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April 2001

Günter Müller/Lê Quan Ninh
La Voyelle Liquide
Erstwhile Records

The integration of percussion and electronics has a long history in European improvised music. For early innovators like Paul Lytton, electronics were one of many efforts to expand the palette of standard trap sets. One of the best outlets for this aspect of Lytton's work in the '70s and '80s was a duo with a similarly minded percussionist, Paul Lovens. While they are the clearest antecedent for the work of Gunter Muller and Le Quan Ninh on La Voyelle Liquide, Muller and Lu seem more interested in the devolution of the drum kit than its expansion. Muller favors sitting between a snare drum and a floor tom, with a table of MiniDiscs and electronics in front of him, and a table loaded with small percussion instruments to one side. On this album, Le uses electronics and a 24-inch bass drum, upon which he places cymbals, Tibetan bowls and other objects to create multilayered sounds.

It is not surprising, given the absence of conventional setups, that the program would not emphasize conventional drumming. Instead, the seven pieces place a premium on texture and dynamics. Muller and Le's sense of rhythmic subtlety is expressed through the opening and closing of a filter as often as it is through the development of a phrase or pattern. They have a penchant for bright metallic sounds: when a brisk rhythmic pattern is established, the music takes on the gamelan tinge of an early Lou Harrison piece; in a more eruptive soundscape, these sources can be harrowing. Muller and Le also delve into very quiet sounds, which can lapse into silence for seconds at a time, leaving the listener on the edge of his seat.

Repeatedly on La Voyelle Liquide, Gunter Muller and Le Quan Ninh prove to be resourceful instant composers.

Originally published in April 2001
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