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Le soufflé du temps, X (Rétro-) Perspectives
Judith Wegmann (piano)
rec. 2016, Atelier Judith Wegmann, Biel, Switzerland
HAT[NOW]ART 202 [59:53]

Brian Morton’s notes for this recording made me think of “The Boilermaker’s Story.” You know the one, where after a shaggy-dog tale of humming and hawing the itemised bill for a repair that involved a single tap of a hammer puts the greatest expense down to “knowing where to tap.” Judith Wegmann is a Swiss pianist and improviser of some standing, but she has waited a long time to record such a CD: “I was waiting for the right moment.” That ‘right moment’ “brings the accumulated knowledge of a lifetime, every musical understanding and external impetus, and (s)he makes them meaningful in that moment.”

Le soufflé du temps, X (Rétro-) Perspectives is a collection of ten improvisations using the piano in ways that go beyond conventional performance. The strings are prepared in ways that will be familiar to fans of John Cage, chiming at times like exotic bells. There is also a certain amount of scraping and alternative percussiveness, what sounds like wires being pulled over strings, and indeed just about every kind of way to extract sound from a piano as you could imagine. Such performances would make intriguing video, but our imaginations are teased by well-recorded mysteries as our ears are tickled or tortured by a wide variety of timbres.

As I suspect will many others, my mind will always go in search of structure and organisation in this kind of music, and so the machine-like ostinatos that are set up in III and VII have an immediate appeal. There is a subtlety of nuance in these pieces that comes from a generally quiet dynamic. The effect is one of distance, of remote perspectives and strange spaces that contain surreal sonic beings that move about in apparent sightlessness. I like the extended quasi-tonal atmosphere of V, and there is a gritty integrity to the vibrations of VI. The bell-like sonorities of IX are also quite poetic.

Every musical performance is unique in a way, but improvisation exists only in the act of its creation and can only be captured as a recording. Whether there’s a score or not, the questions I find myself asking this kind of work are, ‘what are you saying?’ or ‘what do you want to say to me?’ I’m intrigued, but I’m neither smiling nor moved. There is no reason a musician should hand their art to us on a plate covered in easy signposts, but if we’re talking about a communication of minds then in this case we’re left seeking connections amongst sheaves of loose threads waving about just out of reach in deep, dark waters.

As with abstract sculpture there can be an attraction, but it is for the viewer or listener to find their own way into any kind of meaning. Perhaps there is no meaning, and I’m barking up entirely the wrong tree. Brian Morton implores us to “make time to listen to this music, as the musician made time to prepare it… Don’t immediately applaud it and move on to the next thing. Play it again…” What will happen if I do? One of my old music teachers was very anti this kind of thing, claiming that people never really ‘like’ such avant-garde music, merely that they ‘get used to it’ through repetition. I don’t entirely subscribe to this and will always value respect between musicians whatever they produce. I can however empathise with the point when wrestling with sounds – however alluring – apparently purged of import beyond that which is no doubt perceived by their creator.

Dominy Clements



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