I see The International Nothing are now calling themselves a “psycho-acoustic duo”, unless they’ve always thought of themselves that way…the team of Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke have been blowing their clarinets in this particular group for 22 years now, and though their release programme may seem abstemious – they seem to average a new album every four years – each one emerges as a separate statement and represents one more stage in the grand plan.
Just two clarinets, but the point of their actions and performances is one of continual refinement; and it seems that for the last two and a half years, they’ve been nursing their growing preoccupation with long-form pieces, and accordingly Just None Of Those Things (FTARRI 215) takes up residence in your carpeted abode for 42:25 mins. Besides being long, the piece is slow, all-acoustic, and relatively quiet, and the back of the album even advises you to listen at a “moderate” volume; the listening work you need to do is pay attention to the “multiphonics” and the “difference tones”, indicating how carefully the duo arrange and work at pairing their distilled, carefully-circling voices, to achieve these very specific audio effects. It’s been convenient over time to think of TIN as fitting into the “improvisation” barrel, but it’s more plausible to think of this release as a composition, as they themselves propose. On those terms, it’s fair to say there isn’t a single “mistake”, fluffed note, or a scrap of redundant musical information across the full length of their innings, which could be said to be achievement enough; but what I especially like is how they claim to have dived deeper into “the abyss of weirdness”, as they call it. Indeed, if you listen hard you will reach a point where the “familiar” tones start to turn slightly strange, then very strange; passing from something resembling backwards tapes, then lobsters humming songs in the ocean, then a vacuum cleaner arriving from another planet. The mesmerising atmosphere induces a reality-sapping effect on the mind, and you may experience odd sensations of floating, or travelling back in time, as the laws of physics themselves start to drop away.
Undoubtedly all this is what they mean by “psycho-acoustic” – what they weave and conjure might be a little-known realm of music where the human psyche starts to cross over into audible territory, and vice versa. In this context, the very title of the piece is significant; inverting the familiar line from the Cole Porter song, it poses a metaphysical conundrum for the listener, leaving us face to face with the void. With releases like this, The International Nothing really start to live up to the “nothing” part of their name. Brave the musical explorer who dares to venture into such nebulous zones, let alone publish the results, but this is just the team to do it. Once again the Japanese imprint has created a fine sturdy miniature-gatefold cover with paste-on artworks, and the watercolours by tanabemse continue to feature exotic wildlife abiding in nature’s bounty, this time focusing on those of the avian persuasion. Arrived 24 January 2022.