There was already a certain level of discomfort among avant-garde music aficionados as to whether one should consider the (generally quiet) form of electro-acoustic improvisation that developed during the second half of the '90s as a genre separate from acoustic free improvisation. Heating up the discussion is Urs Leimbruger and Günter Müller's e_a.sonata.02, a large-scale written piece blurring the distinctions between composition and improvisation. Of course, they are not the first ones to do this, but previous compositions in this field were usually much more conceptual and stemming from a desire to reach sonic extremes (the "compositions" series released by A Bruit Secret is a good example, with pieces by Taku Sugimoto, Otomo Yoshihide, Brett Larner, etc.). Despite its general focus on the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum, e_a.sonata.02 is not rigid like that, nor does it aim at exposing extremes of any kind. It juggles freedom and discipline, spontaneity and planned-out action. More importantly, it is a good work: poignant, enigmatic, elusive. It is unclear whether the pair followed the sonata canvas or not (and I suspect that if you look hard enough you will find such a canvas, but it might not be very conclusive). Müller uses selected drums (which means that he occasionally hits or brushes something with something else, electronically processing the resulting sound) and prerecorded sounds from mini-discs and an iPod. His crackling textures are recognizable throughout the work. On the other hand, Leimgruber's saxophone is lost in a sea of saxes -- well, actually a sax quartet, the ARTE Quartett. But the sharp high notes, gurgling low notes, and elemental breath and key-based sounds rarely conjure up the image of a sax quartet -- let alone the image of a soloist accompanied by a sax quartet. They sound more like ants busy working collectively at some Great Plan, each ant creating its own way to accomplish its task.
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