Hideous Replica HR4 (2014)
At first, it sounds like a snooker match next to a construction site. A series of heavy, satisfying clunks, interrupted by terse sheet of white noise. Metallic gurglings and flutters of breath give way to strangely warbling bursts of static. There are more sounds, creaks like a violin-tuning peg being slowly twisted. A gassy roaring.
This is Birgit Ulher and Gregory Büttner’s Araripepipra. Ulher plays trumpet, radio, speakers and objects. Büttner plays computer, loudspeakers, a fan, and objects. It is thrillingly abstract yet surprisingly tangible music, a legacy perhaps of the physicality of the devices that made it. The eight compositions are detailed and controlled, yet expansive too, the pieces unfurling slowly from the speakers before taking shape in the air, clicking and purring and humming.
When I saw Ulher play a short solo set in London earlier this year, her playing teetered on the edge of sound and silence yet she seemed determined to introduce a real sense of tension into this dynamic. Trumpet mutes were hooked up to radios and speakers, introducing shortwave hiss and motor noise even as they suppressed the sound of the trumpet’s sound. Metal sheets, clipped to the horn, vibrated at the slightest provocation. I want silence. I don’t want silence.
There’s similar stuff happening here, although the presence of Büttner – with whom Ulher has been working since 2008 – makes the canvas deeper and wider. There’s less silence, more space. The sounds are like objects hanging in the air, beautiful, gnarled, unknowable.
The duo’s chosen practice is a key determinant for this enigmatic sound, Büttner generating sounds from his computer or object, which are then fed through speakers. Ulher uses these speakers as mutes, alternating them with her usual preparations. This all means that you can never tell from whom the sounds are originating or how they have been modified. They are ‘not-trumpet’, ‘not-object’, ‘not-computer’, and, in the process, become wholly individual.
On Igopogo, the chorus of breathy, hissing, airy tones sound strangely organic, like a huge animal stirring in its sleep. The clicks, pops and squiggles are like tiny insects dancing around it, glistening points that only emphasis the vast bulk surrounding them. In Aye Aye, the exhalations and wheezes take place against a backdrop of fluttering and whirring, the sounds of a forest at night, alive with moths and insects.
By distancing the sounds from the people who created them, Ulher and Büttner’s methodology also frees the pieces from any human agency, creating a kind of Zen sonic field. It’s the opposite of a kind of post- or anti-human machine music, rather a sense of blissful openness, a feeling retained even on busier pieces like Kouprey where its slithers, bustles and rumbles create a joyful, carnivalesque tapestry.
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