© 2017

George Lewis & Splitter Ochester
Creative Construction Set™
MIKROTON CD 50 | 2016

Edition of 1000

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1. Creative Construction Set™ #3
2. Creative Construction Set™ #1
3. Creative Construction Set™ #2

Liz Allbee trumpet
Boris Baltschun computer, analog synthesizer
Burkhard Beins percussion
Anthea Caddy cello
Anat Cohavi alto clarinet, soprano saxophone
Werner Dafeldecker double bass
Mario de Vega objects, electronics
Axel Dörner trumpet
Kai Fagaschinski clarinet
Robin Hayward microtonal tuba
Steve Heather percussion
Chris Heenan contrabass clarinet
George Lewis composition, trombone, electronics
Matthias Müller trombone
Magda Mayas clavinet
Andrea Neumann inside piano, mixing board
Morten J. Olsen percussion, vibraphone
Simon James Phillips piano
Julia Reidy guitar
Ignaz Schick turntable, objects
Michael Thieke clarinet
Clayton Thomas double bass
Sabine Vogel flutes
Biliana Voutchkova violin
Marta Zapparoli electronics, reel-to-reel tape machine

The Splitter Orchester is a Berlin-based collection of internationally respected Composer-Performers which draws inspiration from many genres and is most comfortable in the creative borderland between composed and improvised music. It is a defiant musical organism that has developed an extraordinary artistic profile - uniting across continents, generations and aesthetics. Utilising a broad variety of extended techniques on traditional, electronic, and especially constructed and tailored instruments, the ensemble's main focus in their artistic practice is the production of sound and how to diffuse it in space - creating an ocean of sound rich in texture, dynamics and unexpected power. What brings this ensemble of incredible musicians together is a dedication to discovering together the untarnished face of a new, sonic experience: something bold, radical, political and beautiful all at once. 

AACM member George Lewis is a seminal figure - a musician, artist and thinker whose humanistic visions and work on artistic process has significantly influenced a broad swathe of artists internationally. The collaborative nature of musical creation within a Composer-Performer context is integral to both Lewis and Splitter. Especially conceived for the Splitter Orchester, Lewis' Creative Construction Set™ is more a facilitation than a composition, bringing these two global forces together in synergistic partnership that resulted in a lucid improvisational experience. This album is a partial document of this mutual exploration, mesmerizing the listeners with the stunning transparency of its sound.

The very first concert of the Splitter Orchester (in Berlin’s main train station in 2010), was documented on a Echtzeitmusik compilation published by Mikroton Recordings in 2012. This compilation was a milestone in the long-term relationship between Mikroton Recordings and the diverse Echtzeitmusik-Scene in Berlin. Since then, many members of the Splitter Orchester have released their music on Mikroton Recordings (amongst them Burkhard Beins, Werner Dafeldecker, Michael Thieke, Simon J. Phillips, and many more).

Reviews

Squid's Ear, Brian Olewnick:
I had the good fortune to see the Splitter Orchester twice in recent years, once in Paris and once in Huddersfield, the latter event occurring three or so weeks after the recording in question. In Paris, they ably skirted what is treacherous ground for any large, improvising ensemble by creating an air-filled, unencumbered sonic space, very clearly limned with delicate tracings of sound, anchored by the placement of percussionists Burkhard Beins and Morten J. Olsen on opposite corners (playing horizontally-oriented bass drums) of a kind of square set up, their diagonal "conversation" serving as a scaffolding of sorts upon which the other instrumentalist strung their lines. In Huddersfield, arrayed over a large interior space that allowed the listener to move freely about, the result was less successful; one had the impression that they're best served when there's some overarching compositional aspect in effect though that clearly may have been an isolated instance.

For this meeting, George Lewis concocted a set of strategies loosely based on memories of The Creative Construction Company, an early 70s ensemble made up of various AACM-affiliated musicians (and which released two very fine albums on Muse). The piece involves text instructions/prompts written on cards distributed to twenty-four Splitter members (Including, among others, Werner Dafeldecker, Kai Fagaschinski, Axel Dörner, Magda Mayas, Andrea Neumann and Clayton Thomas, plus Lewis himself) which not only seek to evoke musical responses but, perhaps more importantly, social ones with regard to cooperation, group formation, individuality within a group experience, etc. It's the sort of experience that necessarily loses something when heard via recording — a well-made video document would go further in fulfilling that ideal — but with a bit of imagination, the listener can at least begin to get a grasp on what had occurred. Three selections, probably culled from a wider set, are offered here.

The first (#3) immediately enters dense, resonant territory but remains clear, the heavy percussion, splattered brass and siren sounds from somewhere slicing through the thick atmosphere. The track proceeds to dissipate and sharply recollect in an appropriately unpredictable manner, the musicians presumably forming alliances, debating tactics and perhaps choosing secession. It has an endearing stumbling, lurching quality, the mostly heavy and dark sounds banging off one another, but playfully, before ending gently with drones and plucked metal strings. #1, the second track, is a harsher affair, the sounds generally pitched higher, grainier, more splintered, incorporating tapes at the start. It's more difficult to attempt to follow any cooperative procedures, but eventually a steady, low piano figure from Mayas or Simon James Phillips emerges, serving as something of a spine, or at least tendril, off of which sprout a bewildering set of brief, curling sounds. Again, the work shifts abruptly near its conclusion, developing sets of discrete tutti flourishes connected by the thinnest of strands. The final portion, #2, is probably the most problematic, the music entering a more diffuse, disparate and superficially scattered and non-homogenous phase for its first half, though still remaining fascinating; one can only guess at the levels of cooperation (or not) that took place. Ultimately, cohesion arrives in the form of an enormous welter of percussive bangs, strangulated brass, fluttering electronics and deep, rapid arco bass and cello. Very satisfying.

A strong effort and bracing to hear what Lewis can evoke and provoke in a large grouping of very talented, improvising musicians.

Vital Weekly, Dolf Mulder:
Splitter Orchester is a Berlin-based international collective of about 25 composers and improvisers. All of them are into new music and improvisation. This initiative started in 2010, rooted in the ‘Echtzeitmusik’-scene in Berlin. All members are based (from time to time) in Berlin. Simultaneously they are present in Berlin for at least one occasion: the yearly Splitter Music Festival. On this festival for contemporary orchestral music they perform as the Splitter Orchester. ‘Creative Construction Set’ documents their collaboration with AACM member George Lewis, trombonist and much more. He started in the mid-70s playing a lot with Anthony Braxton in those days. Later he became a pioneer in technology and computer music. Gradually the trombone became less important and Lewis was more and more into composing and improvising and everything in between. He composed ‘Creative Construction Set’ as a framework or starting point for a musical meeting. He offers structures that define a specific space for free improvisation. For example his set of rules get the improvisers all play in serving role, contributing to the whole. It is not about profiling solo improvisers showing their virtuosity etc. No this music moves along as one giant entity, somehow framed by what Lewis handed to the musicians. Although there is plenty of room for improvisation, it often sounds as if it is composed music. It shows Lewis is really one who pushes on the boundaries, shaping sounds into huge constellations. The music is much about change in dynamics. There are many dramatic movements and eruptions while this vast and massive stream of sounds follows it way. Although this music depends on lots of extended techniques, computers, balancing acoustic and electronics sources, etc., all this didn’t bother me while listening. The music made me forget from what and how it is produced. It is played sensitive and has depth. Yes, this captivating and engaging music. Recorded in Stuttgart by the way - not in Berlin – in the SWF-Studios in 2015.

The Quietus, Stewart Smith:
One of two new albums from Berlin's Splitter Orchestra (the other being Shine On You Crazy Diagram with Felix Kubin), Creative Construction Set™ is a collaboration with AACM member, trombonist and computer music composer George Lewis. Splitter Orchestra brings together composer-performers from the Echtzeimuzik scene, an improvised and experimental music network which emerged in the mid-90s. Lewis has his roots in free jazz and new music, but with the Splitter Orchestra he operates beyond any recognisable idiom. I could call Creative Construction Set™ electro-acoustic improv, but that threatens to reduce it to a series of now-familiar practices and sounds. This performance succeeds in transporting the listener to an alter-dimension. That's partly down to the skill of the musicians in rendering familiar elements uncanny through extended techniques and electronic manipulation, but it's also down to the expert use of space, texture and dynamics: this is a fully realised soundworld, rather than a loose aggregation of effects.
It begins faintly, with Lewis breathing through his trombone over a sliver of a sine wave. This impressionistic tone painting gradually becomes busier and noisier, until we're in the midst of the hiss, splat and clang of a cyborg wrestling match that's gotten out of hand. There's the clatter and squelch of flesh on metal as bodies are flung against the ropes and slammed down onto the canvas. The umpires step in with ray guns and electric cattle prods, subduing the warring parties with juddering zaps of high voltage. As this stramash continues, a plangent piano figure plays faintly under it all, like exit music intended to pacify the crowd. The second half offers fleeting glances of guitar buzz and twanging strings, but is mainly characterised by the interplay between sustained brass and woodwind tones, and ragged bursts of electronics and percussion.

Dalston Sound, Tim Owen:
George Lewis & Splitter Orchester’s Creative Construction Set™ (Mikroton) makes connections between the new German Echtzeitmusik scene and America’s Great Black Music.
Echtzeitmusik is a Berlin-centric but internationally collaborative movement, involving a wide and open caste of musicians who are developing a distinctive new electro-acoustic music. The 23-piece Splitter Orchester is its summit, and George Lewis, on this occasion, is the Orchester’s principal, guest musician (trombone, electronics) and composer.
Lewis (b. 1952), a member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, plays trombone (check his News for Lulu trio with John Zorn and Bill Frisell), innovates in interactive electronic and computer music, and works as composer, conductor and installation artist. He’s also the current Professor of American Music at Columbia University. In the past he’s worked closely with Anthony Braxton, as well as with groups such as Musica Elettronica Viva, and the Globe Unity and ICP Orchestras. He couldn’t be more perfect for the Splitter Orchester.
Lewis’ 3-piece Creative Construction Set™ is a text-based score that evidently allows the players (who include Axel Dörner, Simon James Phillips,Werner Dafeldecker and Burkhard Beins) considerable autonomy, while also imposing a structure that’s produced a remarkably nuanced and finely calibrated set.
The album was recorded over two days in broadcaster SWR’s studios, retaining the immediacy of a live performance. Its three parts, each around 20 minutes long) are presented out of sequence, with the densest and most changeably dynamic piece, “Creative Construction Set™ #3”, opening the album before we’re returned to #1 and #2. #1 seems to me the best way in though, kicking off as it does with urban field recordings, taped human voices that are soon commingling with orchestrated instrumentation.
And orchestrated is the word: brass instruments sounding off against dramatic percussives in controlled detonations before yielding to the egoless equilibrium of mutual conduction: the piece, Lewis explains: “proceeds by way of text instructions that ensemble members propose to each other during a performance”. So the flow is restless and constantly animated, with lots of little stress tensions bound together in the improvised engineering of a coherent musical architecture.
The players each make their mark, and there’s a heightened sensitivity, moment to moment, to specific instruments or combinations (pianist Simon James Phillips insinuates a lovely, pacifying melodic motif into the latter stages of “Creative Construction Set™ #1”), but the real pleasures of this listening are in their aggregation, and the fine balance the Orchester strikes between viscerality and sensitivity; the play of skittish microsound against bolder gestures.
“Creative Construction Set™ #2”, which closes the album, is increasingly slow, deep and coagulant. It has a brooding, ominous quality, but enfolds brittle turntablism, an exquisite looping effect in brittle strung wood stresses, contrastingly deep and breathy brass and woodwind sounds, and the occasional violent irruption of percussive clatter amid much beautifully stressed delicacy.
Orchester members Boris Baltschun and Burkhard Beins, in trio with Serge Baghdassarians, recorded one of the highlights of 2016 in the shape of Будущее совершенное., and that album might make a better introduction to Echtzeitmusik for the uninitiated, but the revolutionary dynamics of Creative Construction Set™ take us deeper.

The Wire, Richard Thomas:
George Lewis and The Splitter Orchester's Creative Construction Set is another compelling collaboration. AACM member, computer music composer and trombonist Lewis operates in a space somewhere within and beyond jazz, but the music generated by this collaboration is light years from any discernible idiom.
Creative Construction Set is a text based score system that Lewis originally developed with The AACM. These text-scores generate Creative Construction Sets 1, 2 and 3. Aside from devising the compositions Lewis also plays trombone and electronics.
Creative Construction Set begins with the third. An exploration of amplitude and dynamic range, the piece opens with the cold alloys of a gong, a shriek of breath filtered through brass tubes, bright beams of flute, violin glissandi and stentorian brass. This develops into a fitful rhythmic motive that recedes briefly before re-erupting violently with clangorous percussion and guitar and a purring brass monstrosity. For all the high amplitude acoustic violence, the most shocking moments are where a soft, semi-conventional, melodic mode is pursued; a beautiful tremulous motive for strings and flute that is the encapsulation of a shiver; chirruping flute trills in a siege of silence; a call and response dialogue between zippy electronics and brass chords. It ends with a baritone drone and sweet pizzicato guitar and piano gestures.
The second track is the first set. It opens with a field recording of an urban space flecked with cymbal washes. Double bass pizzicato drops the listener into a hardy percussive exchange that gradually eases into a more intimate and nebulous territory. The field recordings return, a loop of almost nothing rotates, and piano provides a meandering walking bass line while woodwinds swoop like gulls.
Somewhat confusingly the third track on the CD is the second set, which creeps into being gently. I say creep since it has a stealthy and sinister quality to its movement that eventually yields to a thrillingly aggressive percussive exchange. Its odd combination of tranquility and brutal viscerality recalls Toru Takemitsu's film scores for the Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara . A cruelly beautiful meld of orchestral instrumentation, tape, electronics and extended technique that evokes an irrational, uncanny and primeval sense of dread. Yet its violence is also comic, which is entirely apposite to the ludicrous, ominous and vicious world we exist in. However, in their mass collaborative, process-based openness, Splitter Orchester offer a prefigurative model of how that world could change. It's both a thrilling and inspiring proposition.

Jazzwise, Philip Clark:
With the end of ‘Creative Construction Set™ #3’ – actually track one – looming into view, a lusty chorale bellows out from the depths of the Splitter Orchester and you begin to suspect that, during the previous 20 minutes, you’ve been listening to a sequence of extrapolations and rippling consequences – and only now are you hearing the consequential thing from which all this material was being extrapolated. Whether it’s quite that simple in reality is open to question. George Lewis’ pieces for the Berlin-based Splitter Orchester use a Byzantine system of cue cards to keep a flow of information percolating through the orchestral ranks. Just as moments of grand announcement feel inevitable, or that the music might be coalescing around routine patterns, one of the musicians will deal a wild card from the bottom of the pack – thus rebooting the structure. An intriguing paradox underlies this music: the distinctive character of the Splitter Orchester depends on individually-minded improvisers being prepared to colour the collective. The occasional audible Axel Dörner, George Lewis or Michael Thieke aside is welcome – but when conventionally stacked violin arpeggios emerge at the end of ‘Creative Construction Set™ #2’ you realise how deeply Lewis’ pieces have re-configured our expectations of how music behaves.

Musik An Sich, Wolfgang Kabsch:
Das Splitter Orchester, gegründet im April 2010 von Clare Cooper, Clayton Thomas und Gregor Hotz, verfolgt das Ziel ein in Berlin einmaliger Klangkörper zu sein, der die stilistisch vielseitige lokale Echtzeitmusik-Szene repräsentiert. Hauptansatz des 24-köpfigen Orchesters ist die freie Improvisation, auf deren Grundlage ihre Stücke entstehen und im anschließenden Arbeitsprozess Methoden und Praktiken des Komponierens und Improvisierens zu analysieren und in Kontext zu setzen.
Seit seiner Gründung 2015 konnte das Splitter Orchester einige Konzerte spielen und mit unterschiedlichen Komponisten zusammenarbeiten. Nun haben Sie “Creative Construction Set TM“, eine dreiteilige Arbeit mit dem amerikanischen Posaunisten George Lewis live umgesetzt. Diese Arbeit wird mit diesem Album vorgelegt (auf 1.000 Stück limitiert).
Die drei jeweils ca. 20 Minuten langen Stücke liegen musikalisch irgendwo zwischen freier Improvisationsmusik und Contemporary Music. Im Gegensatz zu vielen Kollegen lehnen sie sich mit dieser Arbeit jedoch weniger an der Klassik als an den Jazz an. Auch merkt man einen deutlichen Unterschied zu der doch oft kakophonischen Contemporary Music von z.B. Zeitkratzer, in Form von durchaus komponierten Passagen und dementsprechend melodischen Abschnitten. Auch geht das Splitter Orchester sehr viel subtiler vor. Natürlich gibt es auch hier ausufernde, nahezu kakophonische Momente, doch überwiegen die durchaus zerbrechlichen, sehr spartanishen Momente, in denen nur ein Piano oder eine sanfte Perkussion, ein leichter Bläserklang oder sontige Instrumente quasi allein zu hören sind. Somit ist auch die Stille und der Nachhall der einzelnen Instrumente ein wichtiger Bestandteil dieser Musik.
Creative Construction Set TM bietet knapp 60 Minuten sehr interessante Improvisationsmusik, die sicherlich nicht einfach zugänglich ist, aber gerade für interessierte Neueinsteiger in die Welt der Improvisations- / Contemporary Music durch seine lichten Ansätze gut geeignet ist.

Tomajazz, Pachi Tapiz:
La Splitter Orchester, formación con seis años de antigüedad y compuesta por importantes improvisadores libres como Axel Dörner, Andrea Neumann, Magda Mayas, Werner Dafeldecker, Clayton Thomas o Michael Thieke (2), contó con la colaboración del veterano trombonista, compositor e integrante esencial de la AACM (3) George Lewis para desarrollar su música. Este creó unas composiciones, que el grupo desarrolló por medio de indicaciones textuales escritas entre sus integrantes en plena ejecución de dichas composiciones. El resultado es Creative Construction Set (Mikroton Recordings, 2016) son los “Creative Construction Set” números 1, 2 y 3: ¿composición?; ¿improvisación?; ¿comprovisación?; ¿improcomposición? Música, libertad, diálogo y creatividad en todo caso, empleando el espacio que la creatividad y la libertad requieren.

Bad Alchemy, Rigobert Dittmann:
Der 24-köpfige Klangkörper in Berlin hat sich 2010 zusammengefunden, um sich abseits hierarchischer Strukturen und jenseits der musikalischen Tradition explorativen Prozessformen zu widmen. Gegen eine nach 6 Jahren dennoch vermutete Routine kam Lewis ins Spiel, um sie mit seinem CCS™-Baukasten und den alten AACM-Tugenden 'agency, process, emergence, and collectivity' aufzumöbeln. Innerhalb einer Probewoche wurden 'discontinuity' & 'disruption' kommuniziert und drei Sets in orchestraler Echtzeit entfaltet. Elektroakustisch bestückt mit etwa Cello (Anthea Caddy), Computer (Boris Baltschun), Klarinetten (Kai Fagaschinski, Michael Thieke), Kontrabässen (Werner Dafeldecker, Clayton Thomas), Gitarre (Julia Reidy), Piano (Simon James Phillips), Posaunen (Matthias Müller, Lewis selber), Trompeten (Liz Allbee, Axel Dörner), Turntables (Ignaz Schick) und Tonband (Marta Zapparoli). Dazu Tuba (Robin Hayward) und Kontrabassklarinette (Chris Heenan) für das Subwoofing und Flöten (Sabine Vogel) sowie Geige (Biliana Voutchkova) für die Klangspitzen. Lewis hat ja schon mit etwa The NOW Orchestra, dem Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra oder The Monash Art Ensemble seine Vorstellungen realisiert, ein Kollektiv zu organisieren. Beim als organloser Körper verfassten Splitter Orchester erstaunt dennoch die Geschlossenheit quicker Bewegungen und Verwerfungen und die Effektivität von Hell-Dunkel-, Dicht-Locker-, Forciert-Entspannt-Kontrasten, wofür allein schon das Sammelsurium der Perkussionisten (Burkhard Beins, Steve Heather, Morten J. Olsen) Bände spricht, von Putzwolle bis zu Abrissbirne. Ein wirksames Mittel ist das bruitistische Auffächern eines Klangzwielichts, wobei sich auch Luftlöcher auftun, in denen Stecknadeln rieseln und Flöhe husten, und dann auch Clavinet (Magda Mayas) oder 'Inside Piano (Andrea Neumann) spuken. Der noch größere Clou ist freilich, dass die molekulare, feingliedrige Bewegtheit dieser schrill keckernden, knörknurrenden, knisterbröselnden Kakophilie weder Rumms noch Bumms, weder Rausch noch Kater scheut. Als hätte Lewis die 'Obergrenze' in den Köpfen ausradiert.

Include Me Out, Robin Tomens:
Occasionally an album comes along, the depths of which I can tell from the first few minutes will probably take me a lifetime to fathom - Creative Construction Set is such an album...such an album...
Where to begin? How about the fact that I've spent the last couple of hours painting...not the walls, but the paper designed for painting images onto, any images, abstract, representational, figurative...you know, art things. Which tells you nothing about this album...although it does, in a way, because it tells you that by mentioning my act of painting I don't know how to begin to describe Creative Construction Set...so how about a comparison between sound and images? Maybe. This is abstract art of the highest degree. Perhaps I even paint in a similar fashion to the way the Orchester and George Lewis make music...improvisational...no fixed idea of what will emerge but...an approach in mind, in place, the bare bones or foundation of what will take shape...
George Lewis has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, in case you were wondering. Now you know. Knowing nothing of the artists is no bad thing...no preconceptions. That knowledge didn't prepare me for this album. Not much can...
Amid the multi-instrumental fragmentary (pointillist?) sonic marks Lewis' trombone will intermittently rise up, leviathan-like...to ride, or cut through, a sea of bowed, plucked, snatched, blown, tapped instruments...sometimes a clatter in unison, brief punctuation...breaks in which the brass throws a mournful blanket over/under everything...the crackle of static, a stylus stuck...fluttering breath through a trumpet? scraping toward climactic crescendos then nanosecond silence, tape delay, loop, computer clicks, bubbles, squeaks, little wooshes, piano chords, miniscule melodic runs, brushes on drums...
If the underlying tone is somewhat mournful, the tapestry of sounds constantly crackle with life, sometimes joining to form dense matter during what feels like free falling through time and space, each star emitting points of light to form a cosmic display which, as I suggested at the start, cannot be comprehended in a single trip. A stunning album.