Roger Döring & Konrad Korabiewski: Komplex

David Rothenberg and Korhan Erel: Berlin Bülbül

Best known as one-half of German outfit Dictaphone, Roger Döring joins forces with sound artist and current director of Skálar—Centre for Sound Art and Experimental Music Konrad Korabiewski for a twelve-inch vinyl set (300 copies available) of moody, woodwinds-based ruminations. The eight settings on Komplex document improvised interactions between Döring's clarinet and saxophones (tenor, baritone) and Korabiewski's electronic treatments and sound manipulations. Also figuring into the album's character are the locales themselves where the material came into being, as the duo recorded Komplex at sites possessing personal meaning, such as Döring's Berlin apartment and an abandoned herring factory in east Iceland.

The thirty-six-minute recording is elevated considerably by Döring's fine-tuned melodic sensibility, which is complemented effectively by Korabiewski's ethereal atmospheric treatments. Stated otherwise, the woodwind playing alone, especially when presented in multi-layered form, commands the listener's attention; with field recordings and other textural details added in, Komplex becomes all the more satisfying a proposition. Pieces range from sombre funereal meditations (“kremmenerstraße”) to brooding nightscapes redolent of mysterious European cityscapes (“flucht”), with many of the duo's plaintive reveries unfolding at a slow and measured pace. There's a graininess to some of it (see “aber langsam gehe ich meinen weg – langsam”) that makes it resemble a corroded tape of soundtrack material created for a ‘60s black-and-white film from Germany or Poland. Döring's clarinet playing is particularly haunting in “wenn es gehen will laß es gehen,” but much the same could be said about the recording as a whole. Though Komplex would be short by CD standards, its eight evocative settings fit the vinyl format perfectly. There's enough included to provide a full meal, yet not so much that the album overstays its welcome.

A woodwinds-based duo recording of radically different character from Komplex is Berlin Bülbül (nightingale in Turkish), which features clarinetist David Rothenberg working with Korhan Erel, who's credited with computer, iPad, and live sampling on the fifty-minute CD. Ostensibly a follow-up to Rothenberg's 2013 Bug Music release, Berlin Bülbül finds the musician shifting the focus from insects to nightingales. The two are a natural fit: Rothenberg is an intrepid musician who regards non-human creatures as sparring partners; for his part, Erel, a Turkish electronic musician now residing in Berlin, enjoys sampling birds in their natural habitat. Many pieces on the twelve-track collaboration are live recordings of human-nightingale encounters at various Berlin parks, while the others are constructed tracks fusing clarinets and electronics.

The liner notes prove enlightening for the listener new to the nightingale's song. There are, it appears, three ways by which they sing and countersing to each other, starting late at night and lasting until dawn during the early weeks of spring. The male is typically an ‘inserter,' which means he waits a moment after another's song ends before starting his own, and thus a resultant song is formed from their alternations. There is also, however, the ‘overlapper,' whose singing begins about one second after another's, and the ‘autonomous singer,' who blithely sings according to his own schedule, indifferent to whatever else is happening nearby.

Rather than retreating into silence at the sound of Rothenberg's clarinet playing, the nightingales seem emboldened by its presence and respond to it enthusiastically, and the interactions between them can prove fascinating to witness. During “The Night the War Ends,” a live ‘duet' recorded at midnight in Treptower Park, Rothenberg alternates between repeating a nightingale's chirp and serenading his feathered friends with bluesy runs, with all of it developing against a background of electronic thrum, live sampling, and audible traffic sounds and sirens. Another creature even gets in on the act during “Dark with Birds and Frogs,” also laid down at midnight in Treptower Park.

In a non-live piece such as “A Long Note's Invisible Beam,” on the other hand, the clarinetist continues his blues-soaked musings but this time against a backdrop of insectoid whirr and click generated by Erel. But as generally interesting as the non-live settings are, there's a side of me that would have liked to hear Rothenberg interacting with another musician, perhaps a saxophonist or violinist, in addition to Erel, a move that might have made for a more rewarding result, especially when the abstract textures created by Erel grow less interesting as the album advances. As splendid as Rothenberg's playing is in both contexts, it's ultimately the live pieces that are Berlin Bülbül's primary drawing card and selling point.

June 2015