Radu Malfatti

Radu Malfatti - shizuka ni furu ame (b-boim)


1. shizuka ni furu ame


Radu Malfatti - composer
Cristián Alvear - guitar

Purchase shizuka ni furu ame by contacting Malfatti at radu.malfatti@chello.at

shizuka ni furu ame marks the first time that composer Radu Malfatti has written a piece for Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear. That this is the first time Malfatti has composed something for solo guitar since 2003 (though, that was for electric guitar) is perhaps telling. On Alvear's previous recordings, it was clear that he very much understood the spirit of the Wandelweiser collective and on shizuka, it's very apparent that he still does. Across these 54 minutes, Alvear performs in a delicate but firm manner, realizing Malfatti's score in a way that highlights the potency of silence. I've listened to this record every day for the past month and throughout the many contexts I've heard it in, one thing remains constant: the use of silence on shizuka ni furu ame is the most affecting I've heard on any album all year.

shizuka will sound familiar to those who have heard Malfatti's works but as with all of his compositions, there are enough differences here that allow for the piece to stand on its own. The most obvious difference is, of course, the use of classical guitar. Its timbre is warmer than the strings, electronics, and trombone that have characterized previous b-boim releases. Malfatti takes advantage of this by having Alvear play dyads. As they're plucked and allowed to resonate, the weight of their relative consonance and dissonance is perceptible. Throughout the record, these dyads are repeated multiple times. Periodically, a single note is plucked after one of these chords, signaling an ensuing change in the dyad that will be played. The new chord is always similar to the last: one of its notes shift one semitone while the other stays the same.

This gradual transformation may seem tedious but the extended silences that bookend each dyad grant a freshness and vigor to each chord Alvear plays. As a result, the most crucial element of his performance is not what chords he plays but when he plays them. Alvear plucks his guitar frequently enough to set expectations of his continued playing. However, he appears at irregular intervals, creating tension during periods of silence. He strikes a perfect balance between consistency and unpredictability, and it's what makes shizuka so enthralling. This phenomenon is easily understood when looking at the waveforms of various Malfatti recordings.

die temperatur der bedeutung (EWR, 1997)

zeitschatten (b-boim, 2007)

friedrichshofquartett (b-boim, 2007)

l'effaçage (b-boim, 2008)

nonostante II (b-boim, 2007)

shizuka ni furu ame (b-boim, 2015)

These waveforms come from pieces that are all characterized by an interplay between instrumentation and silence. The first fifteen minutes of each piece are presented here and are representative of the entire recording. All waveforms are on the same scale for both time and amplitude.

When listening to zeitschatten and friedrichscofquartett, one can figure out the structure of the composition as it progress. If one listen isn't enough, one will know the grouping pattern of both pieces upon subsequent revisits. Conversely, the rate at which instrumentation appears on die temperatur der bedeutung, l'effaçage, and nonostane II doesn't lend itself to a specific and recognizable pattern. One engages with those pieces without foreknowledge of when silence ends and instrumentation begins. Consequently, there isn't a large sense of anticipation that one feels when listening to them.

When Alvear plays a consonant chord on shizuka, it feels like a warm and inviting embrace. That one could be waiting anywhere between 20 and 110 seconds for its return is the key to the album's success and replay value. I've found that when listening to this album in a quiet location, these passages of silence have an incredible sense of urgency. This is true even when relatively dissonant chords are played since one is still awaiting, albeit long-term, the arrival of more consonant ones.

When listening to shizuka in a more active setting, Alvear's entrances are still surprising and effective. When he plays a chord, one is likely to trace the event of it slowly fading into the environment. We as listeners are led into these 'external' sounds and are encouraged to interact with them. It's a clever move because I've found myself forgetting an album is even being played during these silent passages. Hearing Alvear's guitar has, on a surpiringly large number of occasions, left me dumbfounded as to how such a thing could happen. It's a bizarre but fascinating occurrence, and Malfatti's instruction to play the piece quietly helps to make it a regular one.

There's a lot more to shizuka ni furu ame than one would expect. Considering how minor the differences are between this album and other Malfatti records, I'm left astounded by how singular this record feels in his entire catalogue. Simply put, it's fantastic. Malfatti's compositional ingenuity is unmistakable here and Alvear's realization is extraordinary. It is, undoubtedly, one of the best releases from either artist and one can only hope that these two collaborate more in the future.

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.