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The International Nothing - Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything

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Artist: The International Nothing

Album: Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything

Label: Ftarri

Review date: Jan. 12, 2011


The International Nothing - "Amongst Dissidents" (Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything)


Reviewers are often tempted to use the title of a record as a description of its contents. And indeed most readers familiar with the musicians in this duo — clarinetists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke — will be likewise compelled by apparent paring down suggested by Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything. While the clarinet’s history is deeply bound up with certain kinds of expressionism (think not just traditional, but Jimmy Giuffre, Eric Dolphy, John Carter, Marty Ehrlich, and Sclavis, just to name a few), these players are known from their participation in a bevy of projects in and around the Berlin “lowercase” improvising scene. Thieke first caught my ears on a 1998 Leo Lab disc from the Clarinet Trio, and later on several fine Creative Sources releases, the superb Roman Tics from Cathnor, and The Magic I.D. from Erstwhile, among others. Fagaschinski’s duo with Bernhard GalGoing Round in Serpentines – got him considerable attention, and he also impressed on releases from Los Glissandinos and a lovely duet with Burkhard Stangl (Musik – Ein Porträt in Sehnsucht).

The pair seemed, on all these recordings, more interested in the properties of wood, the overtone range of the B-flat, and in the extension of experiments in dynamics and silence inaugurated by Roscoe Mitchell’s “TKHKE.” On this second release, comprised of five compositions that may be far more scripted than they initially sound, the pair both give voice to virtues of so-called “reductionism” but also – in the woody tones, the blending of timbre and overtones, and the anxious quaver of the sound – suggest something very much like Arnold Dreyblatt’s “excited” strings.

From the opening passages of “Niedere Arbeiten,” what’s more apparent is the flirtatious reference of the duo’s moniker, as they conjure a sound that’s both of place and of no place. They weave their way in and out of woody intervals that invoke The Magic I.D. and Neuschnee, but also toy with the melancholy of Mitteleuropa, playfully discarding snatches of song form here and there. The lengthy “Crystal Clear Fog” sounds the most like new music, with stacked overlapping tones, occasional bent notes, and a spare anxiousness of a sound that – as “pure” notes become harsh ones – is straining for release from within. It almost sounds like they are converting certain elements of clarinet traditions to the raw properties of the wood from which the instrument is fashioned, and from there ensconcing it in moss or lichen, the whole music like the sound of natality.

And yet it also, after the brief fragment “Dichtung und Wahrheit,” can sound very instrumental and constructed. Oddly, as on the superb “Amongst Dissidents,” it’s in these latter moments when their sound is least clarinet-like. (On this piece I hear accordion and amplifier feedback channeling Ligeti’s “Atmospheres.”) After this, the lonely quaver and tonal dissolution of “Sleep!” is like a bath, a John Carter solo piece on Quaaludes. Sink in and enjoy.

By Jason Bivins

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