Birgit Ulher

Matter Matters
Hideous Replica HR 14

Warning: This is not a trumpet recording or in most cases the recording of a trumpet. That’s because in her playing Hamburg-based brass players Birgit Ulher has gone beyond operating the valves, bell and mouthpiece in even an unconventional manner. Now she has evolved to using the horn as one sound source among many others. On this three-track solo outing the trumpet is part of spectral; explorations that also involve a radio, speaker, so-called objects, a splitter and tape.

Although “From Die Schachtel [2013]” is her interpretation of the graphics, numbers, texts and pitch structures created by Christoph Schiller the strategy Ulher uses doesn’t sound that far removed from the improvisations that surround that track. One defining feature is that by the composition’s mid-section she creates a veritable Catherine Wheel’s of harsh and percussive strops and pops. This follows initial tone elaborations which involve the propelling of air and tonguing without valve pressure and ends with descriptive rubato bites and slurs that with aviary squeaks stretch the initial structure still further.

With the input of Michael Maierhof, who provides a splitter, which literally dissects the trumpet tone in combination with tape to create multiple brass and noise shading, “Splitting 21 (2011-2013)” is also profoundly individual. Rumbling hisses from the machines press up against the trumpeter’s timbres like waves returning to the shore, creating a transformative connection. Moving from the pedal-point bottom to stratospheric height of the trumpet’s range with lip kisses, mouthpiece yelps and resonating growls, Ulher’s interface with the flanges, crackles and ruffs sourced from elsewhere sets up contrapuntal activities between the human and the tape. Eventually high brass pitches melding with the apparatus’ textural sound creases that seem almost tactile combine into a squeaky fade.

Reflecting careful measurement of a German and an American river, “Traces [2014] for trumpet, radio, speaker, objects and tape” marks the human soloist establishing instrumental superiority over percussive noises that are created from the properties of solid materials found in the water. Ulher uses upwards squeaks, flat-line whistles and unaccented blows to overcome the sawing shakes and metal buzzes which suggest assembly line machinery rather than flowing wetness. Eventually the narrative quiets as brassy chromatic slurs, gurgles and growls make common cause with plunging wave form-like whistles and splooshes from elsewhere that lead to conclusive dead air.

The chances of anyone putting away his or her Chris Botti or even Bill Dixon CDs to hear this disc are pretty slim. But those adventurous enough to not demand to hear expected timbres or easily defined categories may be fascinated by the program here.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Traces [2014] for trumpet, radio, speaker, objects and tape” [2014] for trumpet, radio, speaker, objects and tape 2. From Die Schachtel [2013] 3. Splitting 21 [2011-2013] for trumpet, splitter and tape

Personnel: Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, speaker, objects, splitter and tape)