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"the open secret" john butcher / dieb13 / gino robair - rastascan 2018.

saxophones – john butcher
turntables, computer – dieb13
energized surfaces, piano and blippoo box - gino robair
recorded by wes maebe at rak studios, london on nov. 29 2014
mixed and mastered by john butcher
produced by gino robair
photography by michael garlington
design – tania kac

reviews: review:

The geography under consideration here is a set of relationships, aesthetic approaches and sound-making implements that are more or less under the control of the people using them. Englishman John Butcher plays soprano and tenor saxophones and microphone feedback. Some know American Gino Robair as a percussionist and others as the former editor of Electronic Musician magazine; he is credited here with energized surfaces, piano and Blippoo Box, a synthesizer with chaos programmed into its circuits. And dieb13 is the stage name of Dieter Kovacic, a Viennese turntablist and electronic musician who has recorded and performed on his own and with efzeg, Burkhard Stangl and Mats Gustafsson. They’re all improvisers shaped by the history of electronic music but not necessarily committed to emulating it by electronic means.

So what’s the Open Secret? Most concretely, it’s the name of the band. Open secrets are things that are supposed to be secret, but everybody knows. You know, like everybody knows who the Residents really are, and everyone knew that Franklin Roosevelt was actually wheelchair bound. More candidly, an open secret is information that is incompletely concealed and wreathed in expectation and mystery. What do you mean, you don’t know? Everybody knows that. Or do they? Wait, you don’t know who the Residents really are? Me neither.

It’s a known fact that Butcher and Robair have been playing together for over 20 years, and that dieb13 joined them both in the John Butcher Group a decade ago. It is also well established that they’ve all made a point of working outside their instruments’ prescribed parameters, but don’t accept the discovery and articulation of out sounds to be a sufficient end. The sounds one makes, strange or otherwise, have meaning in relation to the sounds one has made before and the sounds the other players are making. So maybe the open secret is that even though everyone knows what they guys sound like together, you never really know if what they’re doing will work again since the sound you’re making derives its meaning from a matrix of associations to what you’ve done in the past, how it works with and against what the other musicians or doing, and how they respond to it. There’s no wrong note, just the next note, right?

But to have an open secret, you need to have at least an illusion that you know what’s happening some of the time. This record also has its share of decisive, lucid exchanges. You might not know exactly how Robair is energizing the snare drum on “Tinflappant,” but you’ll recognize its groan. And there’s no mistaking the chunky, serrated sound of Butcher’s tenor curling, halting, and doubling back through the piece’s evolving sonic obstacle course of drums and drones.

But wait a minute, what’s making those drones? Kovacic’s playback implements allow him to feed sounds that might be from other musicians, sessions or records. But he doesn’t just sample and regurgitate. His manipulations range from the delightfully obvious (speed that record up!) to the ultra-slippery, and its at the latter end of the spectrum that his actions combine most productively with those of his fellow players. Feedback, feedback and feedback twist together on “Dart On Discourse.” Or is some of that feedback a bowed cymbal? Was it produced in the moment, or replayed from another record? Does that matter? Why? This music doesn’t just happen, it invites you to think about how you respond to what’s happening and why, and that’s what makes it an especially rewarding addition to its participants’ burgeoning discographies.

-- Bill Meyer
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...The Open Secret, the trio of Butcher, Gino Robair on energized surfaces, piano and blippoo box (described by its inventor Rob Hordijk as “an audio sound generator that operates according to the principles of chaos theory”) and Dieb 13 on turntables and computer, is similarly built on long-term projects. Butcher and Robair have been a duo for over 20 years, previously expanding to a trio with several musicians, including Derek Bailey and John Edwards, while Dieb 13’s association with Butcher includes the eight-member John Butcher Group that produced somethingtobesaid in 2008.

It’s in the nature of Robair and Dieb 13’s contributions to inevitably blur, but sonic mystery is more than side-effect here, with the two contributing both great invention and refined subtlety. Before Butcher’s high-speed, pecking soprano enters the opening “The Lobbard Change Hisstops” (ambiguity is also a function of the titles), there’s a piping, flute-like sound that only occasionally seems to tip into oscillator. “Dart on Discourse” is an exercise in the beat patterns that arise amidst close frequencies, the result a kind of phantom band in which the trio create other voices. “Olecasandrum” sounds like radio signals in fluid, at times with hints of language just beyond comprehension, gradually moving through other zones, including a soprano saxophone that achieves the dense chirping of a flock of birds. “Last Morning of the Dream” (the connection of the CDs may be inevitable) is witty, bizarre and well nigh indescribable. “Tinflappant” foregrounds Butcher against almost acoustic percussion (an amplified snare?) and a scraping drone, resulting in a spectacular tenor oration that extends to driving, free jazz squall. “Giant Skull Gasp” is a click language, while “Pearlagraph, the Pearlagraph” is at times so subtle as to suggest patterned air with key clicks and feedback.
-- Stuart Broomer

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...The Open Secret (John Butcher, sax, feedback; dieb13, tt, comp; Gino Robair, perc, p, surfaces), das auf Rastascan ( a geography for plays zum Studium freigibt. Im unbersichtlichen Geruschaufkommen, in dem der jeweilige Erzeuger kaum zu identifizieren ist, vermischt sich der Saxofon-, Atem- und Feedbacks-Klang mit jenen gut aufgelegter Platten und motorisierter Oberflchen zu einem erfrischenden, substanzvollen Soundcocktail, der etwa im mit rund zwlf Minuten lngsten Stck dieser Trio-CD, unter dem kryptischen Titel Olecasandrum, mit Temperamenten und Temparaturen verhaltensoriginell hausieren geht, das Aussehen bzw. die Gewnder nach Belieben wechselnd. Im darauffolgenden, nicht weniger rtselhaft Tinflappant getauften Stck whlt man hektisch und lautstark in der Spielzeugkiste, um gleich daraufhin (Spoon Wink) sonoren Flchen eine rumliche Wirkung zu verschaffen. hnliches gilt für die Zeit davor und jene danach. Die Betriebsamkeit mag Pausen einlegen, das Abenteuer macht keine. Auch hbsch super.
-- felix
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Opposite sides of the Free Music coin, what these international improvising trios have in common is the talents of British reedist John Butcher. Low Yellow could be described as a classic Free Music session featuring the London-based Butcher on tenor saxophone with Dortmund-based percussionist Martin Blume and Amsterdam bassist Wilbert de Joode. Geography for Plays on the other hand centres on electronic impulses, with Butcher playing tenor and soprano saxophones plus feedback, Vienna’s dieb13 employing turntables and computer, while Californian Gino Robair is engaged with energized surfaces, prepared piano and the Blippoo Box, an analogue synthesizer with twin digital shift registers.

Sticking to acoustic interface, Low Yellow’s four tracks depend on the shale-tough pulse of De Joode that anchors the program, allowing the saxophonist and drummer to roam over the sound field. Tellingly though, not unlike the more programmed interface on the other CD, r the sonic output of the music is such that despite the distinctive properties of each player, it’s often difficult to ascribe individual textures to a particular instrument. In most cases though, the subtle drum plops and rebounds, gentle reed suckling and sophisticated string decoration sourced from either side of the double bass’s bridge, create unhurried narratives which preserve individualism by allowing unprecedented and unexpected augmented contrapuntal motifs to enter the tracks’ expositions. While the unforced improvisations also take on a rootsy Blues feel via de Joode’s scratches that seem to be pulling the finish off the bass strings and equivalent tonal reed vibration from Butcher on the concluding “Acids”, the CD’s defining track is the penultimate “Grottoes”, an extended challenge involving many pitches and textures. Butcher’s circular breathed multiphonics are perfectly balanced by de Joode’s rolling spiccato lines and Blume’s clip-clop drum beats, until the track eventually evolves before the conclusion into two recitals: the bassist’s solo showcase of emphasized affiliated notes and rhythmic patterns that then ease into accompanying Butcher’s final reed drama of circularly breathed snorts, upwards staccato tones and connective slurs.

The saxophonist gets to express himself as freely on A Geography for Plays, although these calculated reed tones aren’t really isolated until mid-way through the program, as his extended techniques blends with the electronically sourced oscillations from the other players. Until that point fascination results from aurally picking out the sequence-shifting landmarks in a program mostly concerned with rotating turntable buzzing, patched verbal and musical samples, electronic-affiliated crackles, buzzes, plops and zigzagging signal processing. Track 3, “Olecassandrum”, finally follows string-like strumming and cymbal-like slaps with a feedback loop that includes live processed circular breathing and split-tone whistles. While the session finally fades away with the concluding “Pearlagraph, The Pearlagraph” – who comes up with these titles? – that blends marimba-like chiming, blurry oscillations, piercing tweets and reed gurgles into a flowing narrative, earlier instances of timbral jiu-jitsu from the saxophonist is expressed with an assortments of feints and variations, including harsh swirling reed feedback that fits in with the crackle of scratched vinyl on “Last Morning of the Dream”; or a durable unyielding single reed tone that continues throughout “Spoon Wink” only to accelerate above altissimo when bell-like resonations and deep thumps are also heard. And then there’s the single peep that interrupts the reflective machine-made burbling on “Giant Skull Gasp.”

As on the other CD, this trio’s defining moment occurs long before the ending, on “Tinflappant”, when each participant gets to express his particular strategy before the piece climaxes with pure New Thing-like expansion of elevated multiphonic variations and echoing rolled surfaces. Before that the equivalent of hi-hat slaps, drum rolls and ticking clatter; buzzing and rubbing plus Jew’s harp-like twangs from computer samples and kazoo-like ragged reed bites, tongue slapping and honking glossolalia have isolated and defined each player’s contribution.

In terms of music’s history, it’s ironic in 2018 to report that the out-and-out Free Jazz session here may actually be more melodic and approachable than the other. Both discs however confirm how much can be done instrumentally by a trio of committed improvisers. Unexpected astonishment and appreciation can come from careful listening to either.

–Ken Waxman
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...Partly because of his scientific background, perhaps, i think of saxophonist John Butcher as another artist-researcher. The Open Secret is his long-established duo with Californian percussionist/electronicist Gino Robair. Sonic research mustn't be misunderstood. As Butcher argues in an interview, extended techniques aren't an add-on, but form "an intrinsic, inseperable part of the artist's sound". Here the duo are supplemented by Austrian turntablist dieb13 - an artist lower case in nomenclature, if not musical affiliation. Butcher doesn't see himself as a free jazz player, but his rich, dark tenor on "Tinflappant" comes close to that tradition. On "Giant Skull Gasp" glitched electronics from dieb13 and Robair provide a vibrant context for some edgy saxophone multiphonics.
-- Andy Hamilton
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