Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
“On the surface, the pairing of tuba with spinet seems an eccentric one, both for historical and sonic reasons. The spinet—a smaller version of the harpsichord—was losing popularity by the time the tuba was on the rise. Each has largely been used in an accompanying role, and there are few contexts in which the two have played together. The tuba's bass sounds are in complete contrast to the higher pitches of the spinet, bringing to mind cartoon images of an elephant and a mouse.
But none of that concerned tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch and spinet player Christoph Schiller when they first played together in 2008-09; they felt a strong connection in their playing—the kind of thing that transcends details of instrumentation; it remains obvious here.
In fact, both Hübsch and Schiller have modified their chosen instruments, in the process getting rid of the seeming disparity. Schiller's spinet has become a semi-percussive instrument, amply illustrated by this CD's opening sounds which are most reminiscent of the clacking of an old-fashioned typewriter. Elsewhere, it sounds more like prepared piano—or even a detuned guitar when Schiller strikes or plucks the strings inside. In similar fashion, the tuba produces notes far higher than its stereotypical oom-pah, the result of Hübsch's breath control and circular breathing. Put that all together and it is certain less than one person in a hundred could correctly identify the instrumentation here.
Be that as it may, the dominant factor is that strong connection that Hübsch and Schiller recognised in each other. It means they produce subtle music that is both sympathetic and beautiful, ultimately making the vagaries of their instruments irrelevant.” John Eyles, All About Jazz
“This evening’s CD of choice has been another in the recent Another Timbre mini series of “Duos with Brass” recordings, this time the all acoustic combination of Christoph Schiller’s spinet and Carl Ludwig Hübsch’s tuba. The music is indeed all acoustic, but in the liner notes written by Hübsch he describes some of the sounds he makes as “mechanically created electronic music” a description that essentially doesn’t make any sense, but does perhaps lend some kind of meaning to the way these two musicians, like in the case of the Hayward/Fabbriciani album I wrote about a couple of days ago, use their instruments merely as tools to create as wide a range of sounds as possible, escaping their histories, and starting instead with a new palette. For once on this recording I think I can always tell the two musicians’ contributions apart, but this time I am often stumped when trying to figure out how either of the musicians came up with the sounds they use.
I have written about Christoph Schiller’s music a few times here before, and described his spinet, an instrument I have never known used in free improvisation before, This slightly adapted traditional relation of the harpsichord is used by Schiller as much as a stringed instrument as a relation of the piano, but he adds eBows, fans and other non traditional items to the strings to pull out a wide range of tonal, as well as percussive sounds. Hübsch is new to me, but he has a very delicate touch with an instrument that he himself describes in the liners as having “the clumsiness of an elephant” In actual fact elephants are known to be very gentle and sensitive creatures, and Hübsch’s playing is similar here, usually quite muted, raging between breathy hisses and low smooth tones, far from clumsy, full of refined craft and thoughtful placement. There are tiny sounds, passages of longer tones, scratchy, fidgety periods, soft, textural exchanges and moments of near silence.
The album, which is intriguingly titled Gilles U is mostly an understated, thoroughly considered and thoroughly beautiful affair. There are no fireworks, few shocks and no interest in finding new ways of playing purely for the sake of it. This is another case of strong improvisation played by dedicated, sensitive musicians that makes no attempt to rewrite the rulebooks, but is just a fine example of musicians fully in tune with both their instruments and each other. (the duo have played together often in the past). I have said similar things about other CDs before, but sometimes this is all that matters. Schiller and Hübsch’s music here is lovely to follow, to wrap your ears around and into.
In the words of another reviewer, the music does require your full attention to be fully enjoyed however. The real pleasure here is in the communication between the musicians. If you separated the two sets of contributions and listened to either of them apart from the other it would make no sense, and probably sound quite ugly and meaningless. If this sounds obvious then it is maybe something that we take for granted- we put on a CD and press play, and unless we listen carefully, unravel the threads, then we only hear the final product, the combined sounds. Does this matter? Do we need to know who made which sound? No, of course not, but I do think that an understanding of the musical discourse at work, the way sounds respond to each other, the personalities and temperaments of the musicians involved all enriches the listening experience. There are many ways to listen of course, and really none are better than any other, but with improvised music like this, that perhaps could these days be described as fitting within a well formed genre, despite the unusual combination of instruments, maybe we can gain much more from delving into the music, below the surface sensation, listening to a cross section rather than floating on the surface. Gilles U is a disc that I think benefits a great deal from this kind of listening biopsy.
Sorry if the above sounds patronising. I am convincing myself here rather than any of you readers, learning from my listening experiences and sharing this out loud. Now I am tired and a little overemotional and am off to bed, but have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album tonight.” Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“Hübsch describes his tuba as a “modulator of breath”, but it’s a percussion instrument as well. This is an immediate link with Schiller, who has refigured his spinet - a sized-down harpsichord - with attachments and preparationsthat give it a delicate sound quality closer to a warped celeste than to the ‘skeleton in a biscuit tin’ grotesquerie of contemporary harpsichord writing. The two met during a Basel residency and their empathy is obvious, a dry toneless line that suggests the intimacy of an urgently whispered conversation, almost conspiratorial in places, but logical and communicative....Two alert, engaging performances that confirm an impression of Hübsch as a man to watch.” Brian Morton, The Wire
“The press blurb writes that Carl-Ludwig Hubsch and Christoph Schiller are relatively unknown players in the field of improvised music, but Hubsch I saw a couple of times in Extrapool. Like Hayward he plays the tuba and Schiller plays the spinet. Now that's an unlikely instrument in the world of improvisation. A delicate instrument meeting the elephant of the brass section (in Hubsch's own words). The spinet here is used as a box that generates sounds, many sounds. The strings, the box, the keys, it all makes sound. The tuba too, of course, blowing the lower range of sounds. Again two instruments that are used as objects, but what's interesting here is that, while it sounds like improvised music, it also sounds like electronic music, or perhaps even more closely like musique concrete, and that also without the aid of any electronics. Here too, silence plays an important role, making another play of silence versus non-silence, but its also the one that has the widest possibilities: improvisation, both old and new, electro-acoustic and composed music meet up. A free release, in several ways.” Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“It's difficult to know if the title Giles U. is a wink in the direction of the Thai dissident who is accused of the crime of lèse-majesté and is currently in exile in the UK. In any case there's nothing political discernible in the work of Carl Ludwig Hübsch and Christoph Schiller, who don't wear red shirts in the photo on the back of the cd leaflet. Thanks to the tuba (which Hübsch plays) the first seconds inescapably recall Nella Basilica, although this superficial resemblance dissipates very quickly. The raucous breaths and barrage of particles emitted by the tuba mix with a variety of sounds emanating from Schiller's spinet. Yes, spinet: relatively little known, this miniature version of the harpsichord is rarely heard in improvised music, or indeed any other. It makes it even more intriguing to hear theses surfaces being rubbed and clattered, strings being plucked or caressed by an electromagnetic instrument, and vibrations being altered by different preparations. It's a very active music, the duo setting off in several directions and engaging in various modes of interaction. Nothing is impossible: a cold shower, an insect bite, metal percussion, a repetitive rhythm that gradually falls apart, a bottleneck or a piece of polystyrene; all are used as accessories in what we should call a slide spinet(!), broken off for a fraction of a second or pouring out in torrential rustlings. Successive layers of material build up into a powerful flood of sounds which, in addition to its unusual instrumentation, finds a legitimate place in the latest offshoots of the family tree of European free music.”
Jean-Caude Gevrey, scala tympani
“Coming from the Millefleurs ensemble, Christoph Schiller and Carl Ludwig Hübsch play a dialogue on spinet and tuba. Successfully passing the first hurdle - that of juxtaposing the sounds of suffering breaths and smothered strings - a system evolves in which the musicians know how to work these contrasts to good effect. Thanks to the excellent use Schiller makes of electricity, and Hübsch’s solemn repartee, Giles U. Succeeds in convincing from the start to the finish of its seven movements.” Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son du Grisli
“A deep interest in electronic music and contemporary composition, the tuba considered as a modulator of air and breath, preparations, and the unconventional use of instruments: all these are evoked in Carl Ludwig Hübsch’s notes in the booklet for the second CD, ‘Giles U’. Again there is a tuba, but this time in a very rare duo with the spinet, a kind of proto-harpsichord used between the 15th and 18th centuries. Carl Ludwig Hübsch and Christoph Schiller use the extremes of their instruments as well as home-made preparations in a duo of two musicians who know each other very well, as was the case with AMM. It’s as though the sounds are being measured against a colour chart, shifting from one tone to another enharmonically and without break, as Luigi Russolo would have wanted. The two voices are in an anthropomorphic counterpoint amidst an abundance of more distant material which exists because the ear and the air exist, but independently of our will. The human voice gives the sensation of a more familiar nature for which we are destined; breath becomes a cry and then a note in a single movement. In the passage from breath to speech to cry, you can find everything that structures sound, but also the world as a sensual relationship. With just two instruments (the spinet here sounds alternately like a prepared Gibson guitar, a harpsichord, a box of springs etc...) and plenty of imagination, this disc goes to the heart of the unclassifiable new music of which Keith Rowe was speaking.” Boris Wlassoff, Revue et Corrigee
“Simple contrast is often enough to fascinate in improvised music. Only on Giles U. it's not merely simple. Christoph Schiller does the kinds of things to his spinet that Rhodri Davies does to his harp, and he makes an engaging partner to the versatile Hubsch. They create vivid music, the kind of thing you might hear if a steampunk novel became sound, with high brass squeaks and cranky low metal strings combining fantastically. An affinity for contrast, and for knowing when the meaningful balance has been struck, is the key to the success of these seven pieces: you can hear it on "2," as subsonic deep bass drone and scraped twine size each other up, on the almost deconstructed slide guitar sound conjured up by Schiller on "7," bouncing nervously against the held low tones, and on the brilliantine ice sculpture "3," where Hubsch's scalar playing seems to send Schiller scrabbling to the rafters. For all this, though, my favorite track is "4," a hushed drone with an ever so slightly whining violin sound. Plaintive and heartfelt, my kind of improvisation. “ Jason Bivins, Paris Transatlantic
“Tuba for Hübsch, spinet for Schiller. An improbable combination on paper, but don’t you dare discounting the ability to extend the voice of an instrument. The duo’s chance to make something innovative with these machines arose during a Swiss residency in 2008/9 and, to quote the liners, “from our first meeting we felt a strong connection in our playing”. Giles U. confirms that the reciprocal interchange works quite well, and listening to the resulting sounds is a lovely experience.
Given the relative comfortableness in distinguishing the sources – the respective registers are so distant that there can be no doubt – it is interesting to analyze the musicians’ quest for the adjustment of pitch. This is especially valid for Schiller’s activity, which spans across uncanny extensions of otherwise short notes, which benefit from bowing and scraping to become akin to a small group of hoarse violas, and different sorts of preparations used for a more percussive lingo. Yet the shimmering character of those plucked strings almost never descends into turbulence; droplets and pings prevail upon bulkiness.
Hübsch is at ease in adapting his physicality to the tuba; not only by modifying breathing to generate effective undercurrents, also adding vocal components to establish a minimum of melodic movement underneath the general dialogue. In the fourth improvisation there’s a splendid moment of contiguousness of acutely scratchy high frequencies and a sort of irregular engine, halfway through a gentle roar and a sputtering old truck; in the subsequent snippet a nicely pulsating continuum is generated by both performers. Throughout this unpretentious recording, two artistic personalities prove their value without the need of recurring to cheap tricks. The innovation factor might not weigh in at an all-time heaviest, but this record definitely deserves to stay. “ Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
“Roberto Fabbriciani/Robin Hayward: Nella Basilica Another Timbre at30
Robin Hayward: States of Rushing Choose Records 2009
Carl Ludwig Hübsch: Die Sach an Sich Free Elephant FA 011
Carl Ludwig Hübsch/Christoph Schiller: Giles U. Another Timbre at32
Twisting, broadening and stretching the capacities of the orchestral tuba are methods aptly demonstrated on this quartet of CDs, two solo and two duos. Although each is uniformly impressive, what is also notable is that the extended and microtonal strategies used by both German-based low-brass men were separately serendipitously developed.
Contemporary notated music ensembles are where Brighton, England-born Robin Hayward is usually employed, playing his own compositions and pieces composed for him by the likes of Alvin Lucier and Christian Wolff. Now Berlin-based and involved with ensembles such as the Splitter Orchestra and Phosphor, Hayward helped develop a microtonal tuba which uses an exchangeable vale system to extend the instrument’s range to play pitches without lip-bending. Divergently, Freiburg-born Carl Ludwig Hübsch’s background was initially in punk and brass bands. Now Köln-based however, his more recent improv credentials extend to groups featuring fellow sound explorers such as saxophonist Frank Gratkowski and trombonist Wolter Wierbos. Surprisingly or not, the restrained and somewhat other-worldly textures Hübsch creates solo on Die Sach an Sich and in his duo with Christoph Schiller, aren’t that dissimilar from those propelled by Hayward on States of Rushing and his duo with Roberto Fabbriciani
Solo, Hayward combines barely there puffs, concentrated blowing, pressurized pops and watery intonation to knit a unique, undulating soundworld. Often chromatic, at points his expression encompasses circular breaths, canine-like yelps and jackboot-like thumps, with his output pitch-sliding from nearly identical breaths to strained, squeaky microtones.
You get the clearest idea of his style on “Treader”. Here palindrome-like mouth smacks expand with staccato percussiveness to such an extent that the brass rumbles start to resemble conga drum whacks. Following a section where the bellowing echo back onto itself, with broken-octave patterns, tongue twists are replaced by forced breaths – and what could be light footfalls – as the slower pulse melds with brassy growls and ends with staccatissimo crunches. The subsequent “Redial” adds to this sonic picture with timbres so taut and microtonal that the effect suggested is that of plastic being flanged and physically pulled. Nevertheless the blurry oscillations include vocal inflections, so that the humanness of the performance – and performer – is never in doubt. As the exchangeable valve system makes it possible to alternate between standard and micro-tonal pulsing two separate lines are audible until a finale which collapses both into a heavily breathed timbre.
If Hayward’s solos reflect piping advances, then Hübsch’s cram an expansive collection of tones into their conception. More highly rhythmic and multiphonic than Hayward’s work, the German layers contrapuntal friction into many of his lines. For every time he allows pure air to echo through his instrument uninterrupted, there are interludes of strident tongue and lip motions that could be air leaking gradually from a balloon; rhythmic slaps and rubs on the metal surface; mouthpiece suction and aviary squeals; plus whistling semi tones and watery pumps.
On “Teil 4” he pumps out a swinging ostinato like a one-man New Orleans brass band, then turns out short chromatic melody inserts that contrast with rapid crackles and tongue vibrations. Like Hayward, he outputs pounding drags and rebounds, suggesting the sounds of a drum and cymbal. Unlike the Briton however, another intonation strategy appears to result from blowing through an aluminum pie plate balanced on his instrument’s upturned bell. Hübsch also alternates watery tremolo lines and plunger extensions. Meanwhile “Teil 2” varies continuous narrowly spaced tongue puffs, capillary brays and even drum stick-like slaps on the metal. His low-pitched snarls and gurgles also resonate back into the tuba bell. Soon the instrument’s elephantine bellow is spiced with tongue slurs and pops, as distant higher pitched tones are added to the constant drone.
More similarities between tubaists exist when another partner is added to the mix. That’s because both duos deepen the search for timbres far beyond the expected. Hayward’s associate Fabbriciani, who pushes the limits of his flute tones in a similar fashion to the tuba, spends most of the disc playing his self-designed, hyperbass flute with its more than 12 meters of tubing. Although this is the duo’s first improvised session, Hayward and Fabbriciani have together performed late works by Luigi Nono. Sharing similar interests in electronics and notated music, Hübsch and Stuttgart-born, Basel-based Christoph Schiller, master of the prepared and altered spinet, have improvised together since 2008. Although mostly involved with the improvising vocal ensemble Millefleurs, Schiller has also worked with players such as violinist Harald Kimmig and Peter Baumgartner on powerbook. His self-designed attachments convert the 16th Century keyboard into a string-percussion instrument.
This flexibility is quite obvious on Giles U, when his rasping take on tension-laden extensions push the strings firmly into bottleneck-guitar territory. Besides additional harsh twangs, Schiller also exposes keyboard plinks plus sawing tones resonating off tightly wound strings. At the same time, these timbres are frequently answered by, or contrast with, reflux cries, duck-like quacks and flutters, plus rough throat-clearing honks from Hübsch.
These knife-edge echoes are most in evidence on track 5, where the scrapped and stopped strings are pushed to such flanging that the result resembles hurdy-gurdy-like splintered tones. The tubaist’s contribution is in the form of rubato burbles, pedal-point slurs and corkscrew plunger work. Here and elsewhere lines evolve in double counterpoint, only occasionally intersecting.
It’s the same on track 2, although the tuba player’s interface is more concerned with distanced whistling, tongue slaps and alp-horn-like echoes. As Hübsch continuously growls in strained tones, Schiller’s responses take the form of cymbal-like key clatters, plus rolls, pops and strokes on the internal strings. The broken-octave playing is also more involved with color and shading then connection. However by the end the keyboardist’s exposure of string sounds quivering with partials and extensions, plus the tubaist’s solid yet guttural snorts, reach a common goal.
So do the metal-infused polytones Fabbriciani and Hayward both exhibit on Nella Basilica’s five Tuscany-recorded selections. However with both playing horns, the linkage of most tones to an individual instrument is more difficult than divining a spinet’s texture from a tuba’s. “Adagio” for instance, alternates lowering damp plops, contrapuntal quivering drones, tongue stops and portamento scrapes. By the end however identifiable tuba warbles are heard alongside melismatic counter tones from the flute. In a similar fashion, “Colori di Cimabue” consists of back-and-forth, expansive horn lines. Soon, cavernous tuba rumbles and bubbling meet microtonal key percussion plus discontinuous pumps and squeals. As chirping tones are matched with subterranean lowing, the revealed tones affiliate with human-sounding vocalizing through the different metals. True differentiation only occurs on pieces like the title track with the slightly higher pitched flute lines sounding airy and chromatic as the tuba tones corkscrew into pedal-point growls that never venture higher than mid-range. By the finale of this intermezzo, the flute whistles splutter in the background as bent-note tuba pedal point occupies the foreground.
Making the case for adventurous sound construction as well as the versatility of the hitherto lumbering tuba tones, Hübsch and Hayward showcase advances in their chosen instrument’s range and texture; plus confirming its role as a duo partner.”
Ken Waxman , Jazzword
“The gist of the matter: old meets young. But this refers to the age not of the players, but of their instruments. Spinet meets tuba. Low hums and vibrations meet the staccato plinks of the highest tones. That’s what you’d expect, but it’s not so. The meeting of the two musicians stems from a residency that the Cologne-based Hübsch had in Basel; it was here that the two got to know each other, played concerts and formulated ideas for a joint CD. This was grounded in the fact that both instrumentalists have developed their own vocabulary, which principally involves extended techniques and is fuelled by an interest in pushing forward into unexpected regions of sound. Therefore Giles U. isn’t just the coming together of the typical properties of tuba and spinet, but a genuine sound adventure with lots of pulsating drones, strange voices and mysterious percussive elements. Wonderful!“
Zipo, ‘Auf abwegen’
at32 Giles U.
Carl Ludwig Hübsch tuba
Christoph Schiller spinet
7 untitled tracks, total time: 53:07
recorded in Cologne and Basel, February and November 2009