Birgit Ulher: trumpet, radio, speaker, objects
Birgit Ulher began her career as a visual artist, a practice
which still has an important influence on her music. Since
moving to Hamburg in 1982 she has been involved in free
improvisation and experimental music. She works mainly
on extending the sounding possibilities of the trumpet
by using splitting and granular sounds and multiphonics.
She is also keenly interested in the relationship between
sound and silence. On Hochdruckzone she uses extended
speakers, fed with radio noise in her trumpet mutes. The
trumpet functions as an acoustic chamber and modulates
the radio noise, thus acting simultaneously as the trans-
mitter and receiver. She also uses vibrating metal sheets
and the aforementioned extended techniques. The internal
structure of the sounds is as important as the the structure
of the piece. You can listen to the music from different
angles by changing your position and perspective.
Ulher performs solo, with dancers, working ensembles and
one-time collaborators (including Ute Wassermann, Gino
Robair, Lucio Capece, Christoph Schiller, Heddy Boubaker,
Leonel Kaplan, Gregory Büttner and Nordzucker [with
Lars Scherzberg, Chris Heenan and Michael Maierhof]
Edition of 200 copies (out of print)
The homage Birgit Ulher pays to Bill Dixon here begins
with the sound of light breathing driven by a slight rock-
ing motion: bordering on a complex mechanism (trumpet,
speakers, radio, objects...) it’s quickly activated. It’s then
that Ulher’s interest in chain reactions comes to mind.
There are multiple instrumental tricks and the sounds
that they produce are enigmatic (crackling, sirens,
vibrating surfaces, whistling, tyres, near silences...).
Uhler creates an improvised language from actions and
their effects. Abstraction is not her only aim, however.
The musician turned gold-digger might then decide to
spin a large, round tray: the gathering murmur has a
metallic accent which contrasts with the notes that the
trumpet stifles — but which can then sound — and it
discharges in quick fire. Each new recording attests to
the artistic evolution of Birgit Ulher, of an obsessive
instrumental practice that she never ceases to perfect.
Guillaume Belhomme at Le son du grisli
Ulher works in an area that's not entirely unfamiliar to
most readers here but brings to the horn a sensibility
that’s certainly her own. To me, it’s an odd combination
of implied rhythms and a special kind of patience. The
vocabulary is recognisable — the breath tones, burred
edges, the scrape of metal on metal, some electronics,
the vibrating mutes and metallic sheets — but the uses
they’re put to taken, interestingly enough, something
of a some structure. I’m reminded of a similar feeling
I received from the best of John Butcher’s solo work.
The eight pieces here are all relatively brief, between
four and seven minutes, and have that contained kind
of quality, each a concise expression and exploration of
not only a given attack, but the mold in which they’re
formed. Ulher is very open and unmysterious about
what she's doing; sometimes that detracts from a piece
as when a ribbed object is stroked back and forth along
the horn, the jiggly tone rising and falling predictably.
But more often it’s refreshing, a straight-on examination
of these techniques, their apposition to each other,
the tense structures they form. There’s a [Raymond]
Carver-like sense of the clear wonderment of the every-
day. Tough and graceful, a very compelling combination.
Brian Olewnick at Just Outside
As with all solo releases of this type the danger is always
that the music will end up merely as a catalogue of the
different approaches and techniques available to the
musician, but here on Hochdruckzone that doesn’t feel
the case to me. The music stands up nicely on its own.
There is an airy quality to [it], formed primarily from the
sense of space that runs through the eight tracks. Even
when there is little to no silence the clean, slow way that
the blocks of sound that Ulher works with are arranged
gives a sensation of grey shapes placed against a white
background, some overlapping, some sat surrounded by
space, with each of them individually textured and full
of detail perhaps passed over by the casual eye/ear.
There is a sense of poise and calm control to the music.
In general only two things ever happen at the same time,
and while many of the sounds here have quite a harsh,
industrial feel to them as metal is vibrated hard, often as
white noise is blasted out of the mini speaker, there is still
a feeling of careful placement. A wild visual metaphor
maybe, but I am put in mind of Richard Serra sculptures —
simple, geometric structures that reveal a sharp edge and
grainy detailed textures when viewed closely. Indeed,
pleasure can be found in this music both through hearing
how it all fits together, but also through putting each of
the sounds under an aural microscope. Hochdruckzone
sounds improvised, but I can’t help hear a well defined
structure in the work that reminds me a little of Wandel-
weiseresque composition, with the simple, often extended
lines of sound placed adjacent to one another, held apart
in other places by silence. A lovely, highly listenable CD
then, easily the most mature and individual work I have
heard from Ulher yet.
Richard Pinnell in The Watchful Ear