Some reviews: [xfxs-1] [xfxs-2] [xfxs-3/4]

xfxs-3/4 Living Rooms

"On this two-disc set, part of a trio of recently-released recordings by Swedish guitarist, improviser and philosopher Christian Munthe, the presentation is of work within small spaces (hence the title). Each of the seventeen free improvisations here – for solo guitar, duos and small groups – is either a home or a small club recording collected over the past few years, preserving the intimacy of the music and its surrounding environment. Among Munthe’s cohorts here are guitarist and electronic artist Anders Dahl, saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui, flutist Kelly Jones, and bassist Nina de Heney. The music, most of which is comprised of first-time meetings (in the Company tradition), ranges from delicate to frightfully absurd, such as the soul-inflected glossolalia of vocalist Mariam Wallentin who, across two improvisations on the second disc, ranges from sputters and high-pitched squeaks to stammering gulps in songlike form as Munthe accents and spins out broken blues like a cross between early Loren Connors and Derek Bailey.

In trio with Jones and percussionist Pascal Nichols, gleaming kisses cut through muted clanks and cantankerous, odd-interval slide in advancing and receding jangle, eventually joined by Munthe’s young daughter on percussion and a harmonica-like tuning pipe. These improvisations are alternately poised and playful, the latter especially so as young Saga bows a second guitar for sheer sonic participation as percussion and dad’s playing reach a feverish burble. John Butcher’s exploration of resonance seems like a leaping off point for Sehnaoui, whose language is a thin mixture of chuffs, globular chunks and piercing minor explosions. One would think that the spiky rhythms of Munthe’s guitar and their clearer instrumental origin wouldn’t fit with her playing, but these oppositional sound-shapes create a goaded dialogue. Throaty lyricism is immediately present in de Heney’s pizzicato bass as Munthe’s bunched actions generate sparks and miniature hum on disc one’s “Flat Out.” Clarinetist Alberto Poppolla engages an Ayler-esque form of glossolalia in the three homemade duets, sometimes warbling in staccato pops as Munthe fills space with directly-applied clatter. Living Rooms provides an excellent introduction to some of the finer European improvisers you’ve probably never heard - most importantly, at “play.”" Clifford Allen, Ni Kantu, 2011-04-20.

"There are artists who unfold their musicianship on the world’s stages. There are also those that keep to home most of the time. I usually argue that musicians need to get out and scuffle themselves with others around the world. I still think so. But that is no panacea. For there are those who are so occupied with their "big" artistry that they lack an ear for the others - or even for themselves, really. Continuously, I discover examples of ”small” artistry. No large gestures, no solos aimed at seducing the audience - but in the end appear vague traces in the sand that prove to be unlike any others.

To suddenly look back and discover, that is a joy. Turning one’s head to the side and watch how the present looks different than you thought, that is as close to the listener's ecstasy one can get. That has been my relation to Christian Munthe for a great many years. An improvising guitarist loaded with experiences from Derek Bailey and British Impro, filled with a wayward energy. A man filled up with glowing acetylene gas. And in addition completely satisfied with the mere artistic challenge. No gestures, no waving your limbs around and no drastic conjectures. Only music that relates itself to other music and that is based in an approach of continuous questioning and reasoning.

This double album is typical. Recorded in private settings. No ambition to have a thousand people in the audience. This is about something else. Something artistically more important. There is a lot of Munthe’s guitar here, breakneck, stumbling, sometimes in a mixture of farce and Beckett. The choices are impossible. A clear direction would be ridiculous. Therefore, the decision of the moment is the more important.

The opening solo on CD2 has all of this. He exposes himself, drives gestures and the lack of gestures into a corner. Munthe is not skeptical in an obedient way. The aesthetic of questioning rather resembles the line suggested by a tripping wire. To fail is a personal statement, harboring enormous amounts of energy.

These two CDs present a series of musical encounters between Munthe and other improvisers. They are all like unreserved love affairs. The momentum is just as passionate as it is intrusive and critical. I love the two meetings with double bass player Nina de Heney. She is buffing and pushing at him with a flowing mixture of sharp dissonances and the rich sounds of the bass. In both cases, the result is a brilliant bubbling.

The meeting with Mariam Walentin is a home-cooking that surprises me. Normally, her voice is always so strong that she must subordinate herself to it. Here, wonders occur when Munthe has the guitar ruthlessly cutting away at what the famous singer perhaps would have desired. And kindly he allows her to land in familiar featherbeds. But the road up to that point is more than worth a listen. Munthe has a kind of indifference to the preferences of the others. And if he has the guitar rattling the blues for Walentin, in the next instant he is there sabotaging it. She responds with surprise and fall out of the tracks in a very successful way. Actually, I have rarely heard her as unpredictably exciting.

A couple of obvious highlights are the involvements of Christine Sehnaoui. Unobsequious. Now the sounds can be tasted to their utmost, and many other duos appear a bit simplistic and conditional in comparison with Christine’s metallic ignitions of the air. It is staggering to experience how each accent and timbre of the two instruments touch each other to result in new parameters. As caresses or lashes of a whip. As breaths or strangled sounds. Their duo fumbles itself slowly forward to a final shrill dissonant sigh. And in the meantime, breath, metal and wood have been cut across each other. Masterful.

Christine Sehnaoui finishes the two discs with a solo. What do you say after that? Would it be possible for the breath to be more electric than this?" Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music, 2010-07-02 (Translated from Swedish by Christian Munthe)

"Sometimes liner notes makes all the difference when listening to an album. They often go ignored or are not even present (especially in this brave new digital world) and reviewers usually don’t mention them. I can’t remember a time when I have felt the need to mention them either, but these notes in particular from “Living Rooms” compelled me:

”...The solo pieces opening each CD are from the first concert I did after a five year long pause from music due to work and parenthood.” -- Christian Munthe

This sentence reverberated in me because I recently became a father and I have taken a (permanent?) hiatus from music making and maybe even music. I am now able to see more meaning in these recordings than if I had not read the notes. Some of the music has transformed from mere improv to something I am living right now. As a whole, that means that there is more of a connection to the artist than before. Which in turn manifests itself as a deeper and better listening experience. So why do I bring this up? Because I feel that artists often miss the point of liner notes and that the distillation of albums into individual 99-cent tracks have also obliterated the tradition. Here’s hoping that others can follow the example set here.

Which then brings me to this review and the overall effect the notes have had on it. I am not a large fan of improvisation (not to be confused with jazz improvisation). Often I find the sounds chaotic and rooted in “obscure art.” This time it was different because I could hear the creativity and the sound of a re-emergence (or something close to it). I am not going to claim that this album has sold me on the genre. But, I can claim that I am seeing it in a whole new light. In between the chaos there is emotion and creativity (which is the root of good music). I don’t think this would have happened if I had not read the notes. They simply set the mood and gave me a point of reference. Which can be very important in a genre that usually offers no guideposts or the comforts of a concrete form.

Notes aside, this disc mostly represents Christian Munthe exploring the guitar and bringing out new musical possibilities. His guitar playing often reminds me of picking and at other times his sound is simply his own. Nothing is static too long and the sounds build upon themselves into mysterious patterns that beckon you to follow. But the music isn’t all solo introspection. Several of the tracks bring in other players who compliment what Christian is doing. These tracks offer a change in instruments (some of which are unexpected) and an expansion of the emotions being channeled.

However, I am still lost in the din of the sonics of these discs. Sometimes the lack of music (or at least how I perceive it) is too jarring. Instead of listening to the CD I end up staring at my speakers trying to understand the noise. In short, it is a good listen but it isn’t for everybody. So I am recommending this album to people who are looking for introspective experimental/improvisational guitar that don’t mind veering off into the undefined. 7/10" Daniel De Los Santos, Foxy Digitalis, 25 August, 2010.

"Munthe is a Swedish guitarist who, I think it's fair to say, operates in the post-Bailey tradition. I find that a particularly rough row to hoe, the late Bailey casting a dauntingly huge shadow. "Living Rooms" is a disparate collection of performances, on 2 discs, recorded more or less in living rooms. Each leads off with a short solo piece but the remainder are collaborations. For myself, the success of the music here tends to rise or fall depending on these partners as Munthe's playing, at least as represented here, is pretty consistent. Though it's not really my cuppa, his scrabbling approach is able enough. So while I found Alberto Poppoia's clarinet work to be tiresome and overly idiomatic, I enjoyed Rachael Wadham's "cither.bow.things" very much, the pair of stringed instruments blending well and imaginatively on the final two cuts of Disc 1.

Three of the tracks on Disc 2 feature altoist Christine Sehnaoui including, interestingly, closing the album with a solo performance by her. I've still yet to hear something by Sehnaoui in a collaborative mode that's really moved me, but the solo piece here is fairly strong, especially the pinched tones that she still manages to infuse with air--very nice. My free vocal tolerance is admittedly low and I didn't derive much from the two tracks with Mariam Wallentin. My favorites on this disc are the three pieces by the quartet of Munthe, Kelly Jones (flute, pipe, percussion), Saga Munthe (guitar, pipe, percussion) and Pascal Nichols (drums, percussion); it's busy and scrabbling, yes, but the colors create a very vibrant field, relegating any fussiness to the wayside." Brian Olenwick, Just Outside, 2010-05-08

xfxs-2 Christian Munthe: 12 Songs

"12 Songs, in this context, is a fitting complement to the 21st century picture of Munthe, the guitar player. here, he has cleared his throat, turned on the light and brought the guitar back to its common position. It is a return to string playing and a more (if such cursing in the church of improvisation may be allowed) “classic” free improvised guitar, even if Derek Bailey is actually not my obvious reference in this case. Occasionally, the playing that plunges out of the speakers is very fast, layered with interrupted or just commencing chords that stumblingly spurt fragments of something that at a distance might be taken for a blues. Or, rather, if someone had said blues, I would probably not have heard it – but when no one mentions blues, oddly enough, I’m hearing it." Johan Redin, Nutida Musik, No. 2, 2010. (Translated from Swedish by Christian Munthe)

"'12 Songs', a collection of brief improvisations on acoustic guitar, is on the whole my favorite of the three releases. While one would still be more or less forced to apply the label "post-Bailey", there's something of an extension in play as well. Too, it's an extension of the Bailey found on releases like "Drop Me Off at 96th", a more lyrical incarnation as well as being informed by (as I hear it) everything from acoustic blues to the kitharas of Harry Partch. The hard-scrabbling approach is still very much in evidence but the acoustic guitar tempers things a bit, I think, allowing more lovely resonances to emerge through the spikiness, and the brevity of the pieces, instead of inhibiting development, feels just about right, lending an air of the "miniature" that serves as a welcome focus. Actually, the song I enjoyed the most, "Song no. 7", abandons the strings entirely, sounding as though a handful of pliant twigs were struck and rubbed over the guitar body--quite beautiful. It's a fine disc overall; I'd love to hear further elaborations along these lines."
Brian Olenwick, Just Outside, 2010-05-08

"This evening I have been listening to one of three CDs kindly sent to me by the Swedish guitarist Christian Munthe self-released on his *For*Sake  label. The disc I have been spinning is a CDr wrapped in a home printed sleeve that makes use of what must be the worst typeface I have seen in a good few months, but I’m here to write about the music not the sleeve art…

The disc is called 12 Songs, and features a round dozen numerically titled solo improvisations for acoustic guitar. All are quite brief with the longest still coming up short of five minutes in length. The first thing that hits you when the album begins, and it hits you very hard, is the stylistic similarity to Derek Bailey’s later acoustic playing. While I would never have mistaken the CD for something of Derek’s, its not that close, the influence is clearly there. On the majority of the tracks Munthe seems to work hard to squeeze as many sounds in as possible, so they tumble and pour from his guitar as fast as his fingers will allow. So we get a stream of often seemingly disconnected notes and plucks and scrabbles flying forth, and on some of the tracks, such as Song no.6 the sensation is quite exhausting, particularly as the guitar has been recorded up very close as the sounds seem to almost attack you after a while. Headphone listening, as I have been doing for the last couple of spins tonight have been quite demanding. Relief comes straight after though, as Song No.7 seems to leave the strings alone completely (its the only one of the twelve pieces here to do this) and instead the body of the instrument is scraped, rubbed and frantically flailed at with some kind of unidentified object while being captured by an attached pick-up of some kind. This piece is nice, something of a calmer pool in the midst of the string attacks.

In many ways there is something very simple and charming about this music that sits very well with the Bailey comparison. Without stating the obvious, this really is just Munthe and his instrument very loose and free in the moment, riffing in a very fluid manner. he does choose particular styles and shapes for each piece however, and often they veer some way from Bailey, so this is clearly Munthe’s voice speaking. Perhaps, in a similar way to how anyone playing a piano very slowly reminds me of Feldman anyone playing an acoustic guitar fast reminds me of Bailey, which is undoubtably unfair, but I can’t really help it. My favourite track here, perhaps unsurprisingly is the one that is the slowest and more spacious; Song no.11. While not exactly Taku Sugimoto this piece is allowed to breathe far more than the other tracks are, and if there is one thing I would have preferred from the disc overall it is a little more negative space to frame the sounds within. This piece feels like a Franz Kline painting is a room full of Jackson Pollocks…

Its hard to think of much more to say here about this music. Its one for acoustic guitar fans, one for those that like their improv busy and expressively talkative. Its not bad at all either, a sound enough listen with a few very nice moments scattered throughout. Maybe if I want to hear a CD or solo acoustic guitar improv in the future I would be looking on the M shelf for it first, but that is not to say that there isn’t a good deal to offer here. One of the other CDrs Christian sent is a double disc set of duo improvisations, which I am very much looking forward to playing, as I suspect with a little more room added for others’ inputs Munthe’s guitar work could be very nice indeed." Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear, 2010-06-02

"Sure, there is a Derek Bailey hiding between the lines in Munthe's improvisations on the acoustic guitar. The twelve songs on 12 Songs is more or less awkward, fragmentary, bustling, atonal, slitting and spatting. But apparently Munthe a somewhat different approach than Bailey. Where Bailey broke off when approaching a context, Munthe is able to continue. There are glimpses of structures behind the short and impulsive inspirations.

But, perhaps, what I marvel at most is the large element of blues. "Song No. 4" is one of the most telling examples. The offensive rhythms, the blue tones, the phrasings, how tonesthe notes are bent; the feeling is that of the blues and the performance is good with a crude and primitive attack. Here ,Munthe finds himself in a context; the otherwise so volatile music hovers, investigates.

"Song No. 6" lacks much of the blues feeling, but relies equally on the rhythm. Successfully, Munthe attacks a high and dense tempo, is ahead himself! Blatantly and intermittently it’s swinging.

The songs are between two and five minutes long. I like that they are so short. One is thrown into them, one is ejected. On most of the tracks, Munthe manages to sustain my interest, on some it declines. But that is the nature of improvised music."  Magnus Nygren, Sound of Music, 2010-07-02.
(Translated from Swedish by Christian Munthe)

"I will never be deprived of idea that the earth is flat. Flat as a guitar, so to speak. As that of Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Keith Rowe – or of Christian Munthe, who recently self-produced these 12 Songs.

With less of intellectualism than Bailey, less of madness than Chadbourne and less of electricity (there is litterally none) than Rowe, the Swede cooks up twelve songs which are not, in fact, there... Simply because these "songs" are twelve improvisations which do not turn back in a circle, that never return to a refrain or a chorus. The music having sound as melody, or a melodicity that is always audible, Munthe manages well enough to produce vocations. Just listen and realize that what it sings is the experiment. And, in addition, that the earth is flat." Pierre Cécile, Le Son du Grisli, 2010-07-27.

xfxs-1: Christian Munthe: Blowing the Wind: 11 Etudes for the Archtop Acoustic Guitar

"This first release on Munthe’s own label is his strongest one so far, from a musical point of view as well as in terms of testing the outer limits of the concept of a guitar. He has comprehensibly explored the backside – so why not the inside? The guitar is used exclusively as a wind instrument, where he, by blowing and breathing into every available opening of the instrument, elicits startling sounds. Sometimes it becomes comical, almost moronic as in BTW No. 4, the snoring in BTW No. 5 or the panting in BTW No. 10. But nothing proceeds in want of honesty. If one sets out into regions of one’s instrument where, I dare to suggest, no one has ventured before, nothing should be ruled out. The murmurs sometimes turn into a form of distorsion or sound as the noise of a radio set in between stations. Had someone played BTW No. 10 to me without telling what it is, I would have guessed on Christine Sehnaoui-Abdelnour or someone among the brightest glowing reductionists. As you know, she plays the saxophone and the fact that the blowing I hear is connected to a guitar can only be viewed as fantastic – for guitar is what Munthe plays, nothing else". Johan Redin, Nutida Musik, No. 2, 2010. (Translated from Swedish by Christian Munthe)

"Nice idea, well executed. Munthe devotes eleven tracks to sounds made exclusively by blowing on an acoustic guitar, across its surfaces, through its apertures, around its strings. So, in a way, it's kind of a "vocal" album, I suppose. As with his guitar playing (at least to the extent I've heard it), his respiratory attacks tend toward the active and skitterish, sometimes incorporating vocalizations. I would have liked to have heard a few attempts in a quieter, more ruminative vein and also would have enjoyed at least a couple of lengthier tracks (all eleven here between about two and five minutes). But I appreciate the relatively spartan nature of this disc, the self-constraint imposed over its course, and it succeeds well enough on its own merits." Brian Olenwick, Just Outside, 2010-05-08

"On The Back Side Suite from 2008, Munthe used the backside of a guitar to make music. On Blowing the Wind, he uses the guitar as a wind instrument! He breathes on it, panting, blowing, sighing, rubbing his mouth against the body of the instrument, humming, smacks his lips and who knows what.

He finds himself in a tradition that has grown tremendously strong in improvisational music in the last decade. Axel Dörner, Andrea Neumann, Martin Küchen, Ingar Zach, all have expanded their respective instrument's possibilities. So also Christian Munthe, as he shows here. But beyond the ingenuity and the ability to actually do something about exciting ideas rises still some question marks. Does it hold up to scrutiny? is one of them. Not an entire CD, I say. The limited expression is exactly that: limited. Even if he succeeds to vary himself to a great extent, the sounds come back too often. Still,  Munthe manages to produce a lot of exciting sounds from the guitar. As in the penultimate song in which the laughter sticks in the throat and is transformed to a sense of claustrophobic panic. You become afraid that Munthe has locked himself inside the guitar and can’t get out..." Magnus Nygren, Sound of Music, 2010-07-02.
(Translated from Swedish by Christian Munthe)

"Guitarist Christian Munthe continues his exploration of the guitar-as-object on this release, which consists entirely of sounds made by blowing onto and into an archtop acoustic guitar. This was always going to be a challenge, as a guitar, even an acoustic one, isn’t a particularly easy instrument on which to explore this technique. Munthe seems to have made the best choice with an archtop acoustic, which has a large body and gives the best chance of amplifying these kind of sounds. However, it doesn’t have any particularly tickle areas that would resonate by merely being blown on, and as the CD goes on, it’s not clear how the particularity of the guitar itself comes into play—if this could be any other hollow object, how would the sounds be different? The strings are nonexistent here, perhaps having been removed—there’s no attempt (or, at least, success) at getting them to vibrate even incidentally.

Part of the success of this project functions on Munthe’s ability to essentially blow in interesting ways, and he runs the gamut of inhaling, exhaling, and lip-smacking in the occasional manner of a less menacing C. Spencer Yeh. He intuitively grasps this need for variation, pulling against an instrument that isn’t giving him much help, at times pausing in what could be catching his breath and what could be exasperation. He sniffs like a dog, breathes through mouth and nose all at once, and varies the pattern of his breathing, it seems, as much as possible.

There’s a moment in the second etude where Munthe, blowing hard, accidentally intones just a bit. It made me hope for a moment in which he would actually vocalize or sing into the resonant cavity, and that moment comes surprisingly in the fourth etude, met, like the discovery of the apes in “2001,” with an almost celebratory crescendo. From then on, vocalizing appears at times, resembling hushed Tibetan throat singing, but much of what’s left alongside the blowing is the thwacking and slurping that keeps in the listener’s mind the extreme limitations of this exercise. Only in the tenth etude does he try in earnest to intone—apparently with his mouth closed, with sometimes unsettling results. After this, the extreme minimalism of the final track is a welcome coda. 5/10" Travis Bird, Foxy Digitalis, 4 August, 2010.

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