezed between the layers of stark dragging and
slow blowing-off, its mimic showing attempts to maintain the appearance
of equilibrium. This calmness seems to conceal the whispering of the
organs of some body, but what body? Is it the bioprocess of a human
being, of a computer, the groaning of a half-dead volcano? Or maybe it’s
a consolidated jazz band made of organs of those three? The origins of
sounds on this record say almost nothing about which musician
contributes a particular sound. At one moment the music appears
terminally ill, all the oscillograms go off-scale, and something spills
out, evaporates from openings in the body,.. and coma follows. At other
moments the music is monotonously elemental as if it rains or snows
inside the processor unit, and grotesque brass breathing device, the
trombone, prudently pumps monsoons and trade winds into the processor
unit’s atmosphere.

This is an extraordinary album, which seems to have no analogue either
in traditional eai, or in noise, or in any known music of the 20th and
21st centuries (except for some previous works by the same artists, e.g.
Radu Malfatti’s “Die Temperatur der Bedeutung” (1997), and Malfatti’s
music has apparently been influenced by late works of Luigi Nono).

Perhaps, “Whitenoise” is the very breathing device connected to the
comatose organism of contemporary music that makes the blood circulate
in its veins? Or a temporary splash, a small dose of vitamin that is to
reanimate this collective organism? Anyway, one cannot listen to such
music too often otherwise one will develop immunity against it.

Perhaps, “Whitenoise” reminds us that sometimes “occasionally” is better
than “constantly”, “too late” is better than “too early”?

Perhaps, it is music, which everybody should not necessarily listen to,
but should bear in mind?

Or, perhaps, it sounds so fresh because melodies and rhythms, and all
the traditional musical gestures have discredited themselves and have
become fuel for global kitsch? And only breathing hasn’t?

In fact, “Whitenoise” was hardly born with a silver spoon of
“conceptualism” in its mouth. Breathing is not conceptual. It is human.
The music of Malfatti and Mattin communicates nothing conceptual to us …
it merely breathes. Occasionally.

(Yes, silence can be bodiless, and breathing, taken away from the body
and submerged in such silence, dead. So, why even the beauty of dead
breath retains in itself the promise of life? Why does one wish to
return to this beauty?)

… If there’s music today, regarding which one can talk of “avant-garde”
and argue whether it is “music” or “not music”, then here it is.
“Whitenoise” is the music which absolutely deserves to be called
radical. It is far from being mere white noise to me.


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