Jennifer Allum & Ute Kanngiesser – Bell Tower Recordings


Percolations of metropolitan activity and the quiet attendance of the bell tower’s mechanics figure as not irrelevant protagonists in this austere duet for violin and cello. The recordings were made in 2012 at Hackney’s St Augustine’s Tower; credit must be given to Emanuele Costantini’s brilliant engineering job for achieving the result of an extremely graphic acoustic character.

The record consists of three tracks, durations ranging from nine to thirty minutes. What immediately strikes a focused ear is the exemplary nudity of the tones, requiring no ornaments or gadgets to reveal their profoundness. Allum and Kanngiesser attest to the necessity of practicing an instrument in the proper way: far removed from classicist propositions, they just sniff the air and sense the surrounding vibrations. What is seized by sheer intuition gets converted into music which — notwithstanding the delicateness of numerous of its shades — is definitely solid in terms of impact and definition, all pitches existing for a reason evident to those in possession of a kindred insight. The small noises deriving from condensed scraping gestures and bumps add strength to a “being right there” kind of pragmatic brightness.

In particular, the longest improvisation (“Bell Room”) gives the musicians an opportunity to respond and ultimately conform to the environment more intensely than anywhere else. Sometimes they stop playing altogether, allowing the echoes from the city to take over. Heavy traffic, sirens, airplanes, birds: all of these elements have been utilized time and again in similar contexts, yet in this case they are welcomed as a necessary perspective. And as an active one too, as certain frequencies seem to pervade the interplay by autonomous decision.

Having juxtaposed all of the above to the introspective instrumental dialogue and the occasional appearance of the clock, we can’t help but remind ourselves that confidence, indecision, conscious smiling and smoggy bedlam belong to the interior soundtrack of a life. Allum and Kanngiesser are intent in scrutinizing the core of its secret code: finding answers inside the oscillation of strings, still remaining unwavering in front of an advancing incertitude. And still entirely aware of the transitoriness of the whole.