Radu Malfatti - One Man and a Fly (Cathnor)

Purchase One Man and a Fly here

In interviews, Malfatti talks about three aspects of music: material, structure, and form. Material refers to the individual elements used in a recording—the instruments played, the timbre of notes, the key of a song—while the form is its general, overall shape and sound. What Malfatti is particularly interested in, however, is the structure that makes up the form. Unsurprisingly, a lot of his recordings are fascinating for the way in which he creates interesting relationships between the different material. As with previous recordings, Radu Malfatti plays his trombone on One Man and a Fly without embellishment, giving its presence in the recording equal weight to everything else we hear. It’s juxtaposed with a relatively active background filled with varying sounds of nature. Because of this, the record isn’t characterized by the stark contrasts of instrumentation and silence that defined Malfatti’s Edition Wandelweiser disc in 1997. But neither is It imbued with the same controlled tension derived from the coalescing of sounds on Düsseldorf Vielfaches and Rain Speak Soft Tree Leaves. Instead, One Man and a Fly proves intriguing for the way in which the interactions between all the sounds foster a continuously meditative atmosphere.

Malfatti’s performance on One Man and a Fly is understated but crucial. On one level, the monotone trombone notes function to augment the album’s hushed atmosphere. They enter infrequently and without pageantry, naturally blending in with the other material to grant the record an even richer texture. And in fact, this depth in sound is at the crux of what makes One Man and a Fly so satisfying. Across these 50 minutes, the sounds we hear are generally discernible; wind, automobiles, and various animals are all heard from a distance but with relative clarity. They’re contrasted with subtle noises that share space in the foreground: Malfatti quietly tapping on the trombone itself, the gentle rustling of clothes as he moves, and the sound of him readying the correct embouchure to play his instrument. The very nature of this pairing of sounds—magnified minutiae alongside comparatively domineering (but here diminished) noises—lends itself to a natural confluence. The result is something personal and intimate, qualities that are attractive in themselves but also prove beneficial for the way in which they invite the listener to be more attentive to the detailed world of One Man and a Fly.

The effective mixing of material seems to indicate another important role that the trombone plays throughout the record: a softening of the harsher sounds that occasionally appear. Within the album’s first minutes, we hear an airplane fly overhead. It moves away from the point of recording and soon thereafter, Malfatti plays a note as if to retroactively diminish the contrast in sound between the airplane and the collage of noises from the environment. Later around the twenty minute mark, we hear the starting of a lawn mower. Malfatti is quick to mask it with his trombone, initially starting a halftone too low but eventually matching the pitch of the machine’s engine. We’re thus more quickly accustomed to the presence of the lawn mower as it continues to run. And about ten minutes later, the same process occurs but to a lesser degree; the individual elements of the compounded sound are easier to distinguish. Malfatti follows by playing airy tones on his trombone. They’re a bit more conspicuous than the typical trombone notes but it’s appropriate given the necessity to make the sound of the lawn mower feel normal. It’s an intelligent strategy, and just one of many moments on the record where Malfatti’s expertise as an improvisatory musician is evident.

But given how important Malfatti is to constructing the overall sound of the record, one may question the significance of the titular fly. Is it a mere gimmick? Superfluous? A nuisance? Thankfully, it’s none of those things. Unlike everything else we hear, it quickly pans across the stereo field and diverts our attention upon arrival. While it may draw attention to itself, it isn’t overly distracting; it appears on the record randomly, seconds at a time, and acts as another instrument that’s aligned with Malfatti’s style of playing. And in a way, it reflects the sort of humor that Jacques Tati creates from meticulous sound design. Like the flickering of a neon sign in Playtime, the buzzing of the fly contrasts the homogeneity of the entire piece and the result is one of utter delight. For that alone, One Man and a Fly is worth a listen. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that this is all so effective because of Malfatti—his handle of the recording’s structure anchors the record, and it’s nothing short of impressive.