phono phono

phono phono

Sabine Vogel: flute, electr., Magda Mayas: piano, synth, Michael Renkel: acoustic guitar, electr.

John Eyles / Allaboutjazz

phono_phono is both the album title and the name of this new guitar-flute-piano-plus-electronics trio, seemingly led by Michael Renkel. Certainly, the music here is recognizably Renkel, with its mix of slower reflective passages and rapid-fire improvisation. The album has a clear structure: four extended tracks separated by three much shorter interludes. These interludes are not filler, though; each is a substantial piece in its own right. For instance, without becoming mere program music, “Interlude III” brilliantly simulates the sounds of a steam train, including train whistle, chuffing and a real sense of momentum.
While not at the threshold of audibility favored on some of the eai label’s recordings, there is much here that requires attentive and repeated listening to do it justice. The extended use of small, deliberate gestures by all three players serves to build tension—almost unbearably at times. When release does come, in the form of louder, faster passages of play, the sense of relief is tangible.
The central track, “Perception Feedback” is a good example: having spent half of its nine-plus minutes employing micro-gestures between the players, the arrival of some stark inside-the-piano work from Magda Mayas, followed up by dramatic percussive block chords, is very welcome and highly effective. Neither section on its own would work as well; each needs the other; and all three players bring the track to a satisfying concluding crescendo together.
In similar fashion, there is a build-up across the whole album, with the final track, “Rasp and Rest” being the most outgoing, and providing a similar sense of conclusion and closure.
Across the album, electronics are used extensively to alter and enhance the sounds of the instruments, often producing passages worthy of sci-fi or horror movies. So one would not be surprised if “Interlude II” turned out to be the work of the Radiophonic Workshop, for example, or if sections of the closing track were found to be from a hitherto unknown Bernard Hermann soundtrack for Dracula!
phono_phono is a trio with a distinctive sound and identity; let’s hope this release is just the beginning….

Richard Pinnell paristransatlantic :
Another very strong CD I’ve been playing a lot is from the trio of Michael Renkel, Sabine Vogel and Magda Mayas who go by the collective name of Phono Phono, which also seems to be the title of their first album on the Absinth label. Another review planned for this one, which is a curious mix of guitar, piano, flute and electronics, ranging from very quiet Feldmanesque moments to quirky quickfire improv, but somehow all making sense as one big whole. I had no expectations for this disc when it arrived, but have been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it.
phono_phono is the single name adorning the sleeve of this intriguing release by the Berlin trio of Magda Mayas (piano, synth), Sabine Vogel (flutes, electronics) and Michael Renkel (guitar, electronics). The intrigue stems from the structure of the presented work; whilst it’s clearly improvised to a large extent, and apparently recorded live, the music continually suggests some form of compositional arrangement is involved. The album consists of four lengthy pieces interspersed with three numbered “Interludes”, the longest of which lasts just under three minutes. A sense I have of the music within each piece being divided into rough sections of activity, when combined with my reading of the somewhat confusing and unattributed notes at the Absinth website, suggests some kind of compositional direction at work, but this isn’t clear. It could just as well be result of three well-matched musicians very aware of each other’s playing. Irrespective of how it was created, the music more than adequately rewards any time and consideration devoted to it. Each piece works quite differently, using refreshingly different sounds throughout but always staying with a sense of calm, chamber-like intimacy. Across the seven tracks the considered, capacious music progresses slowly and carefully, remaining at the lower end of the volume scale throughout. The three “Interludes” act like starters before each main course, refreshing the aural palette with finely constructed little miniatures, each quite delightful, while taking their place in the overall construction. All three musicians are credited as playing both acoustic and electronic instrumentation, but the division between the two dissolves naturally throughout the disc. Both the sounds made and their placement alongside each other are exceptional, with a sense of delicate precision throughout.

Brian Olewnick, Bagatellen (USA) :
phono_phono (I believe it’s the name of the ensemble as well as the album) is a trio with Magda Mayas (piano, synthesizer), Sabine Vogel (flutes, electronics) and Michael Renkel (guitar, electronics). Though it’s nowhere indicated, I get the impression that Renkel is the driving force behind at least the suite presented here which, though clearly consisting of a great deal of improvisation, just as clearly has a prearranged structure of sorts. The seven tracks find four longish ones (about nine to twenty minutes) separated by three “interludes” in the 2-3 minute range. Things drift toward the quiet and spacious sometimes, as in the opening piece, edging into a territory with Feldman-esque overtones, resembling that composer’s work for semi-similar trios (flute, piano percussion). The interludes are like cool, misty ponds separating the more tangled, irregular wooded patches between them, very lovely in and of themselves. Much of the suite is languidly paced, using generally consonant tones (even the clicks, bangs and whirs don’t read as especially harsh) but things gradually pick up tempo, real or implied, as the piece develops. The third section, “Silent Bombing”, is more rambunctious, bumpier. Renkel’s guitar, while always retaining its recognizability as such, gets a bit frantic, Vogel’s flute more breathily urgent. Here and elsewhere, the coherence of the three musicians into a balanced whole is very impressive. Indeed, “balanced” fits the trio very well; there’s an enjoyable sense of steady, serene creation throughout. The final interlude sets some rhythmic ideas in motion that surface several minutes into the final movement, the sort of rapidly flitting sounds that recall Gunter Muller. That addition, plus some of the rougher plucking and thwacking to be found on the disc, does its part to make the last track the highlight of the album, a really strong, vital piece. One hopes this trio remains together and takes off from here. 
Good stuff.

Tom Sekowski / Gaz-Eta (Poland)
Problem with silence is that it’s too still. There is a world of sounds in fact that breaks the monotony of silence and gives birth to something new and exciting. On the other hand, there are ensembles that work closely with one another and understand silence to be another tool they can use in the creative process. One such gathering of musicians is the trio made up of pianist/synth player Magda Mayas, guitarist/electronics guru Michael Renkel and flautist/electronics whiz Sabine Vogel. Together they machinate silence and concoct something amazingly new out of the deepest, darkest corners of their creative imaginations. Recorded in November 2005 in Berlin, the album features what in some people’s minds would pass for utter silence, while others would automatically declare this as music. Of course, the answer is this is music and it’s music at its very finest. My guess is some of the material was “thought-out” prior to actual recording, though this is purely improvised music. Gentle tickles of the ivories are heard throughout as is delicate synth work. Renkel’s guitar is strewn out in gentle humming passages. Sometimes he taps the body of his instrument, while at others, he actually plucks the strings. Electronic treatments are done in such a way as to accentuate the sound of the instruments. Pops, cracks and static that is heard is a mandatory player in the game, seeing how both Vogel and Renkel utilize electronics in a generous way. Vogel’s flute work is haunting throughout and more often than not is kept to tight, time-out blows or just timid taps of the tongue. Put together, the trio is extremely committed and plays each pause and phrase with exact devotion and care to details. Generous portion of improvised music with emphasis on the electro-acoustic. Packaged in a gorgeous cardboard sleeve, and limited to only 500 copies, I recommend you pick up a copy without delay.

modisti (Italy) :
Slow exploration of liminal ambients in a live recording influenced by the concrete. Sound is approached as abstract material –its scale often blown up- proposed as single frames surrounded by dark, attention being unavoidably drawn to the details witnessed. Instruments are extended as a result of their encounter with electronic sound, having an abstract quality rather than being idiomatically embedded. Interaction follows the ebb and flow of collective pulses, slowed down organism, its breath taking whole seconds just to exhal the air. Electronic sound is seamlessly close to acoustic explorations although featuring a greater resolution than the acoustic.

Lenta exploración de ambientes liminales en una grabación en directo influenciada por lo concreto. Aproximación al sonido como material abstracto –su escala a menudo ampliada- propuesto como fotogramas aislados, rodeados por la oscuridad, la atención necesariamente dirigida a los detalles observados. Los instrumentos son ampliados como resultado del encuentro con el sonido electrónico, mostrando un carácter abstracto antes que situado dentro del marco de lo idiomático. La interacción sigue las idas y venidas de los pulsos colectivos, su respirar requiere varios segundos para soltar el aire. El sonido electrónico se encuentra indisociablemente vinculado a las exploraciones acústicas si bien presenta un carácter más resuelto que lo acústico.