Christian Wolf / Keith Rowe – together again, Erstlive 010 (music review)

PSF: You once said ‘it would be better to get rid of all of that–melody, rhythm, harmony, etc..’ What did you mean by that?

Christian Wolf:  That was from that early period again. We imagined, though you never do it completely, that we were starting with a completely clean slate. We were trying to think about music as if it had never been done before and at least not being done the way it was currently being done, with structuring and all the basic parameters. In that quote, I meant in the ways that they had normally been structured in 3/4 or 4/4 or in a key or there had to be a rationale for the way that the pitches were chosen and manipulating and so on. The idea was to figure out some way to get to a sound in a piece which was different and shook that all off. I went on to say there that this doesn’t mean that those things are unwelcome. They can come back again by the backdoor. Any collection of sounds that you put together, they’ll have a rhythm no matter what. They’re all there, they still come back. But the other part was making a melodic structure not by the usual procedures but resulting from making the music some other way and it came out OK. But it wasn’t what you were aiming at to start with.

The above is a quote from an interview with Christian Wolf back in April 1998 in Perfect Sound Forever Magazine. You can read the full interview here.  I thought I’d highlight that quote because this particular piece of music that I’ve been listening to is the coming together of two musicians who have been working together since 1968 when Wolf first performed with AMM in the UK. Despite the pair having strong musical and political histories starting form the late 1950’s this is the first time they’ve come together as a duo. These are two radical musicians still pushing the boundaries on musical explorations they each began years earlier.


The music itself ends up being a complex forty-seven minute piece involving convoluted interactions between the two over various soundscapes. Because of the history of the two musicians, one a master composer and the other a master of improv, the piece seems to fall into part of a life-long nomadic quest for a discourse in which each is at home. I like to think of myself as a deep listener, familiar with this style of music, but I found it difficult and at times confronting. The music is highly complex, often countering my expectations in such a way to leave me at the mercy of my own responses. Almost as it was when I first started to listen. It’s beautiful of course – there is no denying the intensity in the work, but there is something in the interactions that implies a teasing out of the full musical underpinnings of each artists philosophy. In some ways the music sounds like a piece of social theory, pulsing with its own history.


Rowe uses the buzz emanating from his various electrical devises as a stable kind of backdrop for his signals, scratches on strings and at times live radio broadcasts.  Wolf is on the piano and the guitar, using the piano as an object in which every part makes itself available for music. On the guitar he will use strings, plucking or drawing a bow across the body, then delving back into the silent spaces that serves as the bubble that encases both of them.  It makes for a haunting piece that is unpredictable, delicate and at other times robust scratching and pulsing its way along a journey replete with extant radical musical postulates.

Christian Wolf / Keith Rowe  erstlive 010 is available through Erstwhile records here.   Highly recommended.