Revue & Corrigée

MATTIN / RADU MALFATTI "Going Fragile", Formed Records, 103. Dist. Metamkine

"Going Fragile" est un objet fascinant. Tout permet de penser que nous
sommes devant un disque : sa forme, la pochette et les notes et titres
imprimés dessus, la surface réfléchissante du disque. L'idée du disque (qui
est un objet culturel assez récent) est de transporter un orchestre dans son
salon, tout au moins après le passage de la modernité, de diffuser un son
enregistré, dans un espace/temps passé, dans un présent renouvelé. "Going
Fragile" ne transporte pas de sons, ou plus exactement ne produit que très
peu de sons lorsqu'on le joue dans un lecteur. L'essentiel de ce qui est
donné à entendre ici est ce qui est extérieur au disque, ce qui entoure les
haut-parleurs : les bruits ambiants ou le moteur du lecteur. A lire les
notes de pochette on apprend que Radu MALFATTI joue du trombone et MATTIN du
feedback d'ordinateur. Mais on ne peut l'affirmer. Il y a bien çà et là
quelques sons tenus et ténus, qui apparaissent en pointillés, des souffles
légers, des sifflements électriques, entre de grands blocs de silence. Rien
de plus ou de moins. MALFATTI disait du silence qu'il est comme une feuille
de papier blanc sur laquelle on trace quelques traits. Sous ces traits,
taches ou ratures, le papier est toujours blanc. Le silence est toujours là,
constituant à toute musique. Comme chez Taku Sugimoto, l'idée de ce que
peut-être une expérience musicale, coïncide avec l'acte d'écoute. Ce qu'ils
donnent à entendre c'est leur propre écoute de l'espace et du temps dans
lesquels ils placent quelques rares sons comme autant de balises
culturelles. Sans ces balises, ces longues plages de silence "bruyant" ne
seraient pas perçues comme une forme radicale de musique, son vertige. Ce
duo est dans une approche très plastique du sonore, d'agencements de
matières concrètes qui échappent à la volonté du musicien, les sons existent
à l'intérieur du cadre culturel défini par l'artiste, si mélangent et s'y
transforment. L'expérience d'écoute "salon" est encore plus extrême, nous ne
sommes distrait par aucune présence, aucun théâtre, seul vibre la particule
sonore et son absence.


The Wire (July 2006, UK)

Radu Malfatti & Mattin
Going Fragile
The bad boys of Improv team up for a second outing (after 2004¹s
Whitenoise). Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti, from an earlier generation,
has excoriated free improvisors for complacency, writing off the self-styled
avant garde as a bunch of hyperactive chatterboxes wheeling out tired
tricks. Of course some feel that Malfatti is now himself trapped on a
treadmill of predictable ultra-minimalism. The younger Mattin, a London
based Basque political artist, aims ³to fuck the structures that try to make
me behave or use my instrument in a certain way².
A pairing with potential, then, but whereas the young Pierre Boulez wanted
to blow up all opera houses, M&M bewilder with ascetic restraint, disrupting
previous musical modes in their search for fragility. Mattin¹s computer
feedback lays out a scattered array of digital crunches and bat squeaks.
Malfatti whispers a repetitive series of warm, fuzzy, low pitched notes. The
playing is far from generous, but the listener can stretch out and luxuriate
in a strange bath of silence between the few musical events. The trombone¹s
furry, human quality is a nice foil to Mattin¹s chilly machine detritus, and
the moments when they cunningly combine are all the more satisfying for
being so sparse. And once or twice Mattin shows what he does best, allowing
a glimpse of a scary racket that might destroy his equipment, were he not so
well in control of it. In fact, often the music seems to be about
self-control, propagating patience and austerity as if it wanted to turn us
all into monks and nuns.
The second of the two tracks here, possibly live before an Italian audience,
is hazy and not so well recorded. The longer opening track, from a Viennese
studio, is a clearer exposition of a music at once challenging and sublimely

- Going fragile (Formed)

Touching Extremes (31st May 2006) by Maximo Ricci)

Clusters of quietness. A concept that many years ago would have been object of derision but today - thanks to recording like "Going fragile" - is the basis of a movement consisting of almost no movement. These improvisations, recorded in October 2005 in Austria and Italy, are quite different in their structure; the Vienna segment is made of long silences broken by Malfatti's soft breath and murmuring gurgles, along with Mattin's feedback taking different identities, from short shocks to promiscuous frequencies and again to abnormal air currents. The track recorded in Tarcento is (a little) more extroverted, being for its large part characterized by a sort of communion between the sources, which seem to privilege a parallel interaction yielding a caressing layering of barely touched tones, unlikely harmonics and the weak distant noise of what sounds like an amplified fan. This music's depth makes sure that finding words to describe it become an almost impossible challenge.


Once in a while you come across a recording that works better the less closely you listen to it. Not that “Going Fragile” suffers when heard closely—not at all. It’s just that when I put it on and “forget about it”, it tinges the atmosphere of the room delightfully, sharpening some features, blurring others, adding some palpable thickness and a luxurious sense of serenity to the room’s space. Several times, I was shocked how quickly the hour or so of music elapsed.

There are two pieces, the first a 43+ minute improvisation recorded by Christoph Amann at his studio in Vienna. For the initial couple of minutes, as nearly as I can discern, there is absolute quiet. You then hear Malfatti expel a gentle, low breathy tone on his trombone, lasting about the duration of a normal respiration. Mattin is just barely audible alongside, tossing out faint sputters, fainter highly-pitched sound splinters and the odd, relatively loud pop. There’s near silence again for the better part of a minute. Then another exhalation by Malfatti. This goes on for pretty much the entire piece, the timbre and relative brassiness of Malfatti’s sound shifting subtly but perceptibly, and their frequency fluctuating so that by the work’s conclusion, his tones have appeared at an irregular series of intervals, though certainly never in any strict rhythm. The trombone’s sound is quite calm and composed though, softly insistent but not pushing things along, just announcing its ongoing presence. Mattin’s electronics have just a bit more sizzle, barely hinting at some more exotic spice. Listened to closely, the range covered is extremely varied and imparts, within its self-imposed, narrowly focused scope, a strong sensation of vastness. Unheeded, it fills the room wonderfully.

The second track, recorded several days after the first, begins a little more rambunctiously with some rumbling electronics but soon settles into a similar sound-space as heard before, perhaps with a wider volume range. Malfatti creates some rising tones here and Mattin’s accompaniment is often more textured but the same ruffled calmness is felt as the sounds emerge from and subside back into silence, like a thin curtain being periodically disturbed by the breeze.

There’s a good bit of interesting and/or argumentative text by the musicians on the disc sleeve, but the music speaks far more…loudly. A lovely work—check it out, turn it down.

number 524
week 18

This is the second collaborative work between the young and the old, each with their own approach. Malfatti playing his trombone and Mattin on 'gnu/linux computer feedback'. The first one was 'Whitenoise' (see Vital Weekly 412). The new one contains two pieces, a lengthy studio recording and a shorter live recording. For whatever reasons I played this on my discman, sitting in a sunny garden. It made me realize that listening circumstances are always important. Besides the music, I hear sounds from the environment (children playing, cars passing, a small airplane) while the headphone volume is cranked all the way up. Malfatti's trombone treatment (blowing usually) follows curves with long gaps of silence, along with like wise curves of a computer hissing, sometimes playing a louder bump, but most of the time it's really tranquil playing. Despite the environment in which I hear this, I notice that it's very demanding music. One has to concentrate really hard to capture all the
this music, whether or not it's the studio or live recording, although the latter is somewhat more direct in approach. Playing time is over an hour, and that is a lot to capture. You could easily do with just the forty some minute studio recording and still feel exhausted and elevated after hearing that. But the rawer live cut makes sense too, as it shows how these things sound in a live context. Highly demanding yet highly rewarding music. (FdW)

Paris Transatlantic (July 2006)

Mattin / Malfatti

I'm as big a Radu Malfatti fan as anybody, having had the pleasure of playing with the Vienna-based trombonist and composer myself and premiering one of his pieces, but I have to admit to feeling a bit uneasy about an album that comes adorned with quotations from the man himself (not to mention his playing partner here, Mattin, and the annoyingly quotable Walter Benjamin), as if the music it contains is to be heard as a kind of illustration of the accompanying manifesto. Radu does indeed have some very important things to say – and I'm delighted to report he says many of them in the interview he gave Paris Transatlantic a few years ago – but if I'm given the choice between reading about music and listening to it you know damn well I'll opt for the listening every time. Going Fragile contains two tracks, one (41'43" long) recorded in Amann Studios in Vienna (where else?) on October 16th last year, the other, just under 21 minutes in duration, from five days later in concert in Tarcento, Italy (what seems to be another brief extract of this event has been available for a while as a free download at Mattin's website). The live track has the added interest of audience noise, or at least a backdrop of warm ambient hiss for M&M's ultra reductionist puffs and wisps of sound to drift across. If you like hardcore lowercase improv you'll find it an agreeable, if somewhat arid, listen. But when you get into reading the blurb you begin to wonder if you're missing out on something of monumental importance.
"People are innovative when they are outside of their warm shit, outside of the familiar and comfortable... I don't know exactly what I want, but I do know exactly what I do not want," writes Malfatti. But open up the gatefold and Mattin's own text seems to be hinting at something slightly different: "To be open, receptive and exposed to the dangers of making of improvised music means exposing yourself to unwanted situations that could break the foundations of your own security." (Italics mine.) This would seem to imply that while Mattin is ready for anything (and his own sprawling discography would seem to bear that out, including as it does teeth-grating harsh noise outings with Tim Goldie and Junko, fucked-up punk with Billy Bao and decidedly tacky if not downright awful lo-fi faux-pop songs in the Song Book), Malfatti isn't. My own fond memories of playing with Radu, while I've scribbled on elsewhere, notably in the chapter I recently contributed to Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum, include a rehearsal prior to our concert with pianist Frédéric Blondy which Radu prefaced with a little talk explaining exactly what he didn't want to hear (he'd heard about some of Fred's more exuberant piano bashing exploits from Axel Dörner and wanted to make sure that our forthcoming improvised set would not suddenly catapult him back through time to the gnarly high energy of his early FMP albums). To my admittedly down-to-earth dumb way of thinking then, it seems that the two aesthetic positions described above are at least partially unreconcilable: either you are open to unwanted situations – and that could mean your playing partner suddenly throwing a C major arpeggio at you, or a snippet of some dreadful TV theme tune (I'm thinking of Steve Beresford here) – or you aren't. I could be way off the mark (it wouldn't be the first time), but I seriously doubt Radu would have chosen to work with Mattin so often if he hadn't managed to persuade him to leave the loud and fast stuff well alone. In the same way that it was made crystal clear to Fred Blondy that any attempt to sound like that other Fred, Van Hove, would not have been welcome, I'm prepared to wager a small sum that Mattin was politely requested to steer well clear of Pinknoise.
So sentences like "what I would like to explore here are the moments in which players leave behind a safe zone and expose themselves in the face of the internalized structures of judgment that govern our appreciation of music" might lead you expect something a tad more dramatic than the music on the disc. If you are already familiar with Malfatti and Mattin's earlier wmo/r release Whitenoise, or their collaboration with Klaus Filip and Dean Roberts on the Grob album Building Excess, or with any of Malfatti's post-1993 work and Mattin's quieter outings with the likes of Taku Unami, Taku Sugimoto and Mark Wastell, what you'll hear on Going Fragile will hardly come as a surprise. To return to Malfatti's quotation above, it might not be all that comfortable (for some), but it's certainly not unfamiliar.

One of the central tenets of Malfatti's PT interview was the distinction he made between progression, stagnation and regression: "Some people think they own the field and never want to leave it: maybe they'll even fight for it. (Stagnation: Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and many others.) Some people get bored and do the worst thing they can do, which is go back to the initial field or even beyond. (Regression: Gavin Bryars, Ligeti, Barry Guy and many others.) Some people leave the old 'new' field and go further, keeping the momentum of the initial searching and exploring. (Progression: Nono, Coltrane and not many others!)." And, presumably, Radu Malfatti. But one of the dictionary definitions I've found of "stagnant" is "showing little or no sign of activity or advancement; not developing or progressing; inactive", which, as descriptions go, is quite appropriate for Going Fragile. With the exception of the last eight minutes of track one, where things get remarkably busy (by Malfatti standards five or six notes a minute is positively verbose), sonic events appear reasonably regularly – after four or five listens I found I was able to anticipate to within four or five seconds more or less when the next sound would appear, not to mention more or less what it would be: Malfatti has pared what was once a truly prodigious technique on the trombone down to a few slow intakes of brassy breath and some lovely, velvety low register pouffes of sound, while Mattin's computer feedback is clearly recognisable to those familiar with his earlier outings, even if here it's rather grandiosely billed as "gnu/linux computer feedback".
"When we talk about stagnation and progression there is just one instrument to help us explain what we mean, and that is time, history," writes Malfatti here, in what again I interpret as a veiled claim to membership of that small and exclusive club of progressives. (And who can blame him? I can't think of many improvising musicians out there who don't believe that what they're doing is in some way progressive – and I know of nobody who would stand up and be counted as a "regressive" or a "stagnant", with all its attendant associations of fetid water..) But this is the old "standing the test of time" argument, the artist so far ahead of his time that he's misunderstood and reviled by all but a handful of his contemporaries, before – miraculo! – his creations are dug up and hailed as works of genius by enlightened souls at some stage in the (hopefully not too distant) future.
Don't get me wrong here, folks: I'm not saying I don't like Going Fragile – in fact I find it a very attractive and remarkably musical piece of work by two musicians I have great respect for – but I think that the deadly serious steel grey manifesto plastered all over the album makes claims for it that it are not borne out by my listening experience. To be blunt, I think it's rather a good example of the stagnation Malfatti is so critical of – but as I can still get just as much pleasure from listening to Derek Bailey, Barry Guy and Ligeti as I can from Nono and Coltrane, I don't mind that at all.


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