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Baghdassarians & Baltschun - 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09

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Artist: Baghdassarians & Baltschun

Album: 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09

Label: Charhizma

Review date: Feb. 13, 2006

The common portrayal of Germans as sterile and reserved may not be a deserved one, but this disc of duets by Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun may not do much to dissuade those with the misconception. The Berliners have a history of performing together, as well as with larger ensembles, always with a focus on minimal gestures and textural discourse. This disc, their latest, is no different, a trio of improvisations that sometimes aren’t much more than a gentle hum or a series of nearly inaudible clicks. The artwork that adorns 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09, designed by BANK, is spare and simple, though with plenty of repetition, creating a crowded assemblage that veers towards a visual claustrophobia. Baghdassarians and Baltschun may never get quite so dense, but the album’s visuals are an appropriate representation of the music on the disc, which, while strikingly minimalist, is often teeming with subtle activity.

To fully appreciate 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09 a listener must be fully prepared to, in the spirit of Nigel Tufnel, turn it up to 11, for after the comparatively boisterous beginning of the opening track, Baghdassarians and Baltschun delve repeatedly into the sounds of (near) silence, making nice with negative space that’s slightly peppered with a fine electronic grit. Drones swell from miniscule beginnings, though never reaching more than a gentle hum (within the context of the disc, even the most restrained sounds can become a roar). Baghdassarians and Baltschun practically force the listener to take an active part in 13:46 \ 11:04 \ 25:09; taking a passive approach to the enjoyment of the disc is a fruitless task. Baghdassarians and Baltschun want the listener to work, on their hands and knees, to seek out the sound and uncover the almost inaudible transitions. It’s a demand than many listeners will doubtlessly be unprepared or unwilling to answer, and perhaps with good reason. There’s not a great deal of fluidity or traditional cooperative interplay on the disc, which can sometimes feel more like a demonstration record or technological display than an improvisation for two. Even fans of the Potlatch imprint and this movement of minimalist European improvisers may find themselves straining to make music of the disc’s sound.

When Gil Melle composed the score for the 1971 adaptation of The Andromeda Strain, his use of then primitive electronics for the whole of the music was a groundbreaking event in the world of Hollywood and the theaters of America. Such an inversion of machine over man is far less startling today, with electronic music having inundated the world many times over. Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun, however, prove that electronic music can still be alien and confounding to the ears of humans who yearn for the hallmark fingerprints of their species left on any music it creates.

By Adam Strohm

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