Way Below the SurfaceSGL SA1569-2
Poolplayers is another surprising manifestation of a direction in free improvised music that’s distinctive but hard to define. It’s more an attitude than a genre. The music being made by different groups might sound almost unrelated, but the approach to creating it has something in common. Its language might come from avant jazz, post-rock, ambient/electronica, interactive computer music, “ethnic” music, process music, contemporary classical composed music, or almost anywhere. It’s often “slow,” on the analogy of slow food perhaps, relishing the synergy of individual flavors and the process of fine-tuning things rather than foregrounding the flash and brilliance of instant creation. It’s a music of the senses that also penetrates to more obscure levels of consciousness, approaching at times dream states or ecstatic experiences.
Poolplayers make music on the introverted end of this nebulous movement, exploring the interaction of live electronics and their own personal languages of extended techniques to create soundscapes that exert a palpable fascination. The group came together in France in 2005, and its members are all well known on the European scene. Arve Henriksen is in the Norwegian ambient/noise/improv ensemble Supersilent and is acclaimed worldwide for his trumpet/vocal styles, influenced by shakuhachi music, Mongolian overtone singing and other Asian sounds as well as jazz, and modified by electronics. Benoît Delbecq is a master of improvised prepared piano and has collaborated on projects or leads/co-leads groups with many outstanding European, Canadian and American musicians (and has recorded extensively for Songlines). He and British drummer Steve Argüelles, who lives in Paris and runs the electro-jazz label Plush, have worked together since the early ’90s, currently in the duos Ambitronix and PianoBook. Lars Juul is the co-leader of two long-lasting Danish jazz/improvised music groups, Sound of Choice and Takuan.
So what to say about the music? Delbecq attempts to characterize their unique blend: “Making this music feels like a deep concentration, and a deep unconsciousness, both at the same time. First of all, there’s a certain slowness, an idea of North, where winter makes time feel different. So the momentum in this music is actually slow, it’s the pace we first played, the very first rehearsal. When I listen to it it brings me to a mental halt or something, and is very emotional, quite funeral-like at some point – imaginary anthems or prayers….Harmonically, Arve and I have a very intense communication, one that’s purely instinctive. Arve knows a lot of Norwegian folklore, and I’ve been working on imaginary folklore for a long time, so I guess we’ve connected in that domain. I don’t often use diatonic chord progressions, I’m trying to make them sound mysterious, with a different harmonic pace, and Arve constantly offers an open door to shift tonally.” Arve suggests the harmonic links are to contemporary and classical music, and adds, “The trumpet has a vast potential for tone and sound variations that we still have not heard. I was astonished by the sound of the shakuhachi and its meditative and minimalistic expressive quality, and my trumpet sound has gradually moved along in the spirit of the shakuhachi. With electronics I can make sounds that can be difficult to do with voice and trumpet, but I also try to copy the sounds from electronics to trumpet.” Lars uses live sampling and effects to extend his spectrum of acoustic colors produced by skins, wood, stone, metal and plastic, while Steve samples and processes the other three, routing their mic inputs to delays, loops, frequency filters and pitch shifters, mixing his time-warp mutations back into the blend (there’s no subsequent remixing): “I have as much influence on the group as the instrumentalists, who are highly attuned to the input I’m suggesting, either as a reinterpretation of themselves or an addition to the setting.”
It’s a music of gesture, texture, expansion/proliferation of sounds in space and time, overlapping intensities – and the audiophile recording and surround mix take the listener right inside it. Benoît likens the process of to searching for gemstones: “My only direction in all my work is to find the right people and find the right music to play together. Once you have that feeling that you’re close to your dream, it’s a very happy feeling that can be heard in the essence of the music.”