utorak, 12. studenoga 2013.

Alfred Harth / Alfred 23 Harth / A23H - Micro-saxo-phone

Harth je jednosatvno jedan od najvećih živućih muzičara, i kao skladatelj i kao izvođač (saksofonist). 
Također je multimedijski umjetnik.


This Earth! [full album]

An interview with Alfred Harth

by Simon Morley

Photograph by Yi Soonjoo

Alfred Harth, now known as Alfred 23 Harth or A23H, was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a multimedia artist, band leader, multi-instrumentalist musician, and composer, who moves creatively among genres. He has founded many bands, composed for film, TV, theatre, ballet, and radio plays, and has had exhibitions of his artworks all over the world. Since 2001 he has lived in Seoul, South Korea. Harth's preferred instrument is the saxophone, which he submits to various sonic trials. But his music incorporates many different instruments, both analogue and digital, and his musical styles defy categorization. Harth's studio is near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. This strip of land runs across the peninsula, cutting it roughly in half. It is 155 miles long, approximately 2.5 miles wide and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. This Zone is an uncanny place—at once 'the most dangerous place on earth' (Bill Clinton), and also a nature reserve where exotic and rare flora and fauna thrive untroubled by human intervention. Alfred Harth's recent multi-media installation at Artsonje Center in Seoul showcased some examples of the objects he has discovered while DMZ-combing. Perhaps the most bizarre of these finds are flimsy plastic leaflets the size of CD cases, printed with images and texts informing North Koreans of the true nature of their leaders; these were to be released from hot air balloons sent from the South, often by Christian groups. Harth's stash apparently never made it. Another interesting discovery he made was shards of ancient pottery, unearthed in fields adjacent to the DMZ by farmers—remnants of a once thriving and now vanished town.
The interview below about Harth's synaesthesic world of trans-cultural and multimedial translation was conducted over email. 
Simon Morley

In 2001 you moved with your wife, the Korean artist Yi Soonjoo, to South Korea. What have been some of the fruits of this relocation?
My wife and I wanted to relocate to New York, but then in 2001–02 we had a residency at Ssamzie Space in Seoul. We loved it and decided to stay on, and I created the LaubhuetteStudio Seoul. In 1995 I'd created my first work dedicated to Korea in a festival composition, "Han Guk—Land des unerfüllten Wunsches," together with Dougie Bowne, Fred Hopkins, and David Murray. When I was living there, in the years 2003-2006, I produced a "Mother of Pearl-CD series" of five editions, including a DVD containing animated sequences of many of my drawings. Each disc is devoted to a specific Korean theme, and I also invited many Korean musicians to contribute their sound sources to the project. The last one, "NUN," is a dedication to Korean poetry in a modest sense. I chose two short poems (in English) that would express my devotion while keeping a respectful distance: "Leasing A straw hat" by Yi Kyu-bo (1168-1241), and "Dog" by Yoon Dong-ju (1917-1945). "NUN" means "eye" and also "snow" in Korean. This wonderful connection in terms alone prompted me to choose this album title, apart from several more meanings in other languages.
What musical/sound qualities have you found most inspiring in East Asian culture, and especially Korea, and why?
The sound of one hand clapping still thrills me, as does the fading infra-thin. Brutal noise and extended length is enjoyable when done intelligently, silence and minimalism too, but that's all kind of cliché, I admit.
In my CD "NUN," you can hear the unbelievably poetic pebble-beach-bay at Hakdong in Namhae, near where Yun Isang grew up—one of the 100 most beautiful sounds from Korea, as is written on a poster there; I am still looking out for the other 99. Recently, standing on top of a hill at the DMZ, I listened to the blasts from a South Korean tank manoevre. The high explosive sound of each shot echoed for miles along the flanks of the hills on the other side of the river valley where the operation was taking place, until it seemingly faded in a soft curve somewhere over the border, there in North Korea, as a whizzing resonance that became almost immaterial.
You recently worked on a project about the DMZ. Can you speak a little about that?
The DMZ is a scar in the middle of the Korean peninsula that goes back to the Yalta conference in February 1945. Unlike the division of Germany, which ended in 1989, the two Koreas are formally still at war, and recent high tensions between North and South during the first months of 2013 reawakened my memories of the Cold War missile installations in East and West Germany around the legendary year 1984. The tensions at that time were almost unbearable, as we faced the huge threat of a possible nuclear war that might destroy the planet. At that time, I continued my political expression through art and music in concerts with the group Duck and Cover, which I formed in 1983, and I foregrounded a deliberate ignorance of all military weapons by projecting them as fakes or mere artworks without any other effects than the visual. In this way I managed to cushion the traumatic aspects of those highly apocalyptic, angst-inducing forms in politics.
In accordance with the Law of Three, I used these sublime neutralizing techniques as catharsis, and as a spell similar to the magic of cave paintings, in order to deploy my own kind of deterrence of the ultimate through the assistance of a cultural twist.
When I moved my studio from Seoul to nearby Imjingak in 2007, I could engage in a similar behavior by visiting, along the DMZ, all sorts of county-run fairgrounds, concert venues, playgrounds, and lots of tourist leisure sites, which obviously aim to cushion the dramatic seriousness of the border. There were also old bars and clubs around the area, with names like "Rush" or "Paradise," which were run by the United States for the relaxation of their military, and contained mock-up army interiors, with music, videos and North Korean dummies to throw darts at. In contrast to my witnessing of the heavily armed border, during the last few years I also started to document and to twist those objects again by walking along endless trenches in the woods, and taking excursions to the DMZ.
In my 2013 installation "DUGOUT," for the Artsonje lounge, I bring together my research concerning the neutralizing power of military forces with the desire for a kind of artist who can behave like a "therapeuth of reality." As film director David Lynch recently stated, for every military installation in the world there should be at least one peaceful installation to balance it. In "DUGOUT," I open my artistic archive to respond to the DMZ's reality, also excavating the long and rich history of the landscape along the Korean border. In addition, during the exhibition's opening day,I gave an outdoor performance, Aktion mit einer Grenze an Schnur, in the Cheorwon area; the title references Paik Nam June's Aktion mit einer Violine an Schnur (1963).
What was it like starting out in music in Germany in the 1960's?
In 1958, I'd been artistically initiated by visiting a Dada exhibition in Frankfurt/Main, which during the sixties was flanked by four neighboring places of avantgarde momentum: the New Music Ferienkurse in Darmstadt in the South, the Fluxus movement in Wiesbaden in the West, the Kassel documenta in the North, and the American Forces' clubs with The Monks and Jazzsessions in the East.
In my teenage years I had been colored by those avantgarde movements in music and arts, and in the mid sixties I studied the literature of Samuel Beckett, C.G. Jung's and Max Bense's works, as well as Teilhard de Chardin and "Zen" by D.T. Suzuki.
Thus prepared, I knew about the highest frontiers in art and music, literature and mysticism. In 1967, I conceived synaesthetic sound/vision events such as controlled glass breaking, controlled fireworks, fire paintings, automatic writing, theatre of hissing and whistling, short films of trash object fluxus treatments, and subsequently, diverse art/poetry/music events/happenings at the "Centrum Freier Cunst " which I had founded in Frankfurt/Main where I grew up. I collaborated with the graphic literature creator and concrete poetry poet Franz Mon in 1968, during a TV portrait, with the ensemble "Just Music," which I founded in 1967 and combined Free Jazz elements with (European) New Music in non-hierarchical collective free improvisation.
As a synaesthetically-talented person (seeing numbers and letters as tone notes in colors), I have since 1968/9 created graphic compositions for my ensembles and experimented with extended instrumental treatments,visually disguising and muting my saxophone (while playing it) with clothes. I was also incorporating everyday objects, such as bicycles, umbrellas, saws, trash objects, fluid color light shows and Sandoz 25 into group improvs. In 1968, I was involved in an ironic improvisation (in concert and radio) of Christian Wolff's composition "Play/Prose Collection;" the ironic conception of "Excrementa," an art installation event using faeces sculptures in opposition to Frankfurt's festival "Experimenta;" the willful spoiling of other concerts for political reasons, the distribution of "urKult" flyers with political messages, and protest happenings (sound and visual) of mind-fucking student protest teach-ins as criticism/balancing of the over-cognitive within the "Kritische Theorie" student events influenced by Frankfurt-based professors Adorno/Horkheimer. In 1969 I was recording number 1002, with "Just Music," on the München based label ECM.
The political and technical landscapes at those times were quite different. During the Cold War, it was Germany that had been a main focus, as it was divided into four parts, and was geographically close to the main enemy of the West, the Soviet Union.
European borders in general were closed at that time, and everybody had to be checked when crossing a border. Cars and engines still had less capacity, and it seemed as if geographical points within Europe were much farther away from each other than nowadays. There were no computers, and in general it took a while, sometimes years, until musical/cultural messages from the USA (on LP and so on) arrived in Europe. A reachable simultaneity in all means—a given nowadays—did not exist. Transcending borders became a kind of 360-degree program.
Basically, I had an immense distrust of words. I knew that words could be weapons, and I was plugged in by further reading of Alan Watts and G.I.Gurdjieff.
I made tiny twists in culture here and there and did it without strict separations between the arts. In 1972-74, implementing Dada and Fluxus elements, the trio "E.M.T." (Sven-Ake Johansson, Nicole van den Plas and me) integrated European Music Tradition by using fragments by other composers like Grieg or Schumann. I liked to play with fake art and fringe, conspiracy and hyper-real codes: impromptUFOundation.
My activities became more and more diversified: in 1980 I recorded a meeting of mixed styles from jazz, punk and classical music for the label JAPO/ECM, and this record's musical program led to more focused work in the group Cassiber from 1982 onwards. The Duo Goebbels/Harth, formed in 1975, became a highly creative nucleus for a lot of enterprises. In 1983, the festival director asked me to form an "all star" combination for the Moers Festival. This group became Duck and Cover, for which I conceived an idea of the main structural composition in relation to contemporary politics. In 1984 the duo created a musical theatre piece, "Nach Aschenfeld" together with the author and director F.K.Waechter and two actors. This was mounted at the Residenztheater in Munich, where we played live onstage with a huge number of instruments, some partially self made; this was a kind of role model for Heiner Goebbels's "Musik Theater" in his later years. That same year, Cassiber put out its second CD, "Beauty and the Beast," released in Germany and Great Britain and using mainly words by Chris Cutler. A Cassiber CD box will be out this year in the UK.
In 1987, the Duo Goebbels/Harth recorded live at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Canada, and then disbanded in 1988.
Parallel to the longtime collaboration with Heiner Goebbels and the duo's diverse other enterprises, including also film music compositions, I founded several groups during the eighties. The most prominent were a two-time project (LP "This Earth!" on ECM 1264 in 1983) with Paul Bley, Trilok Gurtu, Maggie Nicols, Phil Minton, Barre Phillips and myself, then "Notes On Planet Shikasta" (1987), using fragmented words by Doris Lessing, and an international group "Gestalt et Jive"(1984-1988), using slammed text sections here and there.
During the transition period when the East was opening up, I was a member of Lindsay Cooper's group "Oh Moscow" (1987 to 1993, words by singer and film director Sally Potter). I founded a postmodern group "Vladimir Estragon" (1988/89, incorporating Einstürzende Neubauten drummer FM Einheit), whose title refers to Beckett and Joyce, and a "QuasarQuartet" (1992/3, Simon Nabatov, Vitold Rek/Mark Dresser, Vladimir Tarasov, myself). Also in 1993, I formed the FIM (1993-2001, Frankfurts Indeterminables Musiqwesen), a platform for many local avant-garde music activities.
What for you is the advantage of working across styles and genres. Why don't you feel like establishing a 'signature' style?
My socialization was like this: in my parents' house there was a mix of styles—a precious madonna statue next to something trivial, and again, a wonderful piece of faience on the wall beside kitsch, etc. Then, studying those diverse schools as a teenager motivated me to get more skilled in several fields, but not so much as to be specialized in one. Crossing borders was another big motivation for me, and a lucky outcome was that a new genre somehow formed. My 'signature' is the 23, the 23rd Hexagram from the I Ching, "The Fragmentation." I'd rather go with diversification and polystyles, intensifying my life in the process. Also, I like playing with multiple identities, on the net and elsewhere. I see my work's crossover as a by-product of my beliefs, and do not aim necessarily at any magnum opus. Some twists here and there are fine for me.
The music world is in crisis because of the digital revolution. What are your views on this—positive and negative?
Well, the crisis is ubiquitous. Also, high quality music or art may remain unknown to larger audiences the same way bees die out, or oceans get steadily toxified. The 'Digital revolution' mainly seems to describe the rising general convenience factor, which may not be of great evolutionary help for developing mankind's spiritual potential. It is still all about the old song in the small tributary and the mainstream—finding one's way.
Human enhancement, or H+, may bring some solutions, or maybe the final total breakdown of the Internet within the next five years. What if...? Shocks may raise insecurity, which equals true evolution. But eventually truth may lie in the middle, and the allover mash-up blend will pile forward, becoming some sort of global Pearl River Delta with all its eschatological scifi inclinations. There is always +1. http://www.asymptotejournal.com/images/end-logo-black.gif

Alfred Harth's official blog can be found here, while his youtube page can be found here.

Massimo Ricci on Alfred Harth:


Kendra Steiner Editions

Alfred 23 Harth: reeds, kaoss pad, dojirak, samples, voice; Carl Stone: computer, Max/MSP, voice, samples; Kazuhisa Uchihashi: electric guitar, daxophone; Samm Bennett: diddley bow, mouth bow, voice, gadgets The highest value of this live set from 2010 in Tokyo derives from the feel of collective connection that it transmits. Purposeful sonic motility born from different experiences and backgrounds, materially explicated by each artist’s insightful levelheadedness. A 160-copy limited edition is the tangible evidence of a special night lighted up by a supergroup of sorts. “Unboxing” starts with a rather imperturbable mood spotted by undecomposable shapes – petite noises, clean-cut guitar and sax notes, well-distributed percussive touches – leading the listener step by step towards a perception-deceiving sphere where the aggregation of antithetical dynamics and tensions flourishes into a beautifully morphing varicolored lattice, a general awareness of inherent fluidity defining the whole track even when sourer samples attempt to prevail in the mix. We could call this a somewhat melodic expansion of collateral fluxes of consciousness. “Eschew Obfuscation, Espouse Elucidation” comprises several degrees of incandescent noise-making; the utilization of more complex deformations of the original sources encompasses clearly visible bodily aspects. There is less room for relief in this potential chaos, but what ultimately wins – here like everywhere else – is a sense of organization holding all the components nicely pasted together, including the seemingly illogical ones. In that regard, the positioning of uncrystallized vocalizations, burbling entities, groaning impressions and scratchy rhythms in parallel with the episodic “aligned” phrase or semi-twisted arpeggio works wonders in generating psychedelic scents of the finest brand. “It’s Also The Things We Choose Not To Put In” is initiated by an implausible “gamelan-in-a-music-box-meets-Jon Hassell” mishmash, from the insides of which additional shots of perspicuous lunacy come forth to uproot the audience. The “acoustic soul” seems to dominate at one point, yet there is enough content of electronic instability; a timbral malleability characterized by aesthetic permeableness (now and then with pseudo-minimalist condiments) is the core of the matter in this circumstance. Actually, the main trait of this quartet corresponds to their ability of rendering unlikely ideas “interiorly toothsome”, stimulating our private focus and adapting capabilities without the need of overwhelming (although a section starting around the eight minute, defined by what sounds as a cross of misshapen ringing alarms and oriental martial art ceremonials would surely be sufficient for many people to get brain-sick). “Alien” – a word this writer is growingly becoming fond of these days, for various reasons – coincides with the occult (in a way) side of the foursome’s action. Deprived of any sign of over-indulgence, this piece’s textural essence transports a willing participant inside the realm of genuine sensual disengagement, not necessarily warranting a quietening welcome to heavenly composure. On the contrary, some of the frequencies can enhance a given state of mind – say, dejection or worrisomeness – up to points of displacement that hyper-sensitive individuals may find hard to be in, if caught in a “down” moment. As always with musicians at this level, being pushed right in front of what the self understands as unendurable is the method for receiving otherwise unachievable explanations.
In Touching Extremes

DEAD COUNTRY featuring ALFRED 23 HARTH – Gestalt Et Death

on Al Maslakh

Alfred 23 Harth: alto sax, clarinet, vocal, electronics; Şevket Akinci: electric guitar; Umut Çağlar: electric guitar, monophonic synth, tape delay; Murat Çopur: electric bass; Kerem Öktem: drums, percussion
Rip-roaring chronicles from Alfred 23 Harth’s 2011 visit in Turkey, where a partnership – make that “collusion” – was born after the Frankfurter was invited to act there with this local group (previously hidden to this reviewer’s cognition). Gestalt Et Death sounds pretty coarse in terms of recording quality – one would think to a precise artistic preference, sort of a “let’s combine ingredients in the alembic and see what happens”. The force deriving from the interfusion hits right on the chin, the recordings – uneasy to ingest on the introductory attempts in spite of Dead Country’s sparse usage of rock-ish constitutions – possessing the staying power and the emblematic qualities of albums that do not need technical attires and fatuous facades to invite the listener, warranting significant substance instead.“Horseman’s Most Expensive Effect” is a rather enigmatic “ritual” opening delimited by a hefty vamp: overdriven bass and overwhelming percussiveness, Harth blowing upon them in peculiarly strained fashion. “Fiery Red DC” offers a withering representation of punk jazz, sharp-cornered riffage and muscular drumming the basis for A23H and Çağlar swapping heavy leather before the matter gets mangled into tiny bits of rust-brown dissonance. “96205 Ararat” is the most non-concrete piece on offer, a challenging synth solo spiraling erratically inside a perpetually mutating tapis of percussion and electronics until everything calms down spellbindingly. More gargantuan pseudo-rock structures are found in “Lady Deathstrike’s Healing Factor”, perhaps the track where Harth expresses his on-the-spot creativity at best, alternating trademark sax furore and funnily enlivening “commands” yelled into a microphone and resonating with echo; the finale, a blasting mix of indocile guitars and synthetic misbehavior, is also remarkable.The longest improvisation is (splendidly) titled “Cessily In Liquid Form Blindly Teleports The Entire Team Rag”; here, methinks, lies the finest moment of the disc, subsequent to an initial robotic oratory: a handsome arabesque depicted by the German on the bass clarinet, layered over a growingly engrossing fixed-tone drone and a clean first, knifelike later axe underlying the function’s exhilarating prospect. The concise “Mr. Burroughs’ Finger” returns to the anarchy of a free-for-all blowout bathed in scathing electricity and odd metered arousal, whereas the conclusive “Jump Off The Timestream” takes shape from deformed/flanging throat emissions and electronics enhanced by ferociously abstract strings, sealing the whole with the type of who-cares-about-defence fusillade that might annihilate your cerebral activity for a while; Harth’s sporadic declamation adds the necessary dose of enigma in a cataclysmal crescendo ended by himself with a terrific wordless invocation.Serious mayhem overall; play loud. And dig this “vocally improved” version of Mr. 23s impromptu cogitations: a new color in an already awesome palette. Kudos to Al Maslakh for having had the balls of publishing this stuff, definitely not easy to advertise or squeeze into the average consumer’s will of trying uncomfortable music.
on Kendra Steiner Editions

on YouTube

A meeting between two big names whose partnership would have been nearly unthinkable just a few years ago. But there’s something that links Alfred Harth with Carl Stone besides their indubitable artistry: the influence of Asian cultures on their respective lives and crafts (one is based in South Korea, the other in Japan). These six tracks constitute a compendium of two concerts occurred in 2009 and 2010 in Frankfurt and Tokyo, but the extremely high quality of the sound and the lack of audience noise makes the CD comparable to a studio work.

The set is basically built upon Stone’s transformation (via Max/MSP) of Harth’s emissions, with subsequent additions of further pre-existing materials. The palette is obviously homogeneous: Harth also treats his “babies” (which include Eastern wind instruments like taepyeongso and dojirak) with a Kaoss pad, and uses bows on the instrument’s bell and in other parts too. Both employ samples and voice. But the description of the sources doesn’t excessively help clarifying how this uncompromising record sounds. The material, at least from what I gathered by repeated listens, appears mostly improvised. Many different scenes succeed in ever-radical spurts, without concessions to any kind of easiness or relief; a latent tension informs the bulk of the sonic settings, which in some moments approach a near-explosive configuration. Percussive aspects are frequently privileged, the mechanical features of the reeds amplified and expanded to become an out-and-out menace: imagine a giant crab walking towards you with bad intentions (“Adler_Kino 23 Gu II”). Somewhere, Harth’s pulmonary exhalations morph into powerful winds deprived of a chunk of the frequency spectrum. And I could go on.In a way, there’s a “savage ritual” aspect to the whole. Squealing pitches and calmer floating mix, often in the ambit of a single section, with exceptional results. Not a minute passes before some sort of surprise materializes: sampled talkers telling incomprehensible things for us poor westerners, looping junctions attacking the brain from all sides. In the lengthy final track “Adler_Kino 1166-1215 IV” the progressive accumulation of acoustic substances produces such a level of eventful saturation that one foresees fire from the amplifier; maintaining a mental balance in there is not for everybody.Ultimately, this is a seriously dissonant album that will represent a veritable nightmare if foolishly played as a background for conversation: it will grab you by the ears and destroy your social pleasures. Tough and totally unwilling to open autonomously; treat it like a shut oyster and use the knife of your concentration, provided that the edge is sharp. The pearls inside are several, but they’re not suitable for a glamorous necklace. 133 copies only – you’ve been warned.


The late Frank Zappa was among the first composers that I know to apply the process of “xenochrony” to music: that is to say, juxtaposing recordings from antithetic settings and diverse eras in a single, studio-generated opus. Red Canopy is founded on a kindred philosophy: the sounds were pre-recorded by each performer in 2005, and four years later Alfred Harth pasted them at Laubhuette in Seoul to produce just over 17 minutes of glorious work, definitely belonging to the schismatic German’s finest.
The tracks are evidently constructed on fleeting intuitions, but every instant counts. It all begins with a duet involving Choi’s double bass and Kae’s piano, the musicians left alone for the necessary time to thrust the listener right into a mood incorporating both thoughtfulness and sense of anticipation. When Harth enters the scene, the initial quietude is cracked by the impulse of telling many things promptly and eloquently. Yet it is in the following sections that we really need to come to terms with the idea that the artists never played unitedly. A track like “Samsa” features the same spirit of a well-adjusted room meeting, the magnificent flotsam and jetsam of a latent interaction consummately collected in what might resemble a chamber arrangement.The skilful exercising of loops and electronics expands and compounds the primary timbres, setting the instrumental attributes on a boundary line between baffling lyricality and overt experimentation. The 3-inch CD (which comes in a narrow 123-copy printing) ends with the umpteenth question mark, leaving us at a loss – once more – in front of a form of creativity that doesn’t demand continuance or, worse, a format in order to explicit its whole potential.

7K OAKS - Entelechy

The music on Entelechy was recorded in 2008 at the Open Circuit-Interact Festival in Hasselt, Belgium. That it remained unreleased for three years, regardless of its vibrant energy and out-and-out extraordinariness, tells a lot about what the masses seem to prefer and/or demand in the view of a contemporary label. Better late than never, the CD has finally been issued and those who manage to grab it are going to be delighted. The lineup of 7k Oaks is exactly the same of the first, and equally special debut album: Alfred 23 Harth (tenor sax, bass clarinet, pocket trumpet and electronics), Luca Venitucci (keyboards), Massimo Pupillo (bass) and Fabrizio Spera (drums).
“Seon Avalanche” starts the group’s powerful engine with an assault that might cause someone to secretly wonder “who needs Last Exit?”. A seriously charged “welcome-to-hell” improvisation where communal guts are exalted despite the possibility of watching the single elements at work, as in a continuous shift between a collective camera shot and a series of close ups. Harth manages to extract bits of minimal melody and the occasional howl from the tenor, fusing those visions with the incinerating crunch generated by Pupillo’s viciously overdriven bass and Spera’s now-funky-now-rambling percussive virulence. Venitucci makes himself noticed via irregular stabs of organ-ic dissonance and abrupt intrusions of ungracious arpeggios.
Harth’s trumpet is a galvanizing listen whenever he utilizes it during the performance. However, it is the clarinet that defines – in a somewhat chimpanzee-like attempt of communicating primary impulses – the beginning of “Soziale Plastik”, a piece defined by a looping electronic figure upon which Pupillo’s string and pick-up tampering and Spera’s rubbing and bowing of his set construct a whole castle of uncertainty. Silence almost falls at one point, yet we’re as distant from Wandelweiser modishness as a prosperous porn star is from the hundreds of bulimic models seen walking expressionlessly in Dolce & Gabbana’s parades of human poultry.
“Labor Anti-Brouillard” begins with an electro-trance substratum, soon accompanied by a rather absurd Latin drum pattern which, incredibly, is perfectly functional for the scope. Buzz, hum and iridescent pulse maintain a firm clutch, Harth’s reticent muttering and hiss-and-kiss activities interspersed with droplets of shining light by Venitucci, whose electric timbre is also peculiar and totally effective in its naked minimalism at that precise juncture. The growth in the tension level is palpable: fixed pitches increasing suspense, Pupillo’s macho-ism moving things quite a bit in the low frequency region. However – contrarily to what one could have expected – the quartet does not push the listener back to the initial mayhem, preferring instead to baptize a new version of Chic (and Cassiber)’s classic “At Last I’m Free”, introduced by the most contemplative, quasi-EAI solo by A23H that I’ve heard in a while. Spera , Pupillo and Venitucci flow in with a mix of dissonant piano, metallic harmonics and all-inclusive rumble, turning the atmosphere into avant-noir at the flick of a switch. It remains sort of suspended – the final surge notwithstanding – and leaves us wanting more, a trait which is typical of great records and bands. Both Entelechy and 7k Oaks are unquestionably definable as such, and we need additional recordings of the latter’s blazing interplay to get excited with. Possibly without waiting for so long.

micro_saxo_phone. edition III

Nobody stops Alfred Harth’s inventiveness, a perpetual whirlwind of activity and experimentation that – at 61 – keeps him rolling fiercely and inexplicably with an energy that younger artists (ha!) would only dream about. Issued by a tiny Texan imprint that also publishes contemporary poetry, this limited edition (123 copies) represents the last step in A23H’s path towards the utter dismemberment of the conventional implications of a saxophone. A process started in 2005 and that still takes advantage of extended techniques, a Kaoss Pad and a laptop, besides the renowned “normal” tones that the Frankfurter emits whenever French-kissing that embouchure (or speaking into it, as frequently done in this case).
The over 74 minutes of extracurricular activities contained herein – deserving a set of top-class headphones for best results – promise headaches for those who want to keep fantasizing on their favourite things. Ever since the initial “Chukyo” (dedicated to the Japanese university that invited the protagonist to give lectures in 2010) one realizes that Harth observes another kind of reality – or several of them – through a mere reed instrument. Chunks of guitar are employed to add to a small flotilla of kaleidoscopic tricks and treats, percussively resonant traits revealing a weird influence on the brain, left paralyzed at first and completely vacant later on. The way in which the guy totally ignores the rules of good behaviour when subjecting the fruits of his improvisations to the computer is admirable for the absolute lack of prescribed definition and consequent stylistic stringency. And yet, every snippet possesses at least a modicum of sense, the sum of the parts giving birth to uncompromisingly personal statements that transcend probability and worn-out beliefs. Just listen to the magmatic delirium of “Resveratrol”, sort of a gamelan orchestra ending is existence via the crushing wheels of a giant mechanism.
Does anyone know what Gagok is? Neither did I before reading the liner notes. It’s a typical Korean “fake classical music”, with opera singers and all the rest, that Harth masterfully inserted in a great text/sound piece called “Doublespeak”, something that lovers of composers such as Åke Hodell might cherish. The taped voices (which include a fake interview with art photographer Nobuyoshi Araki where both the participants are impersonated by Harth) and the disfigured scenarios defining this nightmare for retarded martyrs are, on the contrary, pure joy for the cognoscenti. Infected and sullied by the hiss of old tapes and reinforced by the shifting howls of a soprano who never in her life could have imagined of getting abused like that, these sounds open the mind better than the whole history of Timothy Leary’s acid tests. And you’ll be able to tie your shoes after the experience.
As soon as a new record by the Seoul resident appears, this narrator starts shivering in fear of the inability of finding a method to illustrate the ingenious excellence of the work. When so much meat is being cooked at once, the task becomes really arduous. But – as always – a pair of receptive ears linked to a head delivered from conventions will help receiving this plethora of altered codes with some grounding. Even if someone mistakes the four episodes of “Surplussed” – electronically treated static masses of alto saxophones – for reversed outtakes recorded on a sun-struck Agfa cassette by a rehabilitated ex-nihilist postindustrial nonentity, or thinks that “Twonky” was performed by a drunk Tibetan monk, we’re sure that the sturdy hands of the little big man are not going to sock the unfortunates that hard.

ALFRED 23 HARTH - @ Blankies End

Described by its inventor as “another kind of looking back into the last decade”, @ Blankies End is one of the best records that Alfred 23 Harth has released in that period. By analyzing the titles, a forward counting towards 2012 can be detected while observing the recent past. In classically puzzling style, and open to any interpretation by the reader, Harth writes that “…being conscious about every moment we count & live in linearity (…) means a moment within a future moment (2012 is here & now & yesterday)”. The album’s content is both arcane and stimulating; repeated scrutiny is a must. “Ten Tin” contains materials that seem to mix human snoring, chanting monks and bubbling hisses in a conduit, the pace defined by a sort of electrostatic rhythm upon which the clarinet sings with unusual peacefulness, if just temporarily. It’s an inexplicably meditative vision, sounding a little scary at the same time, the grunting tone of Harth’s voice disloyal to the mental image I treasure of him as a timidly smiling gentleman. “Elf” (“eleven”) utilizes distortion in large doses, mashing and mangling snippets of concrete and instrumental substance in homage to the blasphemy of extreme dissonance. The toothsomely vicious results are to be savoured in the restaurant where the finest electroacoustic recipes are served. “Gesternmorgen” is an abstraction: an amassment of simple melodies clashing in adjacency, hyper-acrid reed perspirations, corrosion of heterogeneously alien harmonies and a pinch of disaffection for the cruel world of ordinary music. At the very beginning, “Popol Vuh” might evoke Jon Hassell (the pulse, the nearly tribal atmosphere). The differences become obvious when Harth starts superimposing the different reeds; meanwhile, the background gradually transforms the better intentions in an intimidating mutation of a religious chant, halfway through a sacrificial invocation and the complete disconnection from corporeality. The whole unfolds across undecipherable utterances and other assorted subliminal persuasions. “Twentyhundredtwelve” (namely 2012 or 20+1+2, as the composer would have it) features Choi Sun Bae’s trumpet in a ominous hint to the “enigmatic” year which will define once and for all if those famous prophecies are legitimate or not (curiously, December 21 – the presumed ending date – is also Frank Zappa’s birthday). Again, the voice is a fundamental ingredient of the track, which grows on the listener memorably amidst drones, squeals, gurgles, vociferous solos and warped lamentations, a remarkable episode in Harth’s recorded output. “Back Lantern” explores the fringes of the frequency region with a quick wink to the sweet cheapness of certain synthetic patches from two decades earlier (more on that later); nonetheless, the underlying extraterrestrial mantras and ebbing-and-flowing glottolalia are what actually corresponds to its actual muscle, highlighting a type of spiritual quest that sees the fear of the unknown as a regular incidence in an advanced being’s daily reflection. If someone had taught me to pray like this as a young child, I’d still be there at the church. “Der Schlaf Ist Eine Süsse Melodie” ends the set in typical A23H fashion, and I’m not going to reveal the secret. Go to the artist’s website and ask for a copy of this CDR pronto.

ALFRED 23 HARTH - @ eighties end

On a first listen, the connection between the above milestone and @ Eighties End doesn’t appear so easy (nothing is when this artist is involved). For starters, both recordings were realized at the closing stages of a decade (2009 the former, 1989 this). Then, a somewhat melancholic clarinet characterizes big chunks of the music(s) quite profoundly. Yet the reason behind Harth’s choice of retrieving this work from the archives is the perception of a reborn interest for some of the sounds in vogue in the 80s, with particular reference to notable presets (which, sure enough, this record comprises). The collection includes segments from a pair of diverse soundtracks: Antigone, a theatre piece played at Düsseldorf’s Schauspielhaus of which Mr. 23 was the musical director at the time, and Lachen, Weinen, Lieben, a film then broadcasted by ZDF. If the theatre act calls for something dramatically relating performers and listeners – for example, “Antigone.Nacht” offers exactly that in a progression of atmospheres at times reminiscent of Thierry Zaboitzeff – the soundtrack for the television feature shows a new facet of this multi-talented man, who manages to achieve credibility in that difficult field despite the intermittent use of timbres that everybody knows inside and out
(…mainly from Korg workstations: lots of musicians, including yours truly, fell prey of those pads in that epoch) but, in his hands, are meshed and delivered with such subtleness that they often result as adequate, even to this day. The beauty of a sound always depends on the context and, especially, on the person who exploits it. In that sense, Harth is invulnerable: the control on the mechanisms and the correct sequencing of the sonic occurrences remains inflexible, the concepts are expressed without excess of discursiveness (which would contradict the music’s designed role in this circumstance). Ultimately, this
is a slight detour from the renowned capriciousness of the German’s acoustic craft that permits a partial relief interspersed with a modicum of weirdness (as it happens in “Antigone.Ölfässer”, the general sonority enhanced by the actors via enormous oil cans in a peculiar Mad Max-like scenario).

ALFRED HARTH – Brocken/Biest 01/01

In 2001, Alfred Harth was enduring a bit of physical trouble, related to the many years spent with a piece of reed around his neck. He decided at that time to give an unusual spin to his music by starting to use electronics quite frequently while diminishing the use of the heavy honker.
The first result of this switch is the live composition "Brocken/Biest 01/01", a 72-minute trip through hundreds of garbled shards mostly informed by a tendency to technological riffraff and schismatic sampladelia. The title is an evident pun on “broken beat”, but in German it translates as “lump (piece) of beast” (!), whereas 01/01 – recalling the binary code – is actually a mere reference to the recording date (January 2001). Divided in 13 segments consecutively linked (as in a perfect 12-inch mix - in fact, one of the effects used is that of the cyclical crunch of vinyl), this is an exciting aspect of Harth’s crafty engineering skills. However, it is not something to assimilate painlessly; the quantity of events utilized by the Frankfurter is huge, the brain struggling to collocate each detail in the correct place with just a transitory listen (which, incidentally, should not be done with ANY record). Suffice to say that there are traces of unimaginable obsessions everywhere, fused in an individual concoction of misshapen visions and bizarre backgrounds that sound intimidating, paradoxical, or both; the whole sustained by rhythms that can be either spastic or disco-regular. Myriads of samples are seamed in masterful fashion, their consecutiveness generating a “let’s-see-what-comes-now” kind of expectation in the listener. Incomprehensible radio snippets, the Warner Bros audio logo camouflaged in liquid equalization, surrealistically twisted power chords, voices from inconceivable places (with particular relevance to intriguing Oriental accents that, pertinently deformed by AH, give the idea of a continuous gurgle generated by someone who’s about to throw up. Difficult to explain in words, but fantastic in terms of pulse). A few tracks even show a peculiar, definitely unintentional resemblance to chosen chapters of Muslimgauze’s discography. The best method for being invaded and ultimately conquered by this great mishmash – to be especially treasured by those who appreciated the “Mother Of Pearl” series – is keeping it going ad infinitum for at least four or five hours, letting it become a part of your physicality while completely intoxicating the senses. You’ll soon realize that reality does not look the same from which things had started, and it feels damn good.


Laub is an only apparently simpler specimen of Harthian creativity, yet it’s without a doubt the more enigmatic item of this pair (and, in truth, among the most cryptic offerings I’ve heard from the Seoul expatriate). The record’s name means “foliage”, a word also referenced in AH’s private studio “Laubhuette”, which stands for “hut made of leaves”. The music – mainly obtained by alternating indefinable stringed instruments, electronic/concrete materials and echoes of Korean activity – is essentially a cycle of “remixes, fragments and field recordings” captured between 2004 and 2006 and comprising rare gems such as the impenetrable “Nonunhappiness”, an exhilarating – and unfortunately short - remix of a snippet of “Domestic Stories” (somehow evoking Elliott Sharp’s cybernetic guerrillas), and assorted chunks of “iGnorance”, Harth’s homage to composer Yun I-sang, of whom the protagonist uses a beautiful string section from a work called Piri , re-baptized “Piri II” for the occasion. There’s a perceptible severance between the nude acoustic soul of a crude improvisation like “Peripathy, A Sufi Prayer In Corea” and the acousmatic complexity of “Spagat”, an impressive cross of theatric vocals (by Yi Soonjoo, Alfred’s life partner) and whimpering dogs recorded in a farm. “Direct Jazz II” utilizes superimposed sax flurries upon a multitude of strata including synthetic improbability, shortwaves and metropolitan moods. The mind-boggling “Rueckbrick” closes the CD on a slightly anguishing note caused by fickle electro-multiplicity (picture a stoned Jon Hassell/Terry Riley Siamese couple) and various species of mystifying glissando. Overall, the album’s singular components - whose blending may initially appear ludicrous - coalesce consistently after the third or fourth dutiful scrutiny, confirming the man’s ability in pulverizing the original meanings of his objects of study and combining them into artistic reports that, once brought to light, instantly overshadow the globally accepted standardization of composers appositely deified by the regime universally identified as “specialized press”.

This Earth! (ECM 1264)

In 1983, ECM’s honcho Manfred Eicher “nominated” Alfred Harth as the musical director of This Earth!, with the chance of choosing the participants to the ensuing recording. The lineup is astrophysical: Maggie Nicols, Paul Bley, Barre Phillips and Trilok Gurtu assist the record’s nominal proprietor along nine chapters entirely composed by him. The target was, in the principal’s words, “to contribute to help rising the ecological consciousness at that time, and point out the preciousness of the planet we are living on. Three years later Tchernobyl happened and set a new sign within the ecological movement..”
Lots of literary foundations and personal discoveries are infused in this creation, officially released in 1984. Sri Aurobindo, Alan Watts’ The Wisdom Of Insecurity, Abraham Maslow (already quoted in the past in a Goebbels & Harth track, “Life Can Be A Gestalt In Time”). And then, Fritz Perls, Stanislav Grof, John C. Lilly’s studies on dolphin communication, Ken Wilber, Michael Murphy. Harth was, and still is, deeply interested and moved by the exploration of the “extraordinary human potentials”; to this day, he declares himself a follower of Transhumanism.
Accordingly, a number of selections amount to a direct allusion to the improvement of the individual. “Relation To Light, Colour And Feeling” begins with a poised yet intense dialogue between Bley and Phillips to open up in spacious linearity, splendidly rendered in unison by Nicols and Harth, Gurtu adding a few percussive flavours when Nicols starts vocalizing more abstractly. “Body And Mentation” is one of the most lyrical episodes of an uncharacteristically “tranquil” record as opposed to the Frankfurter’s standards, a beautiful counterpoint branded by the inner confidence of musicians who know how to move in and around a composition even when blindfolded. The chief’s tenor leads the dance with a poignant invocation, and nothing needs to be said anymore when that heartfelt call gives room to a sizeable measure of stirring passion. “Energy: Blood/Air” is a moderately swinging piece whose melodic jitteriness approaches post-bop territories - chiefly articulated by Nicols’ scatting - and another curious setting for the notions of Harth, who accompanies the English singer with a tone that could easily be defined as classic. A concise assertion by Bley is delivered in straightforward fashion, Phillips closing the segment with a solo of his own.
Gurtu opens “Come Oekotopia” with suggestive echoes, then a sax/bass duet enters the picture in somewhat edgy conversation. Again, it’s the main actor who steals the show with a trademark dramatic departure before the English vocalist joins in. The opening of “Waves Of Being” might be compared to certain pages from Lindsay Cooper’s book, a smart chapter of modern-day chamber flair instantly pushed towards liberal swing by Bley and Phillips, who exchange ideas and energies like two well informed friends. The succeeding passages - arcoed strings and bass clarinet proceeding jointly, holding hands in stunning beauty - are an authentication of the kind of artistic brilliance able to reallocate a tune from “normal” to “attractive” with a simple idea. The final “Transformate, Transcend Tones And Images” is sung by Nicols over an arco bass/piano rarefaction, evoking shades of Julie Tippetts ancestry. An appropriate winding up for a program that never really exalts or excites, but keeps us with the mind positively firm and the ears constantly vigilant, catching small signs and slight changes that nevertheless weigh a lot in the sonic economy.
This is an effort that discards histrionically charged gestures, revealing a different side of Harth. This man’s presence on ECM has been infrequent to say the least but – in the moments in which it occurred – some outstanding concepts surfaced in unpredicted ways, unquestionably distant from the lows to which the label has recurrently crumbled down from the almost unreachable benchmarks of its glorious times. Not a surprise that we’re still waiting for an official reissue of This Earth! – exactly the same thing that is happening with the historically essential Just Music.

PARCOURS BLEU A DEUX - Die Kainitische Stadt Über Abels Gebeinen (Recout)

Heinz Sauer (1932) ranks among the most prominent German saxophonists, a career including a number of significant collaborations with entities such as Albert Mangelsdorff, George Adams, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Globe Unity Orchestra. In 1990 Alfred Harth had organized 2324 FU, a retrospective exhibition of his own visual art at Frankfurt’s Dominikanerkloster, a renowned gallery situated within a cloister. What he envisioned was a concert with Sauer to be held in the cloister’s Holy Ghost Church (devoted to Albert Ayler, one thinks…). This is exactly what happened, and Parcours Bleu A Deux were born.
As A23H puts it in a typically puzzling description, “the spirit and the reverb was the challenge”. PBAD were not meant to be a simple reed duet, but a completely autonomous small acousmatic unit; to achieve this goal, prerecorded tracks (also involving the voice of Isabel Franke reciting passages from the Apocalypse) and electronic emanations were added to the recipe. The musicians were able to maneuver those splinters via foot pedals while playing, the surprise factor guaranteed by the unforeseen manifestation of elements that might be perceived as not pertinent at first, appearing instead perfectly integrated in the music’s general unrest in a matter of seconds.
This CD (rough translation of the title: “The city of Cain built upon Abel’s bones”) comprises 70 minutes of extracts from performances dated 1991 and 1992 in Frankfurt, San Francisco and Vancouver. The initial set is introduced by a Canadian female host who translates the duo’s name as “Blue Horse Ride Of Two People” (indeed “Blue Course” means a lot of other things; surf the web, and rest assured that AH had thought of something different from what you’ll find). It becomes instantly clear that the improvisations are gifted with a remarkable structural definition deriving from the almost visible resolve of the performers, who literally ostracize bewilderment and chaos in favour of a logical kind of disquieting turbulence, remaining inside the enclosure of focused contamination. The timbral mixture is practically stainless, broad shoulders and stinging efficiency alternated to squealing and chirping with the same naturalness of an actor’s change of stage dress in relation to the upcoming scene.
The couple provides an indicator of how a clever improvisation should be carried on, boosting the tension level with hard staccatos, increasingly nervous quodlibets and sudden theatrical exploits highlighted by the appearance of the above mentioned prearranged fragments (my preference directed to the amorphous synthetic backgrounds that occasionally steer the sonic microcosm towards even more mysterious territories, still sweetening the brutality of certain dissonant counterpoints). Harth adds a personal dose of visceral physicality and grotesque drama by grunting, blathering and sardonically laughing into the instrument’s conduits, halfway through a good-humoured fiend and a vainglorious joker deriding the audience’s intellectual capacity. All in all, this is a difficult but – as always – extremely gratifying record that must be listened with concentration at full steam: the substance is thick, the artistry is indubitable, the technical proficiency proportional to the emotional intensity, only if you grant the music the due attention. Using this stuff as conversational backdrop means losing the coordinates of rationality, and perhaps some friend.
Harth and Sauer collaborated again - together with other instrumentalists - in 1995 in the ambit of FIM (Frankfurt Indeterminables Musiqwesen, the umpteenth collective formed by the protagonist of this series) for a tribute to fellow Frankfurter Paul Hindemith. The short life of PBAD is just another question mark in the chain of “whys” that characterizes this man’s creative being; for sure not many saxophone duets sound as lucid, provocative and ironically eccentric as this.

TRIO TRABANT A ROMA – State Of Volgograd

Lindsay Cooper, Alfred 23 Harth and Phil Minton were members of the Oh Moscow venture, which – prior to this recording – had touched Volgograd during a Russian tour. In particular, Cooper and Harth were so bewildered - both by the visited cities and the divergence between those microcosms and the Western Culture (pun intended) – that, once returned, they were still feeling like “being in another state, a State Of Volgograd”. The triumvirate, formed by the Frankfurter in 1990 following an invitation by the Budapest Festival, owes its designation to the namesake cheap car manufactured in East Germany, which began to appear outside those borders subsequently to the Berlin Wall’s crumbling in 1989. To quote the originator, “… Trabant is also a word for a planet orbiting a star (…) Earth was under a new ‘orbital tent’ after the iron curtain came down. It was funny to see these odd eastern cars undertaking even long-distance trips through Europe - and, ultimately, all roads lead to Rome”.
Disgracefully, this small ensemble was short-lived; yet State Of Volgograd – the solitary official release – shines among the unconditional masterpieces of improvisational skill, a career landmark for everybody involved. Starting the 90s, Cooper’s multiple sclerosis was already taking a heavy toll, gradually making impossible for her to perform live; obviously, Oh Moscow dissolved, the last concert at 1993’s London Jazz Festival. Harth – as per Vladimir Tarasov’s words – became “as famous as Michael Jackson” in Russia’s avant-garde scene over lengthy periods of clandestinely smuggled records in “hidden narrow holes” before the Soviet Union’s collapse. A TV feature on him, Balance Action, was then realized by a local station. Indeed the relationship linking A23H with that part of the globe has always been pretty special (he went on to form QuasarQuartet, with Tarasov, in 1992).
But Trio Trabant A Roma stood apart from anything else. Three masters of the respective crafts in a setting that, quite impressively, leaves the individual silhouettes easily discernible while defining their union as one of the finest collectives carved in your reviewer’s memory. This recital, captured at Esslingen’s Dieselstrasse in 1991, testimonies about several truths. First, that Cooper, Harth and Minton are rare symbols of multiform instrumental enlightenment. Besides the habitual tools – yes, Minton’s voice is the quintessential human synthesizer – they shared piano duties; Cooper handles bassoon (listen to the marvellous phrasing in the initial minutes of “Orbital Tent”), electronic effects and sopranino, Harth tampers with various kinds of saxes, bass clarinet, melodica, sopranino, Farfisa organ and a Casio sampler. The record, in general, is informed by an intelligent use of technology, especially inventively warped sampling and discreet looping.
The tracks span across a number of moods and circumstances, nourishing an immediately identifiable temperament throughout. Minton sounds slightly more restrained than usual, alternating customary intrusions (the utter destruction of the melancholic tranquillity that opens “Et All Ways Budapest” is a gas indeed) to quasi-blues echoes and heartrending excursions halfway through pygmy chanting and mournful lamentation. To this day his duet with Harth in “Strasbourg Et Amor Trans’n’Dance” belongs in the top ten of my all-time favourite improvisations, suddenly turning into unachievable abstruseness replete with misshapen harmonic connections and excruciating grief, Cooper and 23 superimposing pitch-transposed, looped-and-modified lines over Minton’s drunken crooning in stunning fashion. The whole album is a glorification of total musicianship and an ode to reciprocal listening permeated by equal doses of joy, sorrow and childish astonishment, the musicians catching a glimpse of that “unknown something” which is usually obstinately ignored by the average instrumentalist, almost forgetting the qualities of technical development to run behind colourful butterflies of instant creation. The terzetto delivers in spades, creating music that – in absolutely spontaneous conceptions – is sweetly dissident, utterly immobilizing, restlessly strong, consistently pensive, and nonetheless so amusing.
That the material result this original to our ears 18 years from the taping is the revelation of a haunting permanence, a typical trait of significant art. Brief existence notwithstanding, Trio Trabant A Roma must be placed in a hypothetical Hall Of Fame of sonic originality. A combined vision that, now as then, guides the listener to a superior level of interaction with the unusual acoustic phenomena that only certain ambits of musical exploration can elicit.

More wonderment from the JUST MUSIC era

See also JUST MUSIC on ECM 1002 + selfproduction (1969)
and 4.Januar 1970 (selfproduction)

2009 is a fundamental moment in Alfred Harth’s life, in that he celebrates both the 60th birthday (on September 28th) and a 40-year career’s “jubilee”. We already talked about Just Music, one of the first improvisation ensembles recorded on ECM, whose activities were tragically under-documented to date. Luckily, Harth is retrieving additional material from the archives, these three records constituting as a good introduction as any to the collective’s stimulating methods. All of this great stuff is now available from the instigator himself through the Laubhuette imprint, and it comes without saying that you’d better start to be more aware of the roots of instrumental ad-libbing as opposed to having some “prophet of silence” dry your wallet with a hour of coughs, creaks and outside motorbikes surrounding two single “pings” and a “whirr”.
JUST MUSIC TRIOS (Laubhuette Productions)

Extraordinarily good-sounding, given that the recordings occurred in March 1970, the tracks contained by this disc - strangely enough - do not feature Harth but present a selection of improvisations by two dissimilar trios. In the first, Michael Sell (trumpet), Franz Volhard (bass) and Thomas Cremer (drums) show that brief disquisitions can yield excellent results. Sell is obviously a protagonist, his phrasing voluble without preponderance, a constant melodic resourcefulness at the basis of an invigorating cross of swiftness and concomitance in admirable interaction with the “fractured rhythm” section. If this piece has a defect, that should be its shortness. We’re soon rewarded by a superb “clean” set comprising again Volhard (this time on cello), Johannes Krämer (acoustic guitar) and Peter Stock (bass). This lengthier series is the ideal evidence of the sensitiveness-informed technical eminence of the musicians, who interact alternating exhilaration and open-mindedness during exchanges that range from sheer ebullience to classically-scented, chamber-like reflective interpretations of self-determination. Even within the same trio, the inherent subdivisions (practically, duos in three different combinations) reveal an “adult” approach to mutual give-and-take informed by a taste for first-rate tones which stamps this collection with a “not-to-be-missed” seal.

JUST MUSIC GROUPS & DUOS (Laubhuette Productions)

Just listening to the radiophonic excerpt which opens the CD, recorded at Hessischer Rundfunk in 1968 and featuring snippets of interview (in German) with a 18-year old Harth - who sounds like a well-trained host in answering the real host’s questions - is enough to make one instantly curious. Yet it is once again the incredible maturity of the music presented, intelligently sequenced in the subsequent tracks, which must be taken into account to establish the absolute importance of these archival materials. These pieces – fantastic how the typical background hum contributes to the fascination during the playback – appear as a cross-pollination of atonal thematic jazz and instant-reaction heterodoxy - without excess of transcendental euphoria - in perennial recusant enlightenment. The chief initiator, on tenor sax, is flanked by Dieter Herrman on trombone, besides the usual suspects Krämer (guitar), Volhard (cello), Stock (bass) and Cremer, here puzzlingly credited with “inflating drums” (STOP PRESS: the just-received explanation reads "Cremer inflated his snare and toms with the help of a hose by blowing air with his mouth that changed the pitch of the drums while beating them"). While the dialogues between the not-yet-Mr.23 with, respectively, Cremer and Herrman describe a sharp journeying around the possibilities of two-part counterpoint without devastating apogees or reprehensible utilizations of formulas, the cream lies within three marvellous expressions by the Harth/Nicole Van Den Plas duo, correspondingly titled “Call & Suspense”, “Durus” and “Reverserenity”, the latter characterized, as per the title’s hint, by sonorities based on reverse-tape techniques utilized with extreme soberness. The saxophonist - who in this case plays bass clarinet, violin, harmonica and other objects - and his (at that time) life partner, also vocalizing in semi-ritual fashion, share a noticeable confident comprehension, demonstrating a deeper degree of intuitive intimacy which is usually the crucial factor for intense revelations in improvisational ambits. The disc is concluded by a trait-d’union recording – “near the end of Just Music & ahead of the group E.M.T.” in A23H’s words – of the quartet formed by Harth, Van Den Plas, her brother Jean Van Den Plas (bass) and Paul Lovens (drums), which in a way symbolizes the transformation of ideals and, especially, the ever-shifting intellectual qualities of a man whose artistic aims were probably too high in relation to a proverbial modesty, as hundreds of imitators found a quick ascent to fame and fortune given their exactly opposite attitude (“let’s steal, then we’ll see”). But time, someone says, is a gentleman, and properly schooled ears are going to do the rest for a complete recognition of “who came first”.

JUST MUSIC ENSEMBLES (Laubhuette Productions)

A few additional soldiers join the squad. Harth and friends are flanked in a couple of instances by other free-thinkers, responding to the names of Witold Teplitz (clarinet), Hans Schwindt (alto sax), Thomas Stoewsand (cello) and Andre De Tiege (viola). Ensembles is probably the record in which the ratio between the modernity of the overall sound and the old age of the tapes is in every respect astonishing. A set like the one recorded on September 13, 1968 at the Liederhalle, Mozartsaal in Stuttgart could easily have been composed (on the spot, naturally!) and released today without almost anyone noticing that 1) the players are out-and-out teenagers and 2) the music comes from the post-Palaeozoic era of collective perspicuity, Harth allegedly unaware of entities such as AMM or SME which were evidently navigating contiguous seas. What we need to stress yet again is the impressive up-building of the interplay, which often start from veritable compositional illuminations in turn giving life to earnestness-driven hypotheses for a new contrapuntal design, without the necessity of recurring to tricks or, even worse, reducing the whole to unwarranted noise. In reality, what immediately strikes the ears is the non-difficult digestibility of this material: despite the lack of a commonly intended “theme” or some “melody” to be caught from, and the fact that nonconformity can be detected nearly everywhere, that classic sense of fulfilment deriving from the fine-tuning of dissonance resolving in catharsis permeates the air every time we stop and concentrate a tad more on the wholesome allure of these sounds. The conclusive two parts of “Radio Live Concert In Prague” might be considered among of the most evocative moments this reviewer has experienced in hundreds of hours of A23H-typified expressions, an exquisite meshing of controlled apprehension and cultivated aggrandisement of minuscule mechanisms, sustaining the weight of a prolonged duration to reveal a world of correspondences and interrelationships one would gladly like to acknowledge as “ideal”. An inspiring ending for this marvellous triptych, chock full of secluded beauties finally revealed to worthy audiences. If many people had conveniently “forgotten” to attribute the deserved place in the history of contemporary improvisation to Alfred Harth’s conceptions and ideas, now blind shades and earplugs must be thrown away once and for all. This music should be studied.

E.M.T. (Laubhuette Productions)

This instalment of the “Memories” is particularly important, despite the fact that E.M.T. belong to a very early period of Alfred Harth’s artistic life and, as such, reveal a lot of the initial “work-in-progress” phase of a career which touched on a multitude of different aspects. This notion is strictly linked to the other fundamental root of another cooperative improvising medium founded by the same person - Just Music, to which we will return in an upcoming chapter.
The origin of the E.M.T. collective dates from 1972, year in which AH decided to use three letters to designate a project destined, in his vision, to remain unlinked from any idea relative to a repertoire or a style, and whose meaning was left open to interpretation. The saxophonist recalls that, asked about the name, the favourite translations were “Energy/Movement/Totale”, “Extreme Music Troop” and “European Music Tradition”, the latter a bizarre choice since this stuff has very little “traditional” accents, unless you want to consider free jazz as folklore. It is interesting to note that the Frankfurter was completely unaware of AMM and SME in that period, therefore copycat-ism is out of the question: what was coming from these people was entirely original, like it or not.
The basic nucleus of E.M.T. consisted of Harth on reeds and assorted sonic tools, his then spouse Nicole Van Den Plas on piano and electric organ, brother Jean Van Den Plas on cello and bass and the percussionist who, in AH’s words, plays like “rolling ocean waves”, Sven-Åke Johansson (who, in turn, called it “dynamic vibrations”). Additional contributors (on the recorded material checked for this article) included Helmuth Neumann and Michael Sell, both on trumpet and Liliane Vertessen on trombone.
Harth had begun a steady live activity with Van Den Plas in Belgium a couple of years prior, playing with Peter Kowald and Paul Lovens among others. Johansson, who had performed first with him in 1968, joined them for a trio immortalized in the only official release, 1974’s Canadian Cup Of Coffee on SAJ. The three were intrigued by visual arts, and the drummer also recognized the influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (although his version of Sprechstimme is more similar to a drunk man mumbling amid trash cans in an alley…). The tracks’ names were so-called “fanciful inventions” by our main character, who wanted to mix exotic hints, European classicism and German Dada in the same cauldron.
The above mentioned record is probably the most restrained (!) example of what E.M.T. were able to do, as the sense of humour characterizing several of its sections is pronounced and typically vivid. Still, when one lends ears to the recordings dating from 1973 - gathered in two CDRs respectively named Haus Dornbusch / Heidnische Klänge / Heilbronn and Hamburg Fabrik - acknowledging the expressive urgency and lawless vehemence of the ensemble comes rather natural. E.M.T. treated the need of telling the truth against refined insignificance like an affair of honour, pushing their instruments to the limit almost everywhere yet managing to find some available space for duets or, if so preferred, parallel solos that demonstrate pragmatism and perseverance even in absence of aesthetical beauty. Face it: these incensed collections run well over 70 minutes, and attempting a moment-by-moment description would be pathetic. This is about the portrayal of a spirit, not visualizing instrumental colours. Of course, Van Den Plas is as far from grandiloquent as possible, her role apparently tailored to connect the extrovert passions of Harth and Johansson, the whole often turning into veritable frenzies informed by forward-looking wholeheartedness. But all the participants, in every circumstance, seem to listen to no reason, merely worried with keeping the embitterment against the potential enemy active. Let’s not forget the politically charged era in which this was happening: accepting those seemingly incessant blowouts will then be painless - maybe. Let me stress it: a relaxing experience this ain’t, finding correlations also easier said than done. E.M.T. obeyed to a hard-nosed conviction of creative paganism, and there was no time for rethinking. If you still want to do business with this concept three decades and a half later prepare to shed your ear fluff, as this music refuses the definition of “embellishment”.
Considering that the travelling for that era’s tours was made, according to the reports, utilizing vehicles in the category of Renault 4, Citroen 2CV and Volkswagen Beetle, one justifies the musicians’ urge of stretching someone else’s nerves once they went on stage after those uneasy trips.


Man Or Monkey

The Beauty And The Beast

In a perfect world (pun intended), the finest music would result in a composition that sounds like an impromptu outburst of accomplished creativity – no pre-established rules, no rigidness, no nothing as Peter Brötzmann would have it. Cassiber (originally Kassiber, the name deriving from the Slavonic term indicating a “message smuggled out of prison”) were maybe the group that got nearest to that vision. The band’s official trace starts from 1982, but Christoph Anders, Chris Cutler, Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth had already met five years earlier, at the times of the Sogennantes Linksradikales Blasorchester. Interested by punk, willing to mix that influence with radical jazz, classical and various kinds of interference – made concrete by the use of radio and TV snippets and all sorts of samples – the original quartet recorded a couple of gems between 1982 and 1984, their significance at a stage of intensity and unrefined magnificence equivalent to the most essential politically committed talents of that (and any) era. After Harth’s departure in 1984 to form Gestalt et Jive and Vladimir Estragon, the remaining three kept producing great work in albums such as Perfect Worlds (there you go) and A Face We All Know, both on Recommended. Yet this writer has always perceived Cassiber minus A23H as a healthy body missing a limb.
Still, what really identifies the quintessence of this coherently wild corporation is probably Anders’ perennially hollered delivery: an exaggerated, histrionic mixture of irony, rage and sorrow that constitutes a veritable trademark instantly evident in “Not Me”, Man Or Monkey’s icebreaker. This introduction is unquestionably ill-mannered, an instantly nervous concoction of non-existent harmonic contexts where the collective multi-instrumentalist ability of the quartet is straight-away detectable, the sound shifting across many finalities without a definite answer to the needs elicited by this suspension. The repeated piano note constituting the backbone of “Red Shadow” brings to mind the first movement of Fred Frith’s “Sadness, Its Bones Bleached Behind Us” on The Technology Of Tears, whereas the fake Mariachi style of the impressively anguishing “Our Colourful Culture” is incontestably the most dramatic moment of the album, Anders reciting Cutler’s lyrics portraying a desperate man rambling about his people starving and getting killed while “we fight in the mountains”, the song ending with the protagonist’s spine-chilling hysterical laughter as the main theme fades to black. Curiously, this is the only segment in which the drumming chores are handled by another musician, Peter Prochir. “O Cure Me” sees the fervent vocalist declaiming a passage by Johann Sebastian Bach along delirious instrumental circumstances where contrapuntal implicitness and transitory phases are the menu du jour, the whole underlined by a cheap sequencer-based progression. Perhaps this release is where the doses of anarchy are more abundant than anywhere else, as clearly demonstrated by the free-for-all character of the lengthy title track and the Miles Davis-meets-dilettante guitarist adventure of “Django Vergibt”. The best was yet to come, though.
The Beauty And The Beast is, simply put, an epochal masterpiece of “progressive something” (put your designation here). Here, Cassiber’s deranged poetry achieves the highest level of expressivity, the music conversant with post Henry Cow-ism in the remarkable “What” and, especially, “Six Rays”, featuring Anders again uttering his restlessness amidst apparently unrelated brass blasts and a killer riff emphasizing the piece’s surefooted walk. “Robert” utilizes shreds of classic orchestration in a genre-pulverizing framework defined by illogical vocalism; instead, “Last Call” appears as the soundtrack to a noir interpreted by Tod Browning’s freaks, sarcasm and mystery surrounding an intoxicated telephone conversation. “Ach Heile Mich” is a hallucinating circus beginning with Anders chuckling and talking over a chaotic parallelism of volatile harmonies. Harth hopelessly tries to restore some balance with more linear (…) phrasings, only to get overwhelmed and blasted out by the return of a Tchaikovsky-ish cadenza leading the foursome towards a crazed garrulity in one of the many dangerously exciting moments of this group’s history. This particular piece should be downloaded in millions of iPods across the globe. Also notable are “Under New Management”, a potentially relaxed vibe completely disintegrated by the irredeemably lawless spirit of the ensemble, and the gorgeous “Vengeance Is Dancing” – namely the nearest thing to Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” that Cassiber could ever conceive. In any case, nobody will ever beat the irresistible passion of the final suite, ending with the hymn “At Last I’m Free” (that's right, Chic!): the musicians play and sing like if they knew in advance that this is the final tune they‘re going to perform prior of their demise, intransigence and dogmatisms thrown out of the window in favour of a multiform granulation of sonic varieties that generously invite the audience to join a party celebrating the upcoming end.
Accept a friendly advice from an indelicately aging old fart: everything made by Cassiber is mandatory listening, among the most excellent efforts in the four members’ careers. If you want to start with a single title The Beauty And The Beast is the absolute must, a supreme epitaph for what was once called “art” and nowadays has been reduced to the same status of toothpaste and stockings at the supermarket. What these guys achieved with this record can’t even be remotely understood by the laptop-fed, cell phone-burnt, one-dimensional brains from the present, definitely imperfect world.

4. Januar 1970


This primeval vinyl, self-released in 300 copies, encloses the recording of a summit that took place in Frankfurt on the title's date. It is one of the earliest episodes in Alfred Harth's discography, all the more charming given its age – which in any case is not echoed by the material comprised, fresh-sounding to this day. Harth and drummer Thomas Cremer had met pianist Nicole Van Den Plas in 1969 at a jazz festival in San Sebastian, Spain; at the same time, the Just Music collective – also featuring cellist Franz Volhard and bassist Peter Stock – was taking shape so, in essence, the LP documents the meeting of Just Music and Van Den Plas. The latter went on to become both the saxophonist's partner and a key element of subsequent projects, including recordings at Frankfurt Radio that involved, among others, Peter Kowald, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Lovens and Jean Van Den Plas (Nicole's brother). In 1972, Alfred, Nicole and percussionist Sven-Ake Johansson joined their forces, giving life to E.M.T.; thus, what's heard in 4 Januar 1970 is considered by A23H, together with the above mentioned radiophonic sessions, as an ideal link between Just Music and E.M.T.
The short extent of the program – about 34 minutes – gives perhaps only a faint idea of what these musicians were able to dream up and fabricate, placing at the forefront of the frame a true cooperative spirit not mottled by egotist spurts and haywire tendencies. This means that there's no available room for flapdoodles: each member sounds concentrated, stable-minded, eager to actively build the muscle of the improvisation until a communal sonic fission becomes substantial, under the semblance of small nuclei of instrumental interaction and intelligible upsurges where each input – also counting Van Den Plas' abstract vocals appearing here and there – looks for the adjustment to unexpected responses as opposed to privileging the strained alternative of an unnatural terminology. Of course, the highly skilful, persistently enlightened legerdemain of the participants is unmistakable, as not for a single instant the immediate signals seem to have been "thrown away". Every phrase, every minute of reciprocal listening symbolizes - more than the achievement of a predetermined goal - the untouched beauty of that kind of spur-of-the-moment gestural courage that was typical of arts and musics from the late 60s and early 70s. Eras that in all probability delimited the birth – and, unhappily, the rapid death - of inner movements and structures of thought that are destined not to resurface anytime soon. In that sense, 4 Januar 1970 is as prized an article as you might find.

TASTE TRIBES (for4ears)

In 2007, during the European trip that also gave birth to the 7K Oaks
project, Alfred Harth met again - after 20 years - with Günter Müller,
whom he played with in 1987 at Willisau together with Andres Bosshard,
Phil Minton and Sonny Sharrock. A few days earlier, the expedition had
featured the summit with Faust's Hans Joachim Irmler; both sessions
were duly recorded and reworked by A23H back in Seoul. There, through
overdubbing and various manipulations, a new stunning chapter of XXI
century EAI - that of the anarchic and noisy kind - was born. The trio
started on-the-road activities since December 2008, trying to convey
the same evil forces that this unpredictably pungent, inhospitable
record throws at us in large doses. Make no mistake, this is a must -
and Faust fans should love it at first try, too. Harth is the most
instrumentally loaded with tenor sax, clarinet, Kaoss pad, thumb
piano, voice and Dochirak Con Arco (sic). Irmler and Müller "limit"
themselves to customary organ, iPod and electronics. "Genuine
Imitation" starts with a hellish mire of menacing roars and bubbling
acidity, electro-fishing applied to the flotsam and jetsam that was
previously generated in the studio. Dialectics do exist, but the
quantification of the levels of fury released by the musicians is a
next-to-impossible task; the sampled guitar of Makoto Kawabata is an
element of gore if you will, the recipe possessing nevertheless an
epic spice that's definitely unusual. This does not prepare for the
beginning of "Servicing The Target", an unbelievable mass of
low-frequency rumbles that, received via headphone, puts the structure
of your cranium in a state of total vibration, a fantastic
illumination in the utter darkness, our eye sockets containing broken
glass instead of eyes. "Weasel Worlds" sees the saxophone more at the
forefront to begin with, soon engulfed by the incessant, if irregular
pulsation of the other sources, a lattice of numskull noise that could
be used by some doctor to cure photophobia, occurring into dark holes
and godforsaken quarters where fragments of regular music echo in the
distance, faded memories of concepts that are now nothing but sonic
intumescences splattered with astuteness. The whole ends with Harth
approaching the airy nothingness of contemporary new silence over a
morbidly hypnotic drone until he remains alone, then stops for a while
only to return with additional insufflations. Bizarre, and great.
"Doubletwist" retrieves the mumbling giant from the centre of the
earth, its limbs spreading in a territory where people were intent in
scraping, warping and maiming conventional aesthetics. The absurdist
combativeness heard all across the track is a sign of resiliency, yet
there's really no way to remember what happens, we're just knocked out
by the sheer uncontrollability of the acoustic events. The disc is
sealed by the aptly titled "Eruptive Obfuscation", still dominated by
ominous presences in the quaking subsonic area. This is the basis for
a hammer-drill succession of seismic movements, muttered prayers to a
putrescent devilish icon dipped in the mud of obtrusive omnipresence
that leave speechless in a tempest of feedback, metallic lament and
that classic "Müller pump" at the very end, alone like a bird's flap
after a carnage. Taste Tribes are a killing machine, and no one's
going to be able to understand where their weak point is. The process
is simply unstoppable, the music hard-faced and instinctive; no hope
to conceive a method for the classification of something like this.
Confess yourselves before attending the show.

GUILLAUME DERO - Otomo Yoshihide's Music(s) (La Huit)

For those who are not familiar with their productions, La Huit is a Paris-based distribution firm whose catalog of DVDs includes documentaries about central figures of free music and contemporary jazz, featuring names such as ICP Orchestra, Aki Takase, Wadada Leo Smith, Marc Ribot, Sainkho Namtchylak. "Otomo Yoshihide's music(s)" is not really a proper revelation of this unassuming border-crosser's creative doctrine (the elucidation of which is restricted to a couple of intrusions in broken English where, more or less, all he says is that improvisation and composition - or noise and tranquillity if you will - are impossible to tell apart for him, as they're just diverse colours of a same palette to choose from). Yet the movie does possess something that characterizes it as particularly important, as this is the only available official video document of the activities of ONJE (Otomo New Jazz Ensemble), here captured in extracts from a 2005 performance in Paris presented in alternance with segments of solo sets on prepared turntable and guitar. The lineup for this particular event consisted of the leader plus Alfred Harth, Kenta Tsugami, Kumiko Takara, Hiroaki Mizutani, Yasuhiro Yoshigaki and Sachiko M. Five pieces are executed, comprising original compositions and covers of Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Jim O'Rourke. For starters, it's probably a good thing that no vocalists were featured in the documentary, as keeping the focus on the instrumental energies of this group is made easier without the distraction of a sing-along. The front row features Harth and Tsugami's intertwined saxophones, each gifted with an individual approach to the music: technically refined and rather elegant the Japanese, customarily unpredictable between fury and sweetness the German, both meeting halfway through ballad-tinged cuteness and enraged blowout like in the final "Eureka", an O'Rourke piece that somehow has become a traditional, devastating goodbye in ONJE and ONJO's concerts. Another almost invisible but decidedly effective presence is Sachiko M, her sinewave activity discreetly invading and persuasive for the viewers/listeners, attributing to the whole extravaganza a quality of inquisitive, if a tad glacial connection with the unknown forces of collective synchronicity, the latter perhaps the most evident trait of Otomo's recent projects, which inevitably tend to a synthesis of early jazz influences and onkyo. The main character is neither an ostentatious performer nor a terrific guitarist, his figure perhaps a little more iconic while manipulating a modified-for-guerilla turntable to obtain mind-altering sonic substances. This notwithstanding, he shows a peculiar ability as a silent director, aptly highlighted by Dero's sapient shots of his picking hand and grimacing expressions which seem to keep the combo galloping without even the need of a glance to the other musicians. Suggestive nocturnal panoramic views of the city are interspersed with the live action, and the use of slow-motion is applied to beautiful effect, especially on the percussionists' side: the performances by vibraphonist Takara and drummer Yoshigaki (who doubles on trumpet in "Eureka") are often a joy to watch, while the double bass towering on the little-but-heavy-handed Mizutani is yet another element of visual pleasure. The whole represents an experience that isn't likely to add anything new to the memory of the lucky ones who were able to see the band in the flesh; for the remaining majority, it constitutes as an essential addition to their DVD collection as any from this French imprint. Needless to say, anyone interested in this fascinating facet of Otomo's artistic career should treat this item as a necessary requisite.

ALFRED HARTH - Ballet music (Laubhuette Production 08)

From 2002 to 2007, Alfred Harth collaborated with a dance company in Seoul, which gave him the opportunity to work on some of his most radical and difficult to assimilate music of the XXI century (well, at least for tenderfoots). When the principal shuts the door of Laubhuette studio, something outlandish is definitely going to come out from there, this CDR being no exception. The five tracks represent a validation of the unrestrained creativity of this man, should you have any residual doubts. "Mercury I" takes strength from asymmetrical glissandos and psychedelic-like organ chords that relentlessly grow, get modified and flourish in hundreds of different streaks over a rhythmic device that sounds like the cheap drum machine of the typical electric organ received as a Christmas present, the one which many people tried to learn to play stupid songs on, usually with next-to-desperation results. The piece is a hodgepodge of discordant designs and splintered electronica, causing a reasonable quantity of saturation and, ultimately, resulting as devastating for a regular intellect as an involuntary bad trip. "That person then" starts with synthetic washes and altered vocal mumbles amidst what's liable to be processed water, then enters the realm of gloom through anxious deviations from the norm, uttered twists and daily life occurrences (…of whom?) as heard from within a sealed rubber suit. I won't be surprised to know that a radio was the source for the preponderance of the things we catch a glimpse of, a feel of "air surfing" defining certain rather disconcerting segments. Right here one comes to terms with Harth's rational use of the spiritual aspects of sound, concreteness and ceremonialism finding a common ground in upsetting mixtures of sonic pragmatism and thoroughly made-up timbral concurrences. "55 Quintets" was, in the composer's words, a "kind of sketch" for the ballet music in question, but works quite fine as a stand-alone miscellany, corroborated by the illustrious presence of frequent collaborator Choi Sun Bae on trumpet and electronics. It's a very long track, pregnant with events: TV scraps, voices from just everywhere, fabulous cut-ups of Bee Gees and other assorted absurdities, humans and instruments crying and squealing all over the place. Still, the basic pulsation of this piece is nourished by a simple pattern turning round and round, partially shrouded by a majestic hell generated by the couple's myriads of abnormal suggestions. In a record whose axis - for once - is not AH's saxophone, a lot of it is found exactly in this place, the intercourse with the uncontrollable anarchy of Choi's blowing fury at times staggering, if more lo-fi than usual. "Direct jazz", says the boss, is an etude. An etude? Forget the standard meaning of the term: this time, corroded beats, lamentations bathed in stretched reverbs, sloping sax lines and a variety of sequenced oddities will put your sense of "belonging somewhere" in serious trouble. The final "Gobi powder", a soundtrack for an as yet unedited video, was inspired by the effects of the "…annual yellow dust in the air above Seoul around springtime, which originates from the Gobi desert and is full of Chinese petrochemicals". Coherently, the result is an intoxicating blend of static interference, maybe a pinch of shortwave, and tampered tools which wouldn't be out of context on labels such as Confront or Erstwhile. Only a further aspect of the inventiveness that this gentleman constantly fecundates to engender meaningful ideas, one way or another.

TRIO VIRIDITAS - Live at Vision Festival VI (Clean Feed)

Recorded on June 2, 2001 (a couple of months before Alfred Harth's departure to the Korean shores, which prevented him to be a New York resident exactly from the most disastrous month of man's history) this superb concert gives an idea of the potential - sadly unfulfilled due to bassist Wilber Morris' death in 2002 - of Trio Viriditas, the third member as always the tremendously articulate, ever imaginative Kevin Norton on drums and vibes. In this particular occasion, the music generated by these artists suggests a veritable inviolability, three distinctive personalities - each endowed with inimitable qualities - delivering themselves from any hypothetic artistic puffiness in order to disclose to the lucky spectators both their barest soul and a strong purpose to accomplish the mission through deep, intense paths of conscious agony and just a pinch of fun. Let's also make perfectly clear that this is a hell of a "must" if one isn't acquainted with Harth's reed omniscience and would love to figure out at least a smidgen of what the man is capable of doing (on pocket trumpet too, if saxes and bass clarinet weren't enough). In a track like "Melancholy", A23H evidently illustrates why he should be ranked as the ultimate poignant soloist, the phrasing starting with the predisposition to a soft kind of ballad (with hints of melody that even quote - involuntarily? - the "all my troubles seemed so far away" segment of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday"!) then, out of the blue, exploding in vicious yelps, the upper partials splitting in a thousand fragments, the whole underlined by vocal growling 'n' shouting, old bluesman-style. Then again, dissonant popping corks and splintered lines materialize, only to reformat into unrepeatable splendour. Ah, the frustration of not being able to convey the words for those incomparable, literally huge solos. And what a gas, listening to Harth cackle via clarinet in certain sections, or blowing the empire away with well-informed usage of space and time during short yet effective trumpet-based interventions. And the solo in "Viriditas Waltz", shall we talk about that, too? Stuff that - no kidding here, folks - might elicit the urge of hiding the instruments in the cases and go to sleep for many pretenders, unless they're open to listening and learning something for once in a lifetime. You should also hear what Norton does, as it's all substance. The remarkable contrapuntal skill in "Braggadocio" is a noticeable evidence of how talented this percussionist is, a man too humble to be seriously renowned. Not a problem for the cognoscenti, who will instantly identify his "guerrilla smartness": finesse and concentration amalgamated by one of the brightest architectural minds around. Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith and Joëlle Léandre must have good reasons for having been willing to exchange ideas with this grown-up kid. Knowing that Wilber Morris is not among us anymore is, somehow, akin to urging ourselves to welcome first-rate human beings and outstanding musicians earlier than fate, which comes and modifies what's erroneously meant as certitude. This man's bass recalls integralist jazz and chamber music at one and the same time, an emblem in that sense a medley of "Fuer die Katz's deli(ght)" and "Starbucks", Morris reciting his intentional extraneousness from any plausible pattern or lick to concentrate on a warm tone, attributing muscle to particularly spacious designs where Norton and Harth seem to come in with utmost ease, sounding as ghosts skating on ice. A bad loss for the world of improvisation, and this CD is just perfect for ringing a bell of memory. There goes the wish of hearing more of this special trio, possibly from Mr.23's archives: another studio recording, realized in the same period to support tours that - alas - never occurred, definitely exists. If that's half as powerful as the moving force of this live set, we're riding high already. Play "Peace", last selection of the album, louder and louder; open your windows and let everybody rejoice, for this a new jazz masterpiece - no ifs and buts.

Alfred Harth, Joseph Foster & 5 more with Choi Sun Bae (Laubhuette)

Yet another succulent CDR from the Harthlands, this time an obscure, efficient, reductionist, anarchic one. These tracks - partially titled after words by Sufi Attah - were taped at the Laubhuette Studio in two sessions around the New Year's Eve in December 2002 and January 2003. The historic situation was gloomy, as those were the days preceding the US attack to Iraq, a quite depressing mood for the couple of artists who had just shifted their lives to Seoul. Harth and Foster (hailing from Portland, Oregon) were pretty thrilled and enthusiastic of the latest living environment. In that period, they spent a lot of hours at Harth's, playing "for our joy and relief" (as reported by the Frankfurter) and also started collaborating live: for example, at Bulgasari, a series of avant-garde concerts held in the South Korean metropolis, or at the Juksan International Arts Festival. In the latter circumstance, the saxophonist invited Korean trumpeter Choi (the pair had met earlier in 2002 and already recorded together) and, after a while, the communion of the three personalities came more or less natural (not surprisingly, Foster and Choi ended lending their skill in Harth's "Mother Of Pearl" CDs). In his description, AH talks about a measure of "sorrow" when referring to some of this music, which is a little surprising when I first tried to approach the disc. The duo pieces are in fact mostly built upon the purest type of subdued improvisation, so much that an engaging method of approaching it was enjoying the record amidst the external noises (in a torrid summer day at 2:30 PM - all people gone to the seaside - consisting almost exclusively of cicada-fuelled mantras). With brilliant results indeed: given that no instrument is specified, the sense of freedom and amusement that liberated music should always warrant is quite omnipresent, in an ideal correlation with profuse silence - or something in between. Whistles, screeching harmonics, hissing and blowing, manipulation of small items near the microphones, jingling metals, power-driven appliances, snooping counterpoints among apparently out-of-tune instruments, bubbling liquids, drum skins, guttural emissions. Everything belongs to the exact moment in which the sound is produced, without a slim chance of defining an aesthetic commandment. In actuality, there is none: either we accept the unequal occurrences, or it's back to the customary way of listening. Which translates into "passiveness". That's right, this stuff develops the capacity of the mind to finish what the players throw in the air; if that outlandish substance is heard as "noise" or "sound" depends on us. Both methods work, in any case. The five segments with Choi obviously add a quantity of "free jazz aroma" to the blend, minus the strain on the performance's humanity. In essence, we never detect the illogicality that may launch artists towards the faraway galaxies of artistic implication but, on the other hand, often exposes a loss of focus on the basic model. The musicians let the soul be undressed, the utter absence of academic connotations revealing the material as it's generated. Harbingers of an instrumental paucity which, once again, will be completed by the sensitive listener - or by praying insects, for that matter.

ALFRED HARTH / BOB DEGEN - Melchior (Biber)

Not even your reviewer was aware of this release until a few months ago, and it felt compulsory to investigate a little bit with its originator. What came out easily stands out among the hidden treasures in the huge A23H discography, a crusty jewel that someone should deliver from the status of extremely rare limited edition (on vinyl, no less) by retrieving the master tape and refurbishing it, up to the condition of a proper reissue.
Melchior is the main character in Frank Wedekind's 1891 play "Spring Awakening", once banned in Germany as it dealt with themes such as masturbation, abortion, rape and suicide, which in a sexually repressed society - thus the author considered the place where he lived - were not acceptable. In 1984, director Harald Clemen asked Alfred Harth for a collaboration in a restaging of the play at the Nationaltheater in Mannheim. The couple divided it in 22 short episodes around which our man built 23 (!) miniatures as a sort of intermissions, in order for the scenes to be changed. The aim in terms of musical concept was, in the composer's words, "creating something that has to do with beauty and tenderness, and even dare to be romantic again after a period of rough student's protests and open trials of developing free sexuality in Germany from the 60s on". Impressed by Paul Bley's prowess during a previous session, the Frankfurter called American pianist Bob Degen to help him in the work; every other instrument is played by Mr. 23.
It must be instantly clarified that this isn't a typical album, in that it's missing that element of "sitting back on laurels" that defines records where a theme, an idea, a suite are the centre of the vinyl universe. The fragmentation of this music causes a repeated sense of amazement for the surprising efficacy of simple constituents, immediately followed by a kind of frustration due to the too early conclusion of the same. One can't get to enjoy the thrill of a fascinating melody, because the interruption comes - systematically - to cut to a new scene. Absurdly enough, it feels like this continuous motion is the record's veritable winning card, the whole resulting as a charming patchwork where romanticism, experimentation, commentary, ritualism, sheer description of a movement seem to delimit a spiritual coherence of sorts. Another component that characterizes "Melchior" as scarcely classifiable is Harth and Degen's apparent want of leaving everything in temporal suspension, in a way recalling different eras and habits in a series of past occurrences. There are memorable moments in which the instrumental voices tread parallel paths until their harmonic compatibility becomes a port for tired sailors, and one's vaguely reminded of certain instalments in Lindsay Cooper's career. There are also segments where we could openly talk about sweetness, Harth's most lyrical brilliance under the spotlight both on tenor and soprano, Degen's timbral clearness helping to describe picturesque vistas and sorrowful reflections. Striking as a sudden light in the obscurity, the immense evocative power of these brief pieces raises our awareness of diverse forms of grace, where the external appearance is totally forgotten in favour of pure meaningfulness. A highly significant yet rather obscure chapter that might force us to push for additional soundtrack work to be given to its author.


"Expedition" was recorded live at New York's Knitting Factory in 2001. The four protagonists hadn't met previously, except the "German section" of Tammen (endangered guitar) and Harth (here on tenor sax and bass clarinet) who had jammed together in "some serious impro-camp" - as Mr. 23 would have it - yet never shared a "real" playing experience. The saxophonist was already in NY at that time, pursuing the collective vision of the Trio Viriditas with Wilber Morris and Kevin Norton, so linking the Tammen & Harth factors with bassist-cum-electronics Dahlgren and drummer Rosen didn't reveal to be an insurmountable problem. The record is technically subdivided in ten tracks delivered in a one-flow performance whose frantic energy and tension level sets the music free from the remnants of whatever somnolence or syrupy frustration could eventually exist. The recording quality doesn't cause us to shout "gloria in te domine", but then again I don't remember a single album taped at this venue where the sound is not raw and belligerent, almost bootleg-like. The fascinating mystique of sensitive improvisation is confirmed in its totality, several solo spots finding room amidst torrential exchanges that need no recurring to common-man swing to excite the audience (jeez, someone still gets excited with swing). Each voice is effectively distinguishable, contributing with unique colours and ideas; there is no necessity of framing a continuous series of spurts and discharges that, at times, become quite uneasy to mentally control. One has to listen carefully and ride the wave surfer-style, while enjoying the alternance of refined linearism and scintillating counter-striking: "Retained notions of speed and purpose", for instance, juxtaposes a strict discussion between a semi-serene Harth and a less tranquil Tammen, who works wonders with a volume pedal and a pitch transposing device at the end of the piece. When Dahlgren and Rosen decide to join the party, it amounts to something that resembles the fuming and the boiling of sulphuric waters, the music's potential pushed to the maximum. Great interplay is also to be enjoyed in "A long trip by the water", beginning with the semblance of a metre (nice arco work by Dahlgren, by the way) over which A23H applies ever-changing sketches of anti-stereotypic intolerance, the terrorist-turned-guitar slinger remaining in jingling-harmonic mode for minutes before starting to execute abnormally quick repetitive phrases mixing Hans Reichel and Jeff Beck with fingers stuck in a high-voltage outlet. I wonder what the guitarist's hair looked like at the finish of this section, which Rosen underlines with the hardest accompaniment since John Bonham in "Dazed and confused". Throughout such moments, when the whole nears a cathartic state, all musicians accelerating and/or squealing and/or punching each other's face with sneering blasts, one thinks of punk - a supposedly "violent" expression - and laughs hard. The same (I mean laughing hard) happened to this writer after reading an online review of this CD which, after an endless river of vacuous words, spelled the record as "boring". The guy probably played this stuff as a next-room background while momma was serving him his ravioli, yet another wannabe looking to be hired at the post office while insisting in writing about things that he can't comprehend. Five Euros to the first who guesses his nationality. Meanwhile, enjoy the expedition's outcome - they came back healthy. Me, even healthier.

7K OAKS - 7000 Oaks (Die Schachtel)

In the summer of 2007, after many months of intense correspondence and plans to subvert the order of things all over the world, Lee Cho and Pi Too decided to secretly meet in a remote place of central Italy. Oops, sorry - wrong tape. Rewind.
7k Oaks is a project born from a pre-planned Italian visit by Alfred Harth, who - accompanied by the indefatigable, clever-minded Mathias Schü ler - made a long trip through Europe that year driving a BMW station wagon. In between the architectural beauties and the interminable highways there was some work to do, along the lines of "taking photographs, eating well, giving a poor man the chance to get a laptop and, at last, playing". Five Italians were waiting for Mr. 23 and his sax and clarinet in a torrid August: an odd couple with about 18 cats as sons - featuring Microbo The Immortal among them - and three excellent musicians. Massimo Pupillo aka Zu, bass deconstructionist of ascertained fame who had already played with AH before, brought in Fabrizio Spera and Luca Venitucci who, besides being two nice instrumentalist specimens (drums, keyboards, accordion and various kinds of electronic and concrete manipulation) and having collaborated with people such as John Butcher, John Edwards, Blast, Tim Hodgkinson, Zeitkratzer and many others, are the organizational stalwarts thanks to which Roman audiences are today able to see and hear the world's most advanced improvisers, from Jack Wright to Cremaster, not to mention the plethora of important names they invited in the past. Recorded in a single afternoon at the Diapason studio in Rome (defined "vintage style" by the uncontrollable Seoul Man), "7000 Oaks" is a CD whose main character lies in the incredible balance achieved by its frequently raucous voices, often heavily modified - as an example, Pupillo's bass sounds at times more like an overdriven guitar (hear him squealing and sneering in "Foxp2", a spectacular free-for-all punch-out peculiarly ending in quasi-tranquillity that just can't leave indifferent, the players seemingly bitten by an army of pyromaniac tarantulas). No prominence whatsoever, a true collective effort that showcases the brilliance, maturity and raging abilities of seasoned creative artists, with the addition of electronics. The album's nucleus is the 20-minute "Strategy of tension", an initially restrained improvisation where sounds creep in little by little, an incipient tumour in an apparently healthy person. When after a while the music decides to abandon its cocoon, the contrast between the filtered curiosity of Harth's sucking contortions and the destabilizing hue and cry of Venitucci's wheezing machine introduces a final crescendo where, in spurts, Pupillo and Spera create a rusty structure to something that essentially has never taken a definite shape. "Pi Too" (here we go again) begins with Harth's garrulous sax paralleled by Venitucci's Tippett-like piano, then the iron pumped up by Pupillo and Spera raises the intensity muscle to dangerous levels in two minutes, only to shift to "full-fury" gear in the conclusive segment. Great piece, the best with "Foxp2" (a pattern, anyone?). Also exciting is the sinister bass riff at the beginning of "The invisible tower", upon which the drummer applies a groove à la Pierre Van Der Linden before the alien melody makers return to the centre of the ring exchanging accordion left hooks and tenor uppercuts, while the rhythm section - does this definition make any sense? - observes sardonically how blood gets spilled everywhere, continuing the game with skeletal reflections on the verge of feedback and hum. Finalizing the deal, let me say that this album offers more than I could reasonably expect. It sounds hot - and not because of the high temperature of the day in which it was created - growing (and grooving) with each new listen.

ONJO - Live Vol.2 Parallel Circuit (doubtmusic)

The origins of ONJO - and of this pair of live albums - have been dealt with in my review of "Live Vol.1 Series Circuit" (same label), to which readers should refer for further information. This is the second 2-CD set derived from the same tour, offering additional merchandising baits for those who never have enough of powerful crosses of derringer jazz and - yes, let's use it - "punk" attitude alimented by scary musicianship. It only remains to analyze the contents so let's go to work, starting from the first disc. "Shichinin no Keiji" could very well be a Mediterranean song, opening with rather cantabile lines upon which the ensemble launches repeated calls to serenity, although of a slightly disturbed kind. The explosive surcharge characterizing Eric Dolphy's "Gazzelloni" - a fabulous version if there was ever one - incinerates any potential proposition of overindulgence with a mixture of ferocious drive and Zappa-esque irony, the whole making me want to dance like a drunken bear (I managed to contain myself, though). The final fusion of nuclear-powered sax squeals must be heard to understand. "Te recuerdo Amanda/Song for Che /Reducing agent" starts with choral lyricism that will cause the most nostalgic ones to reach for the handkerchief, then switches to a demonstration of brute force that makes the originals almost sound outmoded. Great drum solo by Yoshigaki Yasuhiro, by the way. "Super Jetter" begins mysteriously to become an entrancing disjointed lullaby made of bits and pieces, while "ANODEONJO" features an outraging fusillade that would bring existential doubts to Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music", a veritable attack on the listener's auricular membranes, saluted with the instrumental reproduction of a clash between a dozen trains. Disc two: "Lupin the third - Theme of Walther" will find many Italians happy, as this cartoon was (and still is) a sort of cult around these lands. Not for this writer, though - give me Gusztav and Professor Balthazar any moment. But this rendition is dazzling, energizing at the maximum level, swinging as hell - with a great guitar solo by the chief for good measure. "Double command O" lasts nearly half an hour, yet another specimen of Otomo's experiments with multiple orchestral intersections co-led by himself and, in this case, Itoken. Now, you already guessed that reticence is not one of the principal aspects of this orchestra. Well, the "double commands" can be used as a kind of introduction to ONJO's overall artistic conception, presenting continuous successions of interactive playing and genre-abolishing freedom which I won't even try to describe; suffice to say that this is significant music played by artists whose virtuosity is genuine, not iron-pumping for their egos. Anyway, it must be told that the reed/string cooperation in this track is next to radio-therapeutic treatment, delivering us from any residual cell of Mozart baloney and Vivaldi saccharine. Two classics end the adventure: Dolphy's "Something sweet, something tender", a black-mood interpretation of this piece that the band executes with increasing heartbeat speed in emotional suspension, and Jim O'Rourke's "Eureka" - first whispered by Kahimi Karie, then the conclusive liberation, a hymn to sing until becoming hoarse, deaf, and definitively delighted. One can see Alfred Harth's lenses getting damp while blasting out in this extraordinary finale. And, since seeing is believing, why not taking advantage of Guillaume Dero's movie about Otomo, recently published by La Huit in France? Those who are interested can find it here. Irresistible marketing strategies, especially when the products are this desirable.


In Alfred Harth's website - if you're snoopy like I surmise - there's a page that should tickle unpronounceable fantasies, a place full of CDRs documenting unofficially recorded adventures that quite often are even worthier than what's already known (and believe me, it ain't easy: this man's archival material will turn many collectors crazy). This is a compilation that the protagonist prepared for his own pleasure, and could certainly act as a perfect introduction to the sonic universe of our favourite "Frank-S(e)oul-Further" (pun definitely intended).
The opening couple of pieces is the one that, curiously, sounds "older" in terms of recording quality despite being the newest, so to speak, in date. Captured at Chicago's Empty Bottle in 1997, the trio of Harth, Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake are the nearest thing to pure jazz that we can find in this disc. The playing is instantly superb; in "Chic Ago" we see A23H blowing fuses pretty soon with typical lyrical fury and firing desperation, Kessler mixing swing, knottiness and consciousness, Drake utilizing drums like a painter stroking a canvas, placing "those" snare hits and "those" tom rolls exactly where not expected. A magmatic flow with serious purpose, a great start altogether. "At the Empty Bottle" exploits a calmer mood, yet the music remains intense to the level of pregnant self-containment, a gorgeous dialogue between clarinet and double bass highlighting the most beautiful section.
"Han Guk" - from the Frankfurt Jazzfestival 1995 - is a charming selection with David Murray, Fred Hopkins and Dougie Bowne, based on the common elements that Harth found in traditional Korean court music and jazz. It moves slowly upon repetitive bass figurations, the saxophones trading serene chants and bad intentions at the same time, the boiling drummer launching at times the piece towards the stratosphere in washes of pure bliss for the audience. The project was meant to be continued but, unfortunately, the death of Hopkins and a severe accident occurred to Bowne prevented this fine group to proceed to a future.
A quasi Coltranesque prologue is featured in "Ending peace", played in 1993 by the QuasarQuartet (check the review of "POPendingEYE", ladies and gentlemen). Simon Nabatov, Mark Dresser and Vladimir Tarasov join the Reed Man in a joint venture which, in the space of a few minutes, patchworks a deviated Tschaikovskij, free jazz and a hymn to the high spheres of sax-ism which, between you, me and the gatepost, works better for the lusty side of our ears than a dose of reductionism. You didn't hear a word from this spy, though.
The duo of Mr.23 and Heinz Sauer, Parcours Bleu a Deux (more about that in the next instalments of the "Memories") gains help from electronics and tapes in a kind of improvisational poetic that's as theatrically concentrated as technically advanced, and might probably be appreciated by experts exclusively (time to shift mental gears, people). Excellent material it does remain, with unexpected vocal apparitions and ethereal dissonances as a morphing background to the sax pairing. Taped in Frankfurt in 1990, this is the most impenetrable segment of the whole set. A long shot from Charlie Parker indeed.
Did someone remember that Günter Müller was a drummer before devoting himself to present-day EAI? Listen to him remodelling the audience's faces in this fabulous track at Willisau, 1987. Wanna know who else plays here? Get a seat: AH, Phil Minton, Sonny Sharrock, Andres Bosshard. They all go WAY out in various circumstances. Harth appears in need of an exorcism first, then recollects the shreds, finally deciding to cry his lungs skywards to impossible upper partials. Sharrock goes from involuntary serialism to the ghost version of "My Sharona" travelling through the outer spaces of overdriven dissonant plucking, just as Minton enters the scene with that bunch of strange guttural animals that he always carries in the belly. I would have loved being a microphone stand that night. Fantastic stuff - anything else in your cardboard boxes by this lineup, Alfred?
The record ends with "Honeymoon after 1st world marriage". It's a tranquil - yet not overly sweet - composition from 1984, with Charlie Mariano, Karl Berger, Peter Kowald, Trilok Gurtu and Barry Altschul. It was penned as a commemorative response to the participation to a "conference call improvisation", where artists contributed with sounds and poems while in simultaneous communication (a relatively pioneer concept in that period). The name of that performance was "Marry the world by conference call", so there you go. When an artist has such a wealth of ideas in the brain, they must exit one way or another. Come think of it, look at the names that played with A23H on this CDR only: enough for three "regular" careers elsewhere.

GESTALT ET JIVE - Nouvelle cuisine / Quartquintet (Moers Music)
Gestalt et Jive in Wikipedia

The snapping electricity and seemingly repressed rage that move the pieces comprised by "Nouvelle Cuisine" represent, today like 22 years ago, what justifies the abused term "avantgarde" when a writer deals with about contemporary sound art. Five musicians (Alfred Harth, Steve Beresford, Ferdinand Richard, Uwe Schmitt, Anton Fier) whose creativity has been appreciated time and again, reunited under the flag of a riddling aesthetic that requires the technical foundations typical of the best master instrumentalists but, at the same moment, is fueled by an energy that, to this day, feels dangerously "near punk", the whole dressed by a love of musical theatre and almost exaggerated gesture which sounds timely, utterly resonant with the music itself. This album spells "fermentation" more than "reflection"; you'll find difficult patterns and odd metres ("Das Wasser ist heisz" is a cross of electric-chair improvisation, dramatic vocalism and acrid non-acceptance of the listener's needs, a beautiful hybrid of Etron Fou and Cassiber), there are simpler rhythms too ("Desert lips") plus moments of total mayhem where the participants transmutate themselves into oracles for the future of a visionary attitude that, two decades later, is again struggling to be recognized by ears whose wax has by now entered their owners' life at large. Each one of the players - except Fier - is allowed a solo spot (Alfred Harth's "Tierlied" for three superimposed clarinets had me thinking of Aqsak Maboul, while Beresford is submerged by his own trombones in "Phoney Mazuma"; Richard's Fender VI reverberates in the arpeggios of "Une Princesse", and Schmitt is featured in the sketchy "Five starfish" for tomtoms and bass drum). The Farfisa organ that Beresford repeatedly uses would kill Ray Manzarek's patience; just listen to the incredibly contorted "Successful gardening begins here" where Harth, here on tenor sax, lets it all go with one of his customary burning solos that could melt the wings of angels. The absurd comparison of regular and programmed drums in "Our cruises to the sun" (Fier and Schmitt play together in this track) snatches beauty off the jaws of horribly inadmissible rhythmic mixtures. Gestalt et Jive have no time for hokum presentations, being somehow radiosensitive to the slightest impulse, which gets converted into radical, unremorseful inflexibility: no easy ways out, everything must be devoured at once - bitter, sour, excessively sweet, or how they decide that it should be. We can always enjoy the fantastic interaction of Richard with both drummers (hear the interlocking textures of "Freundliche Warnung..." and remain in silent awe) to save us from getting lost in the dissonant maze; strange kind of quadratures await for the rhythmically unpaired to clutch and hold to. Lazybones and tallow-faced sermon deliverers are not wanted: this is stuff for those who still have the will of screaming inside, even if smiling outside. The specimens that are going to prevail after the redde rationem, although the blood will be ebullient because of an incurable polyrhythmic fever.

GESTALT ET JIVE - Gestalt et Jive ( Creative Works Records)
Gestalt et Jive in Wikipedia

The concept behind Gestalt et Jive is pretty easy to explain, and inversely proportional to the complexity of their music. Comprising members from three different countries and languages, the group was founded in 1984 by Alfred Harth with the intent of creating "hot and danceable free improvisation". The original line-up was made of Harth, Ferdinand Richard (of Etron Fou LeLoublan fame), Steve Beresford and Uwe Schmitt. The latter was replaced on drums by Anton Fier and, later on, Peter Hollinger. All of these astute musicians except Hollinger were involved in the "Mark I" version of G&J, well represented by their first album "Nouvelle Cuisine" (which I'll talk about in another occasion). But I felt necessary to start this argument with the "Mark II", as the skeletal-yet-athletic trio of Harth, Hollinger and Richard is an accurate example of the so-called "poetic" of such an abnormal band. This record - originally released as a double vinyl LP in 1986 - fully satisfies Harth's demand of "never making up pre-concepts and never playing compositions" in this setting. The instant architectures of "Gestalt et Jive" follow a modicum of rules, one of them being the development of several "fragments" ("Versatzstücke", in 23's words) within a single "tune", snippets that the musicians can mix, destroy and shift in a brain-wrecking cut-up (John Zorn is not the only one who used to do these things, you know...). To facilitate this feeling of perennial mutability, the artists also included sudden changes of instruments during the performance; while Hollinger "limits" himself to drums and percussion (which is enough to send many colleagues into hiding for years; Hollinger is BAD), Harth uses tenor and alto sax, trombone, trumpet, bass clarinet, mouthpieces and voice, while Richard gives birth to oblique figurations and odd-metred arpeggios on the neck of his Fender VI. There is much to like for everybody, including - well, yes - fans of Etron Fou (are there any still around?), as Richard's timbre is very influential in its unmistakable coolness, at times literally cloning the irony of that group's peg-legged time signatures. The riff-based follies characterizing some of the "tunes" highlight the unstoppable cerebral activity of the players, Harth genially fathering one incongruous coup de tete after another while he transforms himself in a depraved muezzin first, a dejected Tuvan later on, all the while incinerating everyone trying to get to terms with his honking promiscuity and blaring rage. Hollinger, whose semi-obscurity is totally unjustified, is one of the best drummers of the last thirty years, a scary independence of the limbs at the basis of a style that lets us picture sparkles flying from his set. Get revitalized by three ugly ducklings who, more than 20 years ago, were already looking down from the top of the hill; matter-of-factly, there's nobody today playing music at this technical level with the same evil intentions. Dance on that 15/8, nerd, or these piranhas will eat you.


Luckily, in the so-called “summer of love” of 1967 there were people who didn’t necessarily need to dance to the tune of Jefferson Airplane and the likes. An interchangeable collective of classically trained German instrumentalists, Just Music (aka “New Thing Orchestra” in a few occasions) was also the first “humble but ambitious” ensemble that Alfred Harth formed to express different “opinions” about that unpronounceable disease named “free jazz”. This task was made much harder by the mental closure of Frankfurt’s jazz scene, at that time mostly revolving around a single deity - Albert Mangelsdorff - who kept refusing any contact whatsoever with Harth and his comrades, also calling free improvisers with unrepeatable adjectives. The same Mangelsdorff will ironically become an icon of the genre later on, but that’s another story; as we all know, official reports almost never coincide with the reality of facts. After several participations to various European festivals and TV shows, in 1970 the group got in touch with members of AACM, and both Harth and bassist Peter Stock became a part of the European Free Jazz Orchestra for an important festival in Frankfurt. In the 1967-70 span, the saxophonist had extended his interests in multimedia performances, including fireworks, breaking glass, concerts in churches playing other instruments without knowing the necessary techniques, and so forth. Many events and many sounds, contributing to define Just Music like an underground icon for which, mysteriously, there seems to be no real interest in resurrecting the scarce recordings that they released. One of them is this 1969 album, which - if you spotted the label - could look like a surprise given what Manfred Eicher’s imprint publishes nowadays (needless to say, the record is long out of print). Divided into two long improvisations, one per side, “Just Music” sounds extremely modern to this day; it wouldn’t fall out of place on Martin Davidson’s Emanem, the extreme variety of timbres and dynamics at the basis of a spontaneous expression that results as completely unincorporated to these ears. The involved players in this instance were Alfred Harth (tenor sax, clarinet, trumpet), Dieter Herrmann (trombone), Johannes Krämer (electric guitar), Franz Volhard (cello), Thomas Stöwsand (cello), Peter Stock (bass) and Thomas Cremer (drums, clarinet). The musicians also use voices, mouthpieces, whistles, percussion and other useful things to create an anarchic swarm of howling tones, crying jams and cultivated virtuosity, the latter clashing - very effectively - with the air of thorough freedom that transpires from every minute of the LP. The presence of two cellos establishes a “contemporary classic” feel which is often negated by roaring outbreaks where both percussion and voices contribute to almost orgiastic environments; there are even a few moments of relative tranquillity, but one always has to sleep with one eye open. Probably, Mr.Eicher got a little bit scared by these guys, despite the fact that it was Just Music. Old Uncle Garbarek is certainly a more reassuring presence these days, but what about giving the reissue rights to someone who still wants to release Good Music?

TRIO VIRIDITAS - WaxWebWind@eBroadway (Clean Feed)

The most energetic side of Alfred Harth's creativity, the one which fathers his incredibly inventive solo efforts, should never let us forget that the man was grown and trained, first and foremost, as a jazz player. An album like this is here to remind us, and it's just unfortunate that this trio does not exist anymore as, sadly, bassist Wilber Morris (brother of composer Lawrence "Butch" Morris") left us in 2002, the same year in which the record was released. Additional material by these gentlemen will see the light in 2008, though - on this very same label. Harth maintains that Trio Viriditas would have had a great future, because the special chemistry between him, Morris and percussionist Kevin Norton was felt as something truly special. In the latter's words, "...each concert was a revelation of sonic, formal and even inter-personal possibilities", the music indeed possessing a kind of "warm" vibe that's rarely heard in contemporary jazz and remains evident also during apparently hostile fragment: check "Braggadocio", with its convulsive intersections between Norton's mallets and Harth's piquant phrases, Morris calmly swinging a steady pulse in the background. The bassist defined this group as a "democratic working unit", and indeed there is no doubt about the perfect equilibrium characterizing the material, which to these ears stands out as a well-tempered mixture of reciprocal understanding, immediate intuition and refined technique. "Auda-city", for example, begins with a sparse dialogue between Morris and Norton, in which Harth enters almost without being noticed, his sax a gentle breeze of longitudinal savoir-faire that furnishes the music with a touch of alternative elegance. "Starbucks" and "Starbucks Variation" would have made Eric Dolphy quite envious; both were penned by AH, who at that time lived in New York's Lower East Side and wrote the first compositions for the trio in the local restaurants. The only track authored by Morris is the quasi-ritualistic "Interstice", where the bassist accompanies with his voice a dissonant invocation underlined by Norton's elastic articulations, while Harth keeps one foot in the tradition and the other in a "no tomorrow" consciousness, his tenor calling out souls from graveyards in an energizing crescendo. The chamber-tinged "Fuer die Katz's Deli(ght)" is another example of Mr.23's versatility (by the way, the album title refers to the internet of course, and "www" is thrice the 23rd letter in the alphabet...), a filamentous liaison that ends rather abruptly after making us salivate in expectancy, while "Cue(ball) #1" is the only track credited to Kevin Norton, six minutes of ample intervals and "withdrawn extroversion", all players very concentrated throughout. "Major Airports" meshes the musicians' instrumental voices in a final jam where Morris and Harth wave to each other while directed to different circuits that, inexplicably, lead them to the same destination, with Norton using all his palette's colours to depict the unstable passing of a by now in(di)visible time. The appropriate seal on a noble release.

ALFRED HARTH - T_ERROR + kr ./. jp (Slowalk)

There is no doubt that Alfred Harth is a man whose sense of rebellion against injustice and overlooked historical occurrences is extremely developed, and his refusal to behave like an ignorant - shrugging shoulders, raising eyebrows, wearing smirk smiles and "who cares?" looks - resides inside his life's principles. This DVD/CD set contains many examples of Harth's unapologetic creativity, constituting one of the best openings for those who would like to try and sketch a path through his artistic career and human convictions. "Terror is error", an apparently obvious statement, is not so evident when we think about our daily doses of fake news and false demons that governments and their media networks would like us to believe in. Harth's stance about these facts is adamant, and no anti-war movement or Michael Moore movie will convince the knowledgeable ones that things can really change. All it takes to seduce these self-proclaimed dissidents is a bundle, and the involved forces in this struggle are clearly uneven.
The "T_ERROR" DVD is a nerve-twitching document in that sense. It is mostly built upon a continuos vortical superimposition of sources that belong both to Harth and his partner, visual artist Yi Soonjoo, seamed with historical films from the Second World War and various kinds of TV samples, complete with short clips of William S. Burroughs. To represent disinformation, Harth uses a technique called "walk through tools": he photographs a video monitor, xeroxes the photo, records the xerox with a camcorder and so forth, thus alterating shapes and colours of the original object until it becomes another thing altogether. What television constantly perpetrates, Harth symbolizes through his pictorial work. Describing this video in detail would be foolish; one should go with the flow and remain nailed to the couch, iced by thousands of multidimensional frames, all the while listening to a fantastic soundtrack which melts the best and the worst of our daily listening: the author's polychrome visions and the bloodcurdling cries of an about-to-be-beheaded prisoner are nearer than you might think. As a bonus, there is also a short extract from a live performance by AH and Kim Hyung Tae at the Ssamzie Space in Seoul, "Provisional Government"; you can see the artists improvising over some of the images that became the basis of "T_ERROR". Nice touch.
One of Alfred Harth's main goals is bringing to a wider attention the cultural and material damages that Japan subjected Korea to between 1910 and 1945, and for which Koreans have not received sufficient repayment or excuses. In the notes, the author raises five sharp questions dealing with this issue, his hope being that, sooner or later, Japan will act civilly and recognize their past (T)errors. The "kr ./. jp" CD is Harth's way to represent this proposition; lasting less than 40 minutes, it is once again a sock in the eye of convention à la 23. "1st Question" is a classic attraction of opposites, in the form of a "hardship vs symphonic" melange born from Harth's collation of orchestral samples and abrasive string instruments. "3rd Question" continues that war of attrition, this time in a more electroacoustic-oriented style, as strident acuteness (perilous for the ears, if you wear headphones!), repeated skips and interferent emissions are layered upon Harth's sweeter wind tones and synthetic waves in a fascinating futuristic counterpoint that's also one of the most minimal pieces ever conceived by the Frankfurter, although somehow connected with EAI's more attended quarters. "5th Question" is quintessential Harth, an omnicomprehensive pastiche of radio samples, accelerated tapes and rhythm machines working at an infernal rate while warped orchestras and over-energized, fast-forwarded saxophones whose tone is a munchkin alien's cry take our cerebrum into new dimensions of explosive hyperactivity, culminating in a snippet of the "Jaws" soundtrack that brings the whole to conclusion in an oceanic wash - or is that a white-noise cumulus? "Contury Cheiron MMV" (you have to love these titles...) is the final and longest track: Harth's dangerously intelligent sax fantasies introduce a collage of oblong shortwaves, pulsating hiss and dismembered articulations over which all kinds of wind-instrument evolutions create a frighteningly dense texture; one can choose to follow a single pattern - the noise, the slow melodies, the fly-buzz nervousness, the marching band-like fragments - or just decide to be completely bubbled over by the majestic mayhem. Things get kinda calmer halfway through the piece; a tranquil piano enters the picture, a few reflective chords underlining simpler scenes, but it doesn't last. In fact, a techno-scented sequenced pattern becomes the basis of robotical anarchy, where outlandish harmonies and dissonant acquaintances between different timbral families flow into a conscious sense of guilt (which is exclusively mine, though...) until cut'n'paste devastation is finally reached. Everything is disobedience, and Alfred's never ending phrases get glued all over the place with convincing authority, forcing us to reconsider our position in the superficial chit-chats about matters that decide millions of people's destiny. Pre-recorded bagpipes, jew's harp and faraway melancholic sax lines seal another obscure genreless crystal. Total music? Yes, it is.

ALFRED HARTH - Nu:clear re:actor (0 Back)

This double helping of intelligent chaos and refined cut'n'paste, a fundamental chapter in Alfred Harth's "Mother Of Pearl" series, is essentially a computer music treasure trove containing an awful lot of messages camouflaged in its complex, often impregnable structure. In this case, the composer's political statement is very clear, as the two discs are respectively an aural manifestation of his thoughts about the North Korean nuclear issue and a "sonic time-lapse/slow-motion of 911 twentyhundredone & its aftermath" (sic). By the way, the sum of 9, 11 and 2+0+0+1 totals 23 - not the first coincidence that parallels the author's life (and favourite number) with historical events. Even the record's title comes handy for multi-reference purpose: Harth used indeed sounds of reactors among the various sources, but the double dots divide it into "New clear (re) actor" which is a hint to Kim Jong II, ruler of North Korea, notorious film fanatic and "one of the first guys (after the Cold War) before Iranians to re-act to US politics in a very astonishing self-conscious way". Who else could have ever concealed such a wealth of information in two words? Harth reports that he also utilized "distorted shouts of Korean shamans, archaic sounds, voices, trumpets as well as the plateaux of clicks and cuts". Especially in the second CD, the results of this preparation are breathtaking, eliciting a sense of acute, if conscious anxiousness. Additional contributors include Olivier Griem, Yi Soonjoo, Choi Sun Bae, Joe Foster, Phil Minton, Domestic Stories. With "Nu:clear re:actor" Harth confirms himself to be one of the most perceptive artists around, in constant search of definitions for something that looks evident on the surface but hides lots of obscure, often undesirable truths instead. Those who can't decode his forebodings and consequent elucubrations will find this music difficult to penetrate, despite the presence of several elements that sound familiar. Speaking about the first disc, "Tat tvam asi (das bist du)" is built upon a deep vocal growl whose mystical nuances become pretty scary with the passage of time, while all around percussion and electronics create a series of drops and bumps that contribute to the painting of a desolated landscape of hopeless abandon, the whole surrounded by an electronic mantle that causes the receivers to remain stuck to their seat, uncapable of changing their mind about the next gesture or even the next thought to be made. The subsequent "Nodong" contains elements that border on the primitive, yet the studio treatment deforms those possibilities into utter distortion and outlandish degradation until our mind enters a real-time nightmare of the worst species. "Vestiges of Japanese imperialism" is a wonderful trip through premonitory whirlwinds and minimalist melodies of a remodelled song, constantly scarred by shortwave frequencies and definitively altered by what sounds like a dozen radios playing all at once. "Magic lantern" uses irregular drumming and shapeless utterances to build its momentum amidst interferences of any kind; one feels compelled to close the eyes and travel through uncommon psychic dimensions. "Stellen des Todes" features whispers that are impressively similar to the ones used in Frank Zappa's "Are you hung up?", opening track of "We're only in it for the money", and is terminated by some kind of looped mechanic seagull. The second disc - whose titles all begin with the letter "T" - immediately finds Phil Minton's employment as a strangled shouter introducing amorphous rappers in "Trace". "Tower" is a clamorous juxtaposition of explosions and various dramatic noises, probably the most detailed aural photograph that Harth could have taken to represent "the moment"; everything seems to dissolve and self-destroy in a growingly apprehensive audiodrama, an electronic low drone underlining the whole in selected moments of the piece. "Tat" gives hiss a rhythmic significance, the music based on an incessant propulsion highlighted by almost incomprehensible disturbance and omnipresent distorted voices. The superimposition of trumpets and menacing buzz in "Tinctur" is an important juncture in the totality of this record, demonstrating that we can never expect anything foreseeable from this outsider. Particularly fascinating to these ears is the use of "fake Hollywood" soundtrack snippets in this segment, a shot to the "many American cinematic models of the real destruction of the skyscrapers". "Tube" mixes drum'n'bass and no-input counter-sociology to wake us up from the narcotic belief in a "better world", while "Tang" is, purely and simply, a masterpiece that I'll let yourself to discover and enjoy. I'd need another thousand words to better explain something that, more than a sheer "release", is basically the detailed portrait of an artist's awareness. This music punches hard and sharp, still retaining its ferocious drive and documentary power after years from its release (in 2003). "Nu:clear re:actor" is an unsung gem that needs to be heard, one of the very best efforts by Alfred Harth.

ALFRED HARTH - eShip sum (1000 CD)

Mother of pearl is very much loved by Alfred Harth, for several reasons. The inlays of the 23 keys in his saxophone, first of all; also, the traditional Corean artworks, attentively studied by our man. The first CD in his "mother of pearl" series, whose cover represents longevity, sun and moon through symbols made of the same material, "eShip sum" (2003) is also one of his most accomplished and beautiful records, being veiled with deep consciousness and permeated by a lingering sadness that no irony can overcome. Limited to 1000 signed copies (of which Mr.23 has still a few left - act now), it was composed in Harth's own Laubhuette Studio in Seoul and represents his homage to Corea and "its virtues and beauties". Besides the boss, who played about ten instruments and fine-tuned all the parts into cohesion, Choi Sun Bae's cornet is featured in four tracks while Yi Soonjoo lends her voice and Joe Foster his cornet, one track each. The first pieces are so intensely profound that alone are worth of owning the record. "Sejongno Boulevard" is, as Harth describes it, the "Champs Elysees of Seoul"; its melancholy is elicited by recurring piano chords that, remaining undercurrent throughout the piece, define a sort of "jazz minimalism" upon which the reeds describe a crepuscular atmosphere with very sensual slow lines, multitracked in hypnotic fashion; a splendid opening. "Neoview Mine" is a thoughtful reflection for bass clarinet that after a few measures flows into a pastiche of sampladelia and circular repetition, yet maintaining the mood on the sombre side, while in "Der Feinheit Wesentliches" more sax superimpositions intertwine with a McCoy Tyner-like pianistic progression that halfway through the piece becomes a hiccuping loop upon which muted trumpet lines and vocal moans go hand in hand. Things move faster in "Celadon", which is the name of the ancient Corean art of porcelain (whose fruits, according to the author's view, were mostly stolen during the Japanese occupation from 1906 to 1945) and above all in "De gloria Oliviae", a peculiar cross-pollination of sequenced techno-dissonance and snippets of orchestral music, reminiscent of black-and-white movie soundtracks, that morphs into a gorgeous layering of strings, reeds and car horns blemished by studio-conceived interferences. "Godswing" sounds like a Coltrane cut-up in a muffled mix, swarmed by an army of voices and reversed tapes that ends in pure mayhem, while another milestone of the album is "Buy the way", a slow "ballad" where a voice that I perceive as familiar (Chet Baker?) mumbles a few words before Harth tears our heart out with a sorrowful, if oblique recollection of unknown memories. "Shambhala" could inculcate a few notions of mentally disturbed ambient muzak to many dilettantes, being a fabulous voyage through the oneirism of our unconfessed radiophonic fantasies: from warm psychedelic illusions to fractured post-jazz rock in two minutes. "Leganza Daewoo Call Taxi" would make Glenn Miller proud at first, angry at last (picture a sci-fi variation on "Moonlight Serenade" bothered by alien videogames), and the conclusive "Nitya-mukta" is Alfred's response to lounge music, in his hands becoming an obsessive nightmare, a never ending two-chord samba danced by a couple of drunkards at 4 in the morning. But the bar has already closed and the orchestra didn't realize it. Fabulous stuff - give me this over Arto Lindsay anytime. How do you spell "delightful" in Corean?


"I want more POPEYE", writes Alfred Harth. "Possessing uncompromising moral standards and resorting to force when threatened". He also refers to "my artist's way through postmodernism", which at the beginning of the 90s brought him to grow tired of "all those mixes, remixes, postmodernisms and pop" that he had gone through during the previous decade: he was ready to return to a "pure" approach, essentially based on real players and real instruments. Enter Russian drummer Vladimir Tarasov from the Ganelin Trio, a long-time admirer of Harth, met for the first time in 1992 when Mr.23 was invited by Moscow TV for a program about him; the next character after his portrait would be none other that Popeye the Sailor (hence the album's title, a word game with the ironical "end" of the "pop phase" of Alfred's career). Tarasov had imported all the early Harth albums in the USSR, contributing to make him a Michael Jackson-like star in the Northern area of the country; playing together became a necessary consequence. The QuasarQuartet, formed by the saxophonist in the same year, sees Harth on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Tarasov on drums and percussion, plus the fabulous pianist Simon Nabatov and the excellent Vitold Rek on bass. "POPendingEYE" features two half-hour tracks in which everything (Coltrane-derived ascensions, logical freedom, contaminations of marching band rhythms, folk melodies, pyrotechnical pianism, sadly pensive reed lines) obeys to a logic that's inspired by Harth's idea of "opening to the East": in fact, besides this new musical situation, he met his current partner - South Korea's visual artist Soonjoo Lee - right at that time (hers is Alfred's photo gracing the digipak). Even the track titles, "1st2nd3rd&4th" and "BukzokWestWostokSude", respectively refer to the world's divisions ("...we know what the 3rd world is, but which would be the 1st?" says Harth) and to a mixture of Korean and English language to describe directions. And many directions this music points at, with a stimulating alternance of high-charge improvisations and melodic crystals that doesn't remind us about the players' originary lands, but it rather stands as a primary example of reciprocal instant comprehension: no language is a barrier when the instruments are the ones doing the talking. "POPendingEYE" - a meaningful record in the free music scene of the early 90s - has remained pretty obscure despite its quality; but it sure helped Alfred Harth to be "strong to the finish", as the Sailor himself would have it. The fact is, his creativity shined then and it still does. What finish, then? And what's your favourite brand of spinach, Alf?

ALFRED 23 HARTH - Sweet Paris (Free Flow Music)

Alfred Harth says that "Paris is a city where clichés are so much alive, and love and death are really close to each other; you can feel it intensely when you live there". Thus it should not come as a surprise that "Sweet Paris" is quite a difficult listen at first: one needs to give it full dedication to be completely rewarded. We could define it a studio collage, or a long text-sound piece if you will, even if it's divided into 14 different tracks. Among the basic foundations of the album are computer processed music, cassette recordings with short extracts of Harth's various projects over the years (including his oldest recording, a pretty sad "dixie jazz-like" blues from 1965 aptly named "Melancholy blues") and of course the record's basic theme, namely the numerous letters that the composer received from his friend Wolf Pehlke, who portrayed a city in which he reportedly "was exploding" and sent his reflections to Harth (at that time moving backward and forward between Frankfurt and the French capital), who finally edited them into fragments of texts that Rebecca Pauli and Peter Bauer read throughout the CD. The importance of "Sweet Paris" resides in Harth's desire to leave behind the bitterness deriving from the end of important personal and artistic relationships from the previous years and find new grounds to explore, both in art and architecture. Those who - like yours truly - aren't familiar with the German language should approach the record without thinking too much about meanings and interpretations, concentrating instead on the voices' timbral character and cadenzas amidst the urban recordings and segments of "regular" music that grace the disc. There's a lot to be discovered in that sense: Peter Kowald, Paul Lovens, Steve Beresford, Ferdinand Richard, Christoph Anders are only a few of the grey eminences present here. In particular, the Gestalt Et Jive track is great: from free improvisation to pop riffing in two minutes, Harth soloing like a madman over an idiotic vamp at the end. There are also a couple of strange "soundtrack-like" instrumentals characterized by the preset sounds of Korg synthesizers, so warped that they sound great nevertheless, fake drums and all; one of them is the pensive "Sweet & bitter little death", the album's "end titles song", with the boss engaged in a sensitive bass clarinet contemplation. But, forced to choose a favourite, I'd say "Crimée Rome", an easy-going (but not too much) melodic cutie with a few angularities, played by LA Guardia (Lars Rudolph, Stephan Wittwer, Wietn Wito plus Mr.23) that reminds me of the times in which I run a program in a "democratic" Roman radio whose honchos were so open minded that I was thrown out - twice - after a few months of serious music (yes, I played this track too) and on-the-air uneasy truths. Sweet Freedom of Speech.

ALFRED HARTH - Pollock (Orkestrion Schallfolien)

"Pollock" derives from a particular moment in Alfred Harth's artistic life. Between the end of the 80s and the first half of the 90s, he was a semi-constant presence in Paris, trying to get engaged with the local avant scene (he also played with the Christian Vander Trio in an unpleasing occasion: he was in fact assaulted by a Magma fan on the stage, luckily without physical consequence). Although both Cassiber and Goebbels & Harth had been very well received in the past by the French audiences, 23 was finding some difficulty to penetrate a "fraternity" that seemed hermetically sealed, at least for certain kinds of musical personalities. He decided then to take it easy and dedicate himself to his own activities and personal life, which resulted in the "Sweet Paris" CD (which will be reviewed next month). Just before he left - we're talking 1995 - Harth got in touch with several smarter local guys like Steve Arguilles and Noel Akchote and, above all, with Corin Curschellas, who introduced him to Frank Holger Rothkamm, a "fresh and brilliant remixer in NYC" at that time. Meanwhile a guy named Ben Oofana, a healer and great admirer of Harth's work, had financed him with 2000 US dollars, which were reinvested in the creation of "Pollock". The circle was finally closed. Harth, Rothkamm, Elliott Sharp and Tomas Peter Fey are the hands and brains that remodeled the music of nine then out of print LPs by the boss, transforming a remix project in something quite different. The thirteen tracks are indeed mysterious, spreading unquietly and frantically self-decomposing in completely different ways. Extremely musical beguiling loops are the main ingredient, especially during some charming, literally spell-binding sections (one of them is the splendid "Eatronic" which closes the CD) but there's also a distinct resemblance to Muslimgauze's music in a couple of pieces featuring Rothkamm, and a great mixture of schizoid jazz and disjointed minimalism in Fey & Harth's "Stereodyn" (all track names are invented). Elsewhere, musique concrete and cyberpunk - yes, Elliott Sharp makes himself heard - go hand in hand with extreme ease, and there are instances in which slowed down voices actually sound like whale songs. In a way, "Pollock" created a genre, maybe more than one, preceding of many years less valuable imitations; yet it went practically forgotten in 1996, year of its release. In this case it's not too late to remedy.


Put two fighting cocks like Peter Brötzmann and Alfred 23 Harth together and they will rip their guts off one another, right? Not completely. You'll be surprised, assuming that you're not in possession of this rare LP, at the fecundity of contrapuntal delikatessen and refined interplay that "Go-No-Go" presents. At that time (1987) Harth was trying to expand his arsenal with different sonic means (Jew's harps, game calls and so on) and, thanks to Brötzmann, also got in touch with the late, great Sonny Sharrock; the trio did play a few live sets but apparently no recording exists of them. Luckily enough, the two reedists entered the FMP studio instead, and here you have the result: thirteen tracks of saxophone (and tarogato) puzzles linking pyrotechnical fantasies, square-shouldered rage, matter-of-fact genius and a constant flux of twisted ideas that would let us slide into euphemism if we defined it "inventiveness". The expected attitude is there too, of course. For example, the title track sounds like a ruinous tumble down an infinite stairway in an heroic effort of remaining in control of the instrumental emission; on the other hand, "Copper sex" finds Harth's voice and Jew's harp creating a "human background" for Brötzmann's pensive (!) phrasing. Someone in those years described this collaboration as "Harth dancing around Brötzmann", but there is much more than that. It often happens that the pairing of two big names produces a lackadaisical flop of a record; needless to say, this is not the case. A CD reissue is here formally demanded.

ALFRED 23 HARTH - Anything goes (Creative Works Records)

Those who think of constantly changing music as enervating should immediately turn their "attention" somewhere else, since these two albums, recorded by Harth halfway through the 80's, a truly bad period for artistic intelligence (indeed, not very much has changed), present hundreds of different approaches and genders which, fused together, feel like a riptide of brain-zapping instantaneity. "Anything goes", released in 1986, is Harth's second production on this label after "Red Art" (more about this one later) and also his first remix; its title refers both to the era in which the record came out and the works of Paul Feyerabend. The LP itself is purely and simply a sampladelia-cum-plunderphonic composition divided in two parts, "Beethoven, anything goes" and "Eris". The author tried, in his own words, to "take three of the strongest music sources of those years, Goebbels, Oswald and Zorn, and make something stronger out of them". By collaging fragments from these artists' releases, Harth engineers a lucid pastiche of electroacoustic matter; the operation's success is guaranteed by a perfect balance of fantasy and technical maturity, for the mix - in terms of volume, imaging and variety of ideas - is next to perfection. This is the deranged TV channel we all dream about: a CNN permutation, hybrid of horror movie and soap opera whose background music could include birds, regular singing, screaming children, nuclear fusion and the 20th Century Fox theme, but also spacey reverberations, a chainsaw-operating maniac and perpendicular TV themes. Whichever side you look at it, a great album.

ALFRED 23 HARTH - Plan Eden (Creative Works Records)

The titles of "Plan Eden", out in 1987, refer to Doris Lessing, Friedrich Nietzsche, Robert Anton Wilson and Harth himself. It's another "separated at birth" statement: the first side is Harth solo on the tenor sax, playing a series of short improvisations whose atmosphere changes like tropical weather: a serene reverb-drenched meditation one moment, a torrent of multiphonic schizophrenia a minute later, and the firm reminder that what we currently worship in the so-called "reductionist" movement had already been tackled by Mr.23 at least a decade earlier. The second side features a clutch of duets with Lindsay Cooper - on bassoon and sopranino, while Harth uses clarinets - and a furious one with John Zorn, plus a three-minute improvised "mini opera" with Phil Minton gurgling his tonsils out and a pre-iPod, pre-electronics Günter Müller on drums among the others. In this album, just like in "Anything goes", the composer also took good care of the cover artwork; the LPs include inserts with Harth's drawings, and the nostalgic collector who replaces my good self every once in a while is still moved by the carton's smell of his treasured copies. Sniff....Aaaahhh....

Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Orchestra - OUT TO LUNCH (doubtmusic)

There’s a strong element of humour in Out To Lunch, as Dolphy’s milestone is both honoured and dissected by an army of expert students transformed into mad scientists at the flick of a switch. The themes are fought over with an enjoyable mixture of mercurial irony and transcendence, with the honours going to “Hat And Beard” (also one of the Quintet’s strongest covers, as demonstrated by their superb version on the DIW album ONJQ Live) and the title track, both pieces offering themselves in sacrifice to chaotic collective interplay. “Gazzelloni” meanwhile is a brutal four-minute beating with a punkish flavour (I’m reminded of Hal Russell’s NRG Ensemble). “Something Sweet, Something Tender” starts with an unbelievable bass clarinet solo from Harth. The Seoul-based Frankfurter is one of the most recognizable voices in the Orchestra, along with Axel Dörner, Mats Gustafsson and Sachiko M, the latter applying her sinewaves discreetly throughout both discs. “Straight Up And Down – Will Be Back” closes the show with a 28-minute trip through EAI, everything insinuated rather than affirmed in an invisible bridge linking two worlds that have more in common than you might think as far as inquisitive musicianship is concerned.

Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Orchestra - ONJO (doubtmusic)

Otomo Yoshihide’s passion for jazz is well known, and has fuelled two of his most highly acclaimed working units since 1999. The ONJQ evolved into the ONJO around 2004, after the departure of saxophonist Kikuchi Naruyoshi and the arrival of Kahimi Karie, Alfred Harth, Sachiko M and Kumiko Takara. Aside from serving as a showcase for Yoshihide’s unique compositional skills, ONJQ/ONJO have celebrated artists as diverse as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Jim O’Rourke, James Blood Ulmer and even the Beatles, reinventing their compositions as an utterly convincing mesh of EAI and furious free jazz. Familiar themes expand inexorably into free-for-all improvisation, at times homing in on scattered, near-silent small sounds while on other occasions (such as their version of O’Rourke’s “Eureka”) reaching for Last Exit-style devastation. It’s a peculiar sonic morphology that generates hours of ear-cleansing, high-octane material.
ONJO – the album – is the more “intellectual” of the two Orchestra outings. “Eureka” is sung in Jane Birkin-like French by Kahimi Karie, who whispers and sighs until Otomo’s gentle chordal accompaniment gives way to hundreds of contrasting lines in an explosion of intertwining counterpoint. “Theme from Canary” starts with ruined vinyl and continues with a melodic motif worthy of Gil Evans. Charles Mingus’s “Orange Was the Colour of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk” (already recorded by ONJQ on Tails Out) walks along the cliff-top of pulverized freedom, and Ornette Coleman’s “Broken Shadows” rises out of a boiling lava of false starts and snippets. By contrast, the closing “A-Shi-Ta”, with Hamada Mariko vocalising over a slow percussive pattern, could almost be incidental music to a theatre piece, its evocative depth and intensity perfectly counterbalancing the preceding tracks.

JOSEPH FOSTER / ALFRED HARTH - Heart/Po$ter (Rasbliutto)

The CD cover, a beautiful black and white close up of what looks like a beehive (but I wouldn't bet my house on it) credits Foster and Harth with "trumpet, etc." and "reeds, etc." respectively. Now, it's just that "etcetera" that gives this album its distinguished personality; as a matter of fact, "Heart/Po$ter" is a record that mixes improvisation and musique concrete, an audio documentary full of unusual thinking patterns ("unusual" being the rule when dealing with this particular breed of musicians). Standing well clear off populist declarations, Foster and Harth are not afraid to get their hands dirty with the soil of unlawful object rustling, which they practice without premeditation even when the land appears unfruitful. Tampering with the exhalations produced by their instruments, they feel compelled to show the grainy details of noise as generated by everyday's objects, be it a radio, a Tibetan bell (I know what you're gonna say, but every fashionable zen home has its own "Tibetan something" nowadays - therefore that's an "everyday object”, too), a Jew's harp or some other sonic infection. Trumpet and reeds themselves describe a special way of navigating against the odd current: at times it looks like the multiphonics and the tiny wheezing cries of desperation coming out of that blowing wrestle would be better returning into Joseph and Alfred's lungs and stay there, observers - from within - of an unlikely landscape. And what's the method of understanding if what we hear is an helicopter or just a slowed down tongue oscillation? What's the line separating the uniqueness of these artists' voice from an involuntary portrait of Meredith Monk's glottal lamentations? No answer. Not from musicians that never mince tones, preferring instead to surprise their audience with a homemade poetry in which every sound acts as a birdcall for concentration. Thus, the most correct approach to this release is standing firmly in front of its almost nihilist appearance, sure about the fact that Joseph Foster and Alfred Harth will lead you through their impromptu structuralism without reticence.


New music collectors must be having a hard time keeping track of the constantly changing vision of Alfred 23 Harth, whose career is now approaching its fifth decade and still showing no sign of "stagnation". Harth has played with virtually everybody, although he's best known for his work with Cassiber and his contribution to Lindsay Cooper's Oh Moscow, and his own music is a fertile ground where jazz, improvisation, techno and acousmatics rub shoulders, often with stunning results, enriched by the mind-boggling reed technique that's made him one of the most inventive and recognizable saxophone / clarinet players on the planet. For several years now this German utopian has been living in South Korea, where, besides collaborating with the best local talents and joining Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra, he's produced a sizeable body of work in very limited, often "print-on-demand" CDR editions: go to alfredharth.de for direct inquiries. His "Mother Of Pearl" albums are characterized by gorgeous artwork and (it goes without saying) magnificent music, and these two titles are a perfect testament, concluding the series.
Nun, explains the author, is a one-word poem with multiple meanings (including "eye" and "snow" in Korean). Harth applies a precise choice of subjects, times and past collaborators in what, like Seoul Milk, is a multilayered, undefinable work whose aesthetic is unquestionably and thoroughly "23". "Dog", based on a short poem by Yun Dong-Ju, is high-level electroacoustic chemistry, a soundworld mixing fragments of compositions dating from 1967 and 1984 as well as current sources and Harth's own lines. "For Taran" is a monstrous bass clarinet solo (dedicated to Taran Singh "who runs a free jazz program broadcast in France"), a virtuoso reminder of how good Harth is at improvising for long stretches without ever sounding pretentious or boring. "Bref", recorded in 1998 in Frankfurt and featuring Micha Daniels, is another specimen of surreal anarchy on which guitar, mandola and percussion form strange patchworks with a deranged primordial drum machine and a delirious Farfisa organ, reaching its apex in a strident bagpipe solo (a mizmar, I guess from the notes) over a psychedelic background. After "Test for Tokyo", a "percussive and dirty" solo for sax, contact microphones and Kaoss pad, Harth gives us the dulcis in fundo treatment with "Leasing a Straw Hut" and especially "108". Both pieces are surrounded by an ominous aura, their complex development built on masterful juxtapositions of reeds and excerpts from past projects. "Leasing", like "Dog", is based on a poem, this time by Yi Kyu-Bo and features the sound of the sea from Hakdong on the South Korean island of Namhae, while "108", named after the "108 grievous and troubled thoughts counted by the Buddhists in order to become aware of and finally get over them", is a stirring potion reverberating with (involuntary?) echoes of Roland Kayn. This menacing dark current brings Nun to an end, and though it's a disheartening way to go out, you do so safe in the knowledge that you've experienced artistry of the highest order.

ALFRED HARTH - Seoul Milk (Slowalk)

Seoul Milk dates from between 2002 and 2005 and is subtitled "a sonic bouquet of Seoul broadcast all the way to Europe". Its three movements present a paradoxically well-conceived, ordered chaos of shortwave radios and TV sets emitting kaleidoscopic signals that mesh with fragmented drum machine patterns and flanged vocals from the streets, as Harth's assemblage follows the convulsive evolutions of his individual sources, which include folk songs, children's voices, creaking metal, subsonic pulse, snippets of languid pop songs and a vision of downtown hell. Imagine a Korean version of a souk; the local male voices captured by Harth sound like disguised muezzins. The third and final section fuses all the different perspectives into a disjointed, oscillating quasi-disco pattern leading up to the ironic ending, culled from the opening ceremony of the 2002 World Cup, all pompous music and official announcements, wiping out the remnants of our cerebral comfort. If you enjoyed Jess Rowland's Scenes From The Silent Revolution on Pax Recordings you'll love this too.

VLADIMIR ESTRAGON - Three quarks for Muster Mark (TIPTOE)
Vladimir Estragon in Wikipedia

I maintain that internet is the best thing that could have happened to me in the last 15 years. If I still depended on the idiocy of record shops' personnel (who, at least on these shores, declare "out of print" everything they don't know - 95% of things - and when they miraculously have something difficult to obtain try to charge you twice the prices you'll see after a 10-minute search on the web) I'd have had a hard time discovering an album like this, an unnoticed, unsung treasure trove of good ideas, lively irony and astonishing artistry. Consisting of Alfred Harth (tenor sax and clarinets), Phil Minton (voice and trumpet), F.M. Einheit (metals and electronics) and the excellent Ulrike Haage (keyboards, sequencer programming and samples), Vladimir Estragon were a paradise of lusty electronic arrangements whose preset-derived poetry was poisoned by oblique complexities and sudden animations entering the picture when less expected; and this is only a fraction of the whole. Minton's typical parades of vocal characters depict a series of alternative abnormalities, as he accompanies absurd harmonic sequences with nonchalant schizophreny, often meshing his garbled glottology with the less consonant fruits from the rest of the group. And what about Harth's immediately recognizable, charming-but-challenging lines? Be it in a profound duo with Haage's piano (like in the initial "The warten") or leading a double-edge thematic exposition together with Minton's fiery trumpet, his playing remains connected with something that words can't give justice to, and that I can only define as "lyrically corporeal". Given Einheit's slightly more obscure role - but his duet with Minton in "Der verbleibende Haufen" is great - a special mention goes to Ulrike Haage, who composed the large part of the material with Harth; her programming sapience is a strong point of the disc, constituting an entertaining springboard for all members to unveil their more disguised influences; she also plays a mean piano and writes in styles that respectfully nod to Lars Hollmer and Lindsay Cooper, with an additional touch of tangential sweetness. Look for "Three quarks" with all your browsing power (better still, click on the above link), as this gem was released in 1989 and - unless they're using it as a gap filler somewhere - your "friends" at the record shop will probably tell you that it never existed.

HEINER GOEBBELS / ALFRED HARTH - Hommage/Vier Fäuste für Hanns Eisler (FMP) - Vom Sprengen des Gartens (FMP)

We're in the middle of the seventies, punk and new wave thoroughly dominate the music world. Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth couldn't care less, though; their own time capsule contains the germs of true evolution and such a process cannot occur without an accurate study of the past. "Hommage" is just that: a tribute to Hanns Eisler through heartfelt versions of some of his songs and pieces, plus duo compositions that graciously nod to the great German artist. The album was recorded live in Berlin but luckily the audience is completely mixed out; we can thus enjoy robust doses of bloody virtuosity balanced by the peculiar mixture of modern and retro typical of Goebbels and Harth, a distinct trait that can be counted among the basic influences of many groups belonging to the Rock In Opposition area. "Vom Sprengen des Gartens" came out in 1979 and, from this receiver's spiritual point of observation, is a little more complex. In it, the two companions find many ways of exploring profound emotions with a preference towards an introspective melancholy, like in the intensely pensive "Almelo" on side B. Eisler is still revered, but there's also some Bach, Schumann and a gorgeous rendition of Rameau's "Le rappel des oiseaux". Both albums constitute a fulgid example of how respectfully music, whatever the genre, should always be treated. The enormous multi-instrumentalist abilities of both men (Goebbels a fantastic pianist and accordionist doubling on reeds, Harth a monster sax and clarinet player) are never used as an excuse for meaningless boring exercises. Offering coherent richness of expressive means and abundance of stirring playing, these two FMP releases should be regarded as milestones, while instead are criminally overlooked. Here's my hope of a fully detailed reissue of Goebbels and Harth's opera omnia - no compilations, please, we want them all and COMPLETE. Meanwhile, spend some eBay dollar on these two; I'll be returning soon to talk about the rest of this pair's production.
Mr.Ricci's friendly wish had been fulfilled in 2007: a reissue of the two first Lps by the "Duo Goebbels/Harth" was released on Recommended Records,London.

Akupunktur in Gruen (Laubhuette Production 03)

Never try to find a kinship with something else when dealing with Alfred Harth's music. This intriguing collection is a collage that spoons us up with continuous remissions of definitions, homemade low-budget sophistries, semi-accessible metaphores and unpredictable pot-pourris. Maimed drum'n'bass patterns hide intertwining lines of muted trumpet, sax and clarinet, the whole surrounded by environmental euphemisms where loops of ceremonial singing and male voices filtered by dictaphones mix with synthetic evacuations of the mind. A fixed pattern of "one-chord-plus-drum machine" can reveal a whole mainland of sampling hazardousness (you gotta love those short glissando brass...) while threatening growls from the urban underworld are morphed into distant echoes of just apparent contradictions. What's to be appreciated more than anything else is the absolute lack of self-aggrandizement that this artist brings to the table; take it or leave it, these are a few of his many facets and this complex vision finds us wordless in a desert of interpretations. Harth illegitimates the remains of muzak's grime by juxtaposing singing monks and commonplaces: hear for yourself the difference with what today is peddled as "spiritually evolved". This music touches many points and connects them all with a single stroke, affecting our opinions about sound placement and teaching us how to affirm our independence from the imperial vulgarity we've grown subjected to.

Achter Atem (Laubhuette Production 02)

"Seven breath", an album by Korean saxophonist Kang Tae Hwan, is the only source for this remix work by Harth, who used exclusively sounds from Kang's alto sax to conceive a kind of aural network which works at various levels of efficiency. Is this a soundtrack for a series of hallucinations? A new kind of ectoplasmic minimalism? For sure, the different plans upon which the German artist lays his perspectives of creative modification are an involuntary example of "static conceptual movement", a paradox in definition but not far from what we concretely hear. Droning loops constitute a sort of parallel authority that hosts long melodic phrases spreading their wings in infinite reverberations, while snippets of gorgeous tone are ruminated and re-distributed within structures whose limits are only designed by our disposition in that very moment. The flanging echoes and unstable oscillations utilized by Harth for the large part of the tracks represent the immunity from boredom, colouring the music with a sense of impendence which is "Achter Atem"'s strongest asset.

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