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Artist: mkm

Album: mkm_msa

Label: For4Ears

Review date: Feb. 4, 2009

Gunter Müller, Jason Kahn and Norbert Möslang all play various electronic implements on mkm_msa, but took very different routes to this shared point in their musical careers. Kahn is an American expatriate who once drummed for Universal Congress OF, Arnold Dreyblatt, and plenty of free improvisers before delving into the relationship between electronically generated sound and acoustical space. Möslang, as half of the duo Voice Crack, extended improvisational methods beyond performance and into a relationship with their instruments when they discarded convention in favor of “cracked,” everyday electronics. The European improvisational community responded to the blasts of noise from repurposed clock radios, remote controls and photoelectric cells with opprobrium, and Voice Crack spent years in the lonely wilderness that often is a pioneer’s reward. Müller started out as a drummer who wired his kit for sound, but gradually the drums disappeared and the electronics took over; he’s been using iPods as a principal instrument for six years.

Since the ’90s, the three have worked together in Switzerland in diverse combinations, most notably documented by a series of albums entitled Signal To Noise that document their encounters with Asian improvisers. But despite the relative proximity, mkm_msa is just their second album as a trio. They sound very much in accord on these sessions, which were recorded on a 2007 tour of South and Central America. It would be hard to figure out who is responsible for any given component because the sound – not who makes it – is the thing. Alongside a steady rhythm of pops thumps, Müller, Kahn and Möslang channel a multitude of insectoid clicks, shortwave crackles, metallic clanks and glassy textures from their various sound files and electronic implements.

Although the music is improvised, the ways the trio arrange these elements might alienate some free music enthusiasts. They layer sounds into heavy aural blankets and overlay them with looped patterns, stitching beats across the surface like embroidering quilters. Alternately plush and coarse and often quite kinetic, it’s a far cry from the harsh sonic disruptions of Voice Crack and Müller’s old outfit Nachtluff. Powered by mechanistic repetition, this is improvised music that a techno or krautrock fan could love … but true improv believers might have to give up the notion that steady pulses and synthetic textures are the aural equivalent of heavy syrup before they can embrace it.

I doubt that the trio care too much either way. This music seems to be part of an ongoing dialogue between the musicians and their instruments that they’ll follow wherever the discussion flows.

By Bill Meyer

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