Mental Mess – w/ Karlheinz Essl


Recorded 2010, released 2012 on the Modisti Netlabel. Total Time: 41:27. Karlheinz Essl – m@ze°2, kalimba, Hans Tammen – endangered guitar. Recorded at Harvestworks, New York. Cover art by Simon Essl. Free listening and download here, or through Bandcamp player above.


Liner Notes by Ken Waxman

As sophisticated sound experimenters become more comfortable with the variety of expressions that can be extracted from computer-based electronics, high-quality sessions like MentalMess are the result.
These eight tracks, recorded in one afternoon at Manhattan’s Harvestworks centre for evolving technologies, are completely improvised using the sonic sources engendered by New York resident
Hans Tammen’s self-defined endangered guitar plus Vienna-based composer Karlheinz Essl’s m@ze°2 Max/MSP software instrument. More intrinsically, the key to creating stimulating sounds like these isn’t what theories are proven or which electronic gizmos are attached. It’s how profound, inventive and thought-provoking the end product is. In this case Tammen and Essl, who jokingly titled the session with a contradiction of their names rather than a definition of their emotional state, generate dazzling interactions.

A track such as “Prelock” for instance, begins with what could be effervescent spurts and watery drips resulting from bottle opening, with the tones then pulling back to reveal reed-like snorts and tongue stop-replications plus purported cymbal slaps and keyboard pressure. Crackling static presages what could be an abrasive thunderstorm which oscillates, judders and finally fades. Meantime, while “Friggle” mixes an approximation of downwards slithers of a toy slinky with guitar strums, mouse-like squeaks and half-heard melodies, “Kalister” is more percussive and less playful. Harsh twangs from electric kalimba cut through the blurry interface to isolate string snaps and vibraphone-like resonations. Another highpoint is “Nomisola”, built around staccato drones, as snatches of piano, double bass and even full orchestra samples intermittently reverberate. Until the finale, blustery synthesis intercuts between instrument replications and nearly impenetrable grinds.

Both improvisers create while using software programs that sample while processing, with the sample themselves often manipulated as well.

Tammen’s endangered guitar is an interactive hybrid between guitar and computer that processes in real time as sounds are created, with added control sources a proximity sensor and an iPhone’s accelerometer data. For his part, Essl’s m@ze°2 uses a keyboard, a mouse, several MIDI controllers and a webcam to pan, harmonize, pitch-shift and transpose samples from a database, mixing them with
what he and Tammen create in real time. Omnipresent is an ostinato of glitches, static and clicks.

As this session evolved, it gradually dawned on the players that the interaction was breeching further sonic definitions. Essl’s electronically created samples for instance seem to derive from so-called real instrumental tones, while Tammen’s guitar intonation has an unmistakably electronic feel. The Austrian, who often speaks of “the magic of the moment”, appears comfortable, conscious of references, yet negotiating a method of real-time playing.

It’s the same for German-born Tammen. Conceptually he has concerns about defining improvisation. He’s discomforted by players who say they’re creating original sounds when merely recreating so-called improvisations they’re played before. At the same time he distrusts arbitrary playing which gives the improviser too many choices. “The more experienced you become in your playing, the more you conclude that there are really only one, or at most two, perfect choices for any given musical situation,” he declares.
That’s what happens with MentalMess and why so many fruitful inventions are exposed here. Although in the past both Tammen and Essl have collaborated on an irregular basis, with this session they’ve achieved matchless technical and sonic unity.

Ken Waxman
Toronto, December 2011


Two Musicians, less than as much music

Live laptop/guitar duo recorded at Harvestworks in 2010
[ February 4, 2012 / Department: downstream ]

In a clear case of more allowing for less to occur, the team-up of powerhouses Karlheinz Essl and Hans Tammen is a rich improvisation between the former’s laptop and the latter’s computer-processed guitar. To listen is often to hear neither, and to forget frequently that anyone, let alone two people, is playing. The opening track, “Brutz,” is often little more than flittering nuances. The guitar evaporates in the laptop’s processing, and the dual computers yield slivers of sound, drones that might just be the result of an ungrounded line, effects that could be artifacts in the sound recording. There’s a moment, for example, in a track titled “Prelock” when it sounds as if we’ve left the concert hall (the work was recorded live at Harvestworks in New York City back in May 2010) and wandered down to the subway. Elsewhere, there’s a point in “Nomisola” when piano chords are heard, but they drift away, subsumed in the nether-absence of obfuscating noises and general compositional entropy. Later, in the same track, what might be a guitar chord but resembles an archival orchestral recording gets tossed here and there like seaweed as it nears a shore, where it will soon dry and, soon enough, flutter away

Get the full set as a Zip archive. More information, including helpful liner notes, at the modiste.com netlabel. More on Essl at essl.at, and on Tammen at tammen.org.

By Marc Weidenbaum / Disquiet.com – see here.