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Polwechsel - HCMF 2017

Polwechsel with John Butcher & Klaus Lang

In the evening, back in St Paul's Hall, Austrian group Polwechsel teamed up with saxophonist John Butcher and composer/organist Klaus Lang for music-making that fell somewhere between composition and improvisation. The former was evident in the fact that five composition titles were listed in the programme, and the entire performance was to some extent being managed from a laptop at the front, like a proxy conductor to which the players continually referred. The latter was evident both in the four improvisations also listed in the programme, interpolated between the compositions, but most in the way that the entire performance unfolded, without clear divisions or obvious beginnings and endings, resulting in an hour-long concert that could conceivably have been a single, large-scale, semi-composed work falling into a somewhat indeterminate number of sections.

Positioned at the start and end of the concert, Klaus Lang's a and d (subtitled triptychon for organ) were easy to identify harmonic 'squabbles', the former between I, bII and IV, the latter between I, V and bVI, in both cases with the other notes sounding like collateral damage, colouring the massive full organ sound with churning inner grit and noise.

As for the rest, the performance moved between clearly worked-out behaviours, timbres, colours and structures. Shutting my eyes, it was often impossible to parse the sounds and textures and work out who was doing what. One example (where, ultimately, I cheated and looked): soft bass drum rolls on the left, drum swishes on the right, slow double bass grindings and breathy sax flutterings (the organ might have been doing something, I couldn't tell); it may seem strange when broken down like this, but heard together they formed a genuinely unearthly, unfathomable, complex integrated timbre. This was the most fundamental aspect to their performance, which was engrossing from start to end.

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