Rotonda (INTONEMA int016) is a single 47-minute improvisation performed by the trio of Gaudenz Badrutt, Ilia Belorukov, and Jonas Kocher. It’s one of these lengthy, slow and quiet affairs, which I usually liken to Quaker prayer meetings, because a player will apparently only make a sound when he has something to say. Otherwise, Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio [1. See the famous painting by Salvator Rosa in the National gallery (London).] is their motto.
Kocher’s inaudible accordion-playing has crossed our path before, and I often find it surprising how memorable his work is when, pound for pound, there’s so little of it. Matter of fact he joined forces with Badrutt on the album Strategy Of Behaviour In Unexpected Situations for the Insubordinations label in 2015, and the agonising tension induced by that music is something I won’t forget in a hurry. I needed prescription muscle relaxants for about two weeks.
Badrutt is still doing unspeakable things with electricity, and given the dark nature of his crimes we expect to read about his arrest in Zurich any day now. He turned his back on his beginnings as a classical pianist, doing so in a memorable public action that involved the conflagration of a concert grand that had been doused in petrol, and for 15 years he has been in pursuit of the sort of dreams that only sine waves can give a man. Notably, he’s done it with the woodwind player Hans Koch, and he plays in strøm with Christian Müller and Kocher. Here, he does some form of live sampling, which may involve taking the temperature of the room with his magic thermometer (don’t ask!) and working with “acoustic sound sources”, which given the environment in question may involve anything from riffling through a card index to agitating a wooden library shelf.
Yes, they did it in the Rotonda of the Mayakovsky Library in Saint-Petersburg, starting imperceptibly at first, but building up to an alarming combination of tones that drove all the readers out into the street in short order, while a small federation of librarians laboured to maintain an aura of calm. Belorukov is almost elbowed aside by the taut fabric of fear created by the Swiss pair, but he manages to insert some pained, abstract tones from his alto saxophone, comforting it like a wounded animal. I’d also add that their playing is highly attuned to the space itself; Kocher in particular seems to be in his element, exploiting the natural echo of the venue, and his short utterances (when they do happen) delineate the architecture of the walls and ceiling with a pinpoint accuracy.
Bleak, cold, slow to the point of inertia, and full of unexpected silences, this is still an impressive bout of minimal blap, packed with existential doubts and strange emotions. From 26th October 2015.