Duo Hans Koch – Gaudenz Badrutt
SWITZERLAND FLEXION RECORDS FLEX_004 CD (2012)
Overall, a disc of slightly dry improvisation, this one, with nothing particularly musically surprising going on, but certainly not unpleasant. Track one is comprised of duelling sine waves generated acoustically and electronically. Nice. Although, listening through on one Saturday morning with a mild hangover, I must admit the high frequency elements rubbed my raw nerves the wrong way, somewhat. The press release describes Social Insects as “a game” and certainly parts of track three reminds me of the audio feed from Wimbledon minus the television commentator’s inappropriate comments. On my initial listen, the cd seems to alternate between tracks of music and tracks of silence, although the silent tracks are not all the same duration. However, it becomes obvious that this is an illusion, as further investigation by way of the volume control reveals these tracks hold very detailed sonic information. Particularly on track two, where there is some really great electronic rustling noises, but I had to really crank it up to get the benefit. To be honest, I find this volume discrepancy so wide, it is hard for me to set an overall volume I’m happy with in order to render the quiet parts audible and the rest not tearing my ears off. And this is on a decent stereo. I daren’t play this disc on the crappy Pure cd player in my kitchen for fear of destroying the speakers. I don’t understand why Koch and Badrutt have opted to master the disc quite this radically. Unless it is some kind of clumsy attempt to render the sonic sound-world of ants or other social insects into music for human ears. Like: the sounds made by insects are so quiet, are we subconsciously aware of them despite not being able to hear them? Does a tree that falls in the forest make any sound, and so forth. Or perhaps they think they are making an art object out of it? I hope not. This is my only major reservation with Social Insects.
Track five is very restrained, and then, curiously, track seven contains some clarinet key-fluttering sounds that remind me of the noises foley artists make for BBC television documentaries about ants. But not the sort of sounds you’d hear if Chris Watson went out and actually recorded an ant, I suspect.
At home, I would tend to listen to music such as this at a volume level where it would balance with the ambient sounds around me; at least in summer time with the windows open. There is other evidence to suggest the duo are attempting to follow perceived EAI convention in some ways; tracks titled by way of their duration, a feeling of exploration in the music generally. But then it is hard for me to recommend Social Insects because if you put it against up against other people who are working in this field, like the current Ross Lambert/Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga/Daichi Yoshikawa trio or Scott R. Looney and Klaus Janek’s collaboration for example, Social Insects doesn’t really compete, it seems to me.
I did like the sleeve – an A5 concoction of screen printed medium grade red sandpaper of Swiss manufacture, a full colour insert with a nice inverse close-up of an ant’s head, the disc enclosed in a paper sleeve all contained within a fairly substantial (although the one in front of me has been well abrased in transit by the sandpaper element) clear polythene wallet. Edition of 220.