On Rop På Hjälp (INEXHAUSTIBLE EDITIONS ie-002) we have the team-up of two Swedish improvising musicians, the sax player Martin Küchen and Herman Müntzing, who might be described as an experimental improvising sound artist. They decided they were a duo in 2010, and in 2011 conducted a short tour of parts of Germany and Poland, although on this CD we hear a more recent studio recording from June 2014.
Rop På Hjälp might be aligned with the “table-top junk” school of playing, a very broad church that has no rules or set style of doing things, and could include everyone from Adam Bohman and Chris Cutler to Voice Crack and, by extension, anyone who’s ever attached a contact mic to an inanimate object, such as Joel Stern or Paul Hood (I’m thinking now of a CD called Low Resistance Group from 2004). And while it’s true that Küchen and Müntzing do play “kitchen gadgets, strings and sticks, toy electronics, water, wood and plastic things” and use contact mics, Rop På Hjälp is one of the most satisfying experiments in this area I’ve heard. This is probably due to the strength of the musicians involved – Martin Küchen is a well-established and renowned free jazz / improv player since the 1990s, has played with many respected names, and has releases on labels like Confront, Kining Disk, Mathka and Mikroton. If you want to hear his free sax a-blowing, however, you may need to look elsewhere; his woodwind contributions here are incredibly restrained and minimal, and take a back seat to the percussive jangling and clattering actions for the most part.
The second strong element is of course Müntzing and his “flexichord”, a self-made instrument built to his design by the guitar maker Martin Kuhn (who also happens to be a relative). It was created from parts salvaged from two separate electric guitars and a lump of solid wood, and is designed to played horizontally. Readers will at once find resonances with the deconstructed tabletop guitar of Keith Rowe, and to some extent the hybrid monster guitars constructed by Hans Reichel (an unsung hero about whom we should hear more, I think). However, the back story behind the instrument is interesting. Müntzing arrived at a decision by his own personal route. It seems he studied music at the Royal Academy in Stockholm, and knows everything about musical theory from back to front, plus he’d been playing jazz bass in various live bands. Yet he still felt hollow and unsatisfied, and his skills, knowledge and experience were as ashes in his mouth. Out of sheer frustration, he started beating-up on his bass one day, hammering it with his fists at it lay across his knee…the physical sense of liberation he felt was enough for him to develop the Flexichord, building a more formalised expression of his needs and desires. The Flexichord features on this unusual record, but it is not the only instrument (see shopping list above), nor does it dominate the sound; it’s not a novelty quirk for its own sake, is what I’m trying to say, and the process that appears to be more important is the action of playing it rather than the unusual sounds it makes.
This is thus a very original and innovative record of non-specific improvised music, with some electronic aspects but not so heavy that we drown in digital drone (which was a drawback for a lot of the so-called EAI records for me); percussion, acoustic strings, old fashioned creaks and rattles of wood and other organic materials are producing this busy sound, not pre-digested soundfiles or random programs on the laptop. Full marks. From 22 December 2015, the second release on this new label.