Nucleons Are Hunting Waves

Baumann - Nucleons

HUNTING WAVES / BAUMANN-ROTZIER-KÜNZI: Heisenberg’s Accident. Hunting Quarks. Spinning. Seven Lives. Chain of Fools. Subatomic Whisperings / Nucleons: Franziska Baumann, voc; Sebastian Rotzier, bs; Emanuel Künzi, dm / Leo Records CD LR 876

This very strange CD contains some very strange music, even by Leo Records’ standards. Nucleons is a Lucerne, Switzerland-based trio in which the lead instrument is neither a reed nor a brass player, but a singer, and to say that Franziska Baumann uses her voice instrumentally is an understatement. Often, I wondered what high reed instrument was playing with the bass and drums, only to realize that it was Baumann’s voice.

But the strangeness doesn’t stop there. Much of the music is abstract to the point of parsing notes, intervals and rhythm. Some of the music emerges almost like modern classical compositions, which led me to wonder how much background and experience these three musicians have had with that genre of music.

In the first piece, Heisenberg’s Accident, Baumann sings words, or at least syllables, in what sounds like a few different languages (though, since I don’t know any of them, I can’t tell if they’re really coherent phrases or just gibberish). This is largely a duet between her voice and Sebastian Rotzier’s bass, with drummer Emanuel Künzi sort of flailing away on his own behind them. Baumann eventually devolves from words to syllables and grunts in rhythm, producing a truly strange effect as if she were a second percussionist. This is really wild music! And, despite the free-form of the improvisations, it has direction and development within each piece. Further on, Baumann sings a repeated series of high Es in a sort of staccato flutter than resembles the very old-style “Baroque trill” of classical music.

Hunting Quarks, the longest piece on the disc at 15:23, opens with some strange percussion sounds that resemble someone sawing wood (or maybe a petal pipe with a hacksaw), which then turns into a sort of metallic whine (possibly the bass playing very high up on the edge of the strings with the bow). This continues for some time, with the bass’ edgy high tremolos becoming louder and more insistent, until we finally hear Baumann singing high flutters with the voice around the 3:56 mark—but she doesn’t stay in the mix, but rather comes and goes. This is where she often sounds like an instrument the most. By the 5:12 mark, Künzi’s drumming becomes more insistent but also more set in a regular rhythmic pattern, and when Baumann returns it is to sing high sustained notes and, later, flutters over several tones, almost like a trill in thirds, followed by percussive single notes created by her moving her lips in rapid succession. I’ve not heard anything like this in jazz; it sounds more like something that György Ligeti might have written. And believe it or not, the vocalizations become even weirder as the piece goes on, including what sounds like a flute but is probably Baumann singing in a high falsetto register. Later still, the bass answers her with low drones as the drums just keep chugging away. But I swear I hear a flute in here, yet none is credited on the album. Curiouser and curiouser!

Spinning is more of the same, but on Seven Lives we hear mostly an atonal bass solo by Sebastian Rotzier with a little high-note holding by Baumann and some light percussion in the background. In Chain of Fools, Baumann speaks her lines, most of which sound like French (I did make out “pourquoi”), while the percussion stays busy and the bass drops out. Subatomic Whisperings opens with Baumann making strange guttural sounds in the back of her throat while the bass moans and the percussion plays around her. Baumann eventually moves on to singing “Hey-a-hey-i-o”s, in an attractive melodic pattern, as the music settles down and becomes more lyrical.

A relatively brief but strange musical journey! You’ve got to hear this one to believe it!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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