backchats |cs149








































I think there was less doubt in my head about how this was going to sound than any of the fourteen. Much sputtering and gurgling. And that's just the drums. Thank you, I'm here all week. I like Lehn and I carry a soft spot for Minton, but I just don't have the patience for all this chatter. Again, for listeners who've enjoyed similar work from these folk in the past or from the likes of David Moss, this will be right up their alley. Brian Olewnick (Just Outside)

A wonderful record culling two performances by a quartet consisting of vocalists Phil Minton and Ute Wassermann, synth player Thomas Lehn, and percussionist Martin Blume. It’s well known that I love Minto, but Wassermann is pretty good too, and together they get sparks flying! Both are highly experimental vocalists who push their throats beyond notes, in search of more atavistic and inhuman sounds. This is great free improvisation. An instant personal favorite. François Couture (Monsieur Delire)

After dying my hair the color of tangerine — with grapefruit and black olive blotches — at age sixteen, my mother, unable to grasp why I insisted on rebelling in ways that garnered bruises and black eyes at school, ended a tearful conversation with the desperate query, "Why are you just trying to make yourself look ugly?" I imagine a similar dialog occurred once or twice between vocalist Ute Wassermann and her parents: "Honey, sing the Hayden. Why did we pay for all this schooling? Why do you only make flatulence and joke sounds with your mouth? You make the dogs howl!"
Created from Thomas Lehn's analogue synthesizer, Wassermann and Phil Minton's unaffected voices and Martin Blume's percussion, Backchats is an inventive, nervous, unsettling-yet-resplendent collection of tracks that belie the mild-mannered photo of the quartet, set up in an airy Cologne loft, from the sleeve insert. Going beyond mere lip smacks and pops and into demonic territories with unprecedented, infernal, guttural purges, Minton and Wassermann lead the works with innumerable unhinged extended vocal techniques: they squeak, snarl, groan, manifest as reverent phantasms, whisper with perverted intent, offer aborted mid-frequency radio broadcasts, resemble police sirens summoned due to mating marine mammals on the Interstate, rise from infant mites to wheezing elderly giants — and back again — form sentences with only consonants, shout obscenities using only vowels, flutter like wild horses, spasm uncontrollably from near-throat singing to mongrel scat, et cetera.
Lehn follows with his EMS Synthi, reeling out gravely pops and clicks, staccato pings of spring reverb, brief washes of high-pitched sine waves, thorny horns, sputtering bird calls, bits of Morse code, vinyl cracks and arpeggiations. In the background, Blume works with shadows of this already obscured imbroglio, maintaining his own penumbra of wispy cymbal rolls, murky tom-tom thumps, bassy bells, bongos, two-second outbursts, bowed cymbal, Gamelan, grumbling bass drums and brushed snares; though often drowned out by Wassermann and Minton, his gentle output stabilizes the group like the foundation of a flamboyant modern structure — one made of balloons, multi-colored ribbons and braided cellophane — that would otherwise float away.
The album might, on the surface, resemble live Foley work, a recount of a twelve-hour conversation compacted into fifty-three minutes and/or the soundtrack to the "too odd, even for us" Looney Toons archives, but the quartet's work is far from gimmick. The sheer number of patterns and transmogrified personalities each member dexterously flaunts confirms a complexity very few can grasp let alone perform. Though their mothers might not understand the aesthetic (Minton's singer parents probably wonder why they shelled out all that money for trumpet lessons), possessing the ability to sound as "ugly" and "strange" as possible puts the members of Speak Easy at the top of the ladder. Dave Madden
(The Suidco's Ear)

Com estudos clássicos e um trajecto ligado à música contemporânea, a alemã Ute Wassermann tem-se dedicado igualmente à improvisação, na qual aplica técnicas vocais que exploram a bifonia e a ressonância espacial, além de lhe providenciarem novas formas de trabalhar a nível do timbre e da articulação. Neste álbum, encontra-se com a figura de topo do vocalismo improvisado, Phil Minton, este trazendo consigo um “background” no jazz. O envolvimento instrumental é dado por Thomas Lehn no sintetizador e pelo percussionista Martin Blume, tudo resultando numa música plena de dinâmicas, agitada e bruitista em que o detalhe é tão importante quanto as atmosferas criadas. Muitíssimo bom. Rui Eduardo Paes

[…] The music itself is busy, talkative (ha!) improvisation that does centre around the two vocalists. Wassermann generally works with higher squeaks and also blows on a series of small whistles, while Minton sits in the lower regions, more agitated and animated in his approach, looking thoroughly exhausted for most of the performance. (Wassermann also performs standing, Minton sitting) He also plays (does he “play”? what is the correct verb here? I’m not sure he could be described as “singing”) in Toot! with Lehn and Axel Dorner, and as a result he seems to link his sounds directly to Lehn’s here. Martin Blume is a percussionist I had heard of, but never seen or heard play before these releases, and I must say I am quite impressed, His playing is very subtle, quite often very gentle and only really bursting into life when the timing is correct. he works a lot here with textural sounds, rubbing the surface of drums and small metal objects rather than ploughing away with any full-on workouts. There are plenty of quiet moments amongst the flurries of activity though. These are all experienced musicians that know each other well, and so these performances are tight, thoughtful constructions full of vibrancy and power. It would be true to say that Speak Easy make music that maybe wouldn’t have sounded so different ten years ago. If your interest is solely in improvisation that pushes back the boundaries or what hasn’t been done before then look elsewhere, but as a solid, somewhat engrossing recording of some highly skilled listeners and performers this is good music. Thomas Lehn in particular is on top form here. […] Richard Pinnell (The Watchful Ear)

Takie nazwiska jak Phil Minton, Ute Wassermann i Thomas Lehn dajał jak zwykle duz˛o do mys´lenia, ale jednoczes´nie zastanawia mnie czasem czemu akurat wyrobione nazwiska dajał ludziom prawo wyrabiania sobie opinii na starcie nie przes?uchawszy materia?u. Materia? ma dos´c´ nerwowy rytm, co jest zrozumia?e przy uz˛ytym tu syntezatorze Lehna i improwizacjach Wassermann i Mintona. Arpeggia, trzaski, dz´wiełki imitujałce wrełcz jakies´ dziwne odg?osy natury. Przypomina mi to trocheł jakby skrzywiony soundtrack do kreskówek Looney Tunes z Warner Bros. Ale nie ma w tym z˛adnego mizdrzenia sieł do s?uchacza i tak czełstego np. u Johna Zorna postmodernistycznego eklektyzmu, tu wynika to raczej z dobrze zharmonizowanej struktury i przemys´lanego podejs´cia do tworzenia muzyki swoistej a nie opartej na cytatach. takowych tutaj nie ma. S´wietna improwizacja oparta na super zgraniu i warsztacie. Astipalea Records (Felthat Reviews)

A wonderful record culling two performances by a quartet consisting of vocalists Phil Minton and Ute Wassermann, synth player Thomas Lehn, and percussionist Martin Blume. It’s well known that I love Minto, but Wassermann is pretty good too, and together they get sparks flying! Both are highly experimental vocalists who push their throats beyond notes, in search of more atavistic and inhuman sounds. This is great free improvisation. An instant personal favorite. François Couture (Monsieur Délire)

Muzyka, ktora zawirera "Backchats"kwartetu Speak Easy wchodzi trudno. Przyznaje, ze moja ambiwalentna ocena plyty wynikac moze z niecheci do wykorzystywania ludzkiego glosu jako instrumentu. Doceniam glos jako zrodlo slów i niesionych przez nie tresci, zas przekaz pozawerbalny, te wszystkie bulgoty, gulgoty, sapniecia, prychniecia przewaznie mnie zniecheca. "Backchats" budzi we mnie nieco cieplejsze uczucia, zapewne dlatego, ze wokalisci (Minton i Wassermann) maja sporo doswiadczenia, wiec tu mniej niz zwykle zauwazalnych mielizn oraz dlatego, ze obok glosów pojawiaja sie "zwykle" instrumenty: syntezator Thomasa Lehna I perkusja Martina Blume pozwalajace sluchaczowi odpoczac od ekscesów wokalnej ekwilibrystyki. Tadeusz Kosiek (Diapazon)

Rencontre extraordinaire entre deux vocalistes essentiels: Phil Minton et Ute Wassermann avec le Frankenstein de l’électronique vintage 70’s, Thomas Lehn et un fin renard de la percussion, Martin Blume. Minton et Wassermann nous avaient regale recement d’enregistrements impressionnants pour leur profondeur introspective et une finesse extreme (Tasting de Minton avec Sophie Agnel / Another Timbre, Pollen de Wassermann avec Richard Barrett / Creative Sources et les fabuleux albums solos de chacun: Birdtalking / NurNichtNur et No Doughnuts in Hands / Emanem. Le quartetse focalise sur les echanges ludiques et les possibilites de la creation instantanee de quatre personalites partageant entre chacune d’elles une affinite particuliere. L’interet de Speak Easy vient de ce que leurs Back Chats echappent a toute previsibilite. Il est parfois impossible de dire qui joue ou chante quoi, Lehn evoquant les delires vocaux avec beaucoup de creativite. Speak Easy nous emmene loin dans une serie d’occurrences sonores rares, d’aventures imaginaires et d’histoires les plus tordues les unes que les autres, illustrant l’esprit d’a propos et le don d’invention de ces quatre artistes. Sensationnel… Ute Wassermann n’a peut-etre pas encore une notoriete internationale, mais elle est actuellement la chanteuse choisie par Phil Minton pour lui donner la replique dans l’univers esthetique que celui-ci s’est choisi. Reclamez – donc sa presence dans les festivals en France. Jean-Michel van Schouwburg (Improjazz)

The European quartet Speak Easy uses the quicksilver analog synthesizer squiggles and stabs of Thomas Lehn and the scrabbling percussion of Martin Blume to sandwich the otherworldly vocal acrobatics of Phil Minton and Ute Wassermann. Here the singers produce sounds just as abstract and unidentifiable as any instrumentalist, interacting and prodding not just one another, but their other two cohorts, in a dazzling rise-and-blowout. Peter Margasak (Down Beat)

Speak Easy is a quartet consisting of Lehn, percussionist Martin Blume and voice improvisers Ute Wassermann and Phil Minton. Backchats is the group's first disc, though a 2008 Cologne performance was issued on the DVD Speak Easy: The Loft Concert (Pavel Borodin). The curious thing about electronic music in the '50s-60s was its ability to mimic and expand upon the sonic vocabularies associated with instruments and, in some cases, the human voice. In the sounds produced by Wasserman and Minton, this lineage is extended into the realm of free improvisation—trombone or trumpet multiphonics, guttural arco bass scrabble and the like are lent the skewed immediacy of vocal whims. Wasserman's split-tone throatiness and wide interval leaps recall Albert Mangelsdorff or Axel Dörner, also becoming at times inseparable from Lehn's sputtering fuzz and ricocheted patter. Spikes and curves could be attributable to Wasserman's ear-splitting whistles or the knobs and circuits of an archaic synth. Blume and Minton provide a constantly shifting, lower-toned rattle and give the music pan-rhythmic force and bat-out-of-hell drive. Speak Easy are an incredible quartet, especially when given over to the whole and ignoring the particulars. Clifford Allen (All About Jazz)

Although it’s the least expensive and most portable instrument, the human voice is usually the one most resistant to tessitura experimentation and the innovation of non-standard forms. Perhaps it’s because in most cultures strong, lyrical expression is celebrated and, with the possible exceptions of background harmonizing and so-called scat singing, improvising vocally but without forming words is regarded as eccentric.
Three brave vocalists – England’s Phil Minton and Germany’s Ute Wassermann on Back Chats and Belgium’s Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg on No Room for Doubt work against the stereotypes here. Nonetheless by improvising alongside incomparable and inventive instrumentalists they face another challenge: to integrate themselves into the ensembles so the discs don’t appear to be those of vocalist(s) plus backing group. In the main they artfully succeed.
Grand old man of this sort of vocalese is Minton, who for almost three decades has been framing his gurgles, retches and cavern-echoing cries in situations involving equally committed sound explorers such as pianist Veryan Weston and saxophonist John Butcher. On this CD, the Sarah Vaughn to his Billy Eckstine – or would it be the Ella Fitzgerald to his Louis Armstrong – is classically trained vocalist Wassermann who eschews the standard legit vocabulary for shrill whistles, nose sniffs, aviary cries and lip-percussion. In the past she has duetted with both percussionist Matthias Kaul and trumpeter Birgit Ulher. Wassermann’s and Minton’s partners in Speak Easy are Germans who work with the British vocalist in other configurations: synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and percussionist Martin Blume.

[...] More equitably divided compared to Van Schouwburg’s mouth-and-throat actions holding their own against four instrumentalists, Speak Easy features two soundsingers and two instrument operators performing the five improvisations that make up this nearly 54-minute session. Considering the elasticity of both Wasserman’s and Minton’s vocal equipment though, it’s more difficult to link certain tones to one or the other than to discern Lehn and Blume’s contributions. For instance some of the flat-line nephritic snarls heard are undoubtedly from Wasserman, whereas Minton’s expected Bedlam-reminiscent languages include a hearty helping of falsetto hysteria.
From the first track, when the two voices commingle, their tessitura is widened or narrowed to best vibrate alongside the others’ work. Minton’s throat-gargling fits on top of brush swishes and drum top friction from Blume, while bel-canto warbling and glossolalia from Wasserman abuts snare pops and flams. Synthesized crackles and splutters advance to dot-dash formulae as Minton’s gurgles and resonating bass-baritone undulations plus Wasserman’s Minnie Mouse-like lip burbling accelerates to unleash what sounds like an aviary of whistles, peeps and chirps. Tongue-twanging, buzzing syllables, rumbling snores and pig squeals are also on show, countered by bell-pealing plus reverberating oscillations from Lehn.
If anything though, the vocal performances are the inverse of anthropomorphism. Wasserman and Minton’s textures sound no more human than those proffered by Lehn and Blume; and often less homo sapient. On the fourth track climax for instance, Lehn’s extended signal processing becomes shriller when strengthened by a whispering bubble of nonsense syllables from Minton and Wasserman’s raps and twittering. Blume’s repetitive pounding on wood blocks and knackers is given added impetus from Daffy Duck-like syllable spitting, while Wasserman’s peeps are backed by percussion-produced hoof-beats. Finally Minton’s yodeling matches up with Lehn’s wave form wiggles in a fashion similar to the link between bass drum thumps and tonsil scraping cries.
Either of these discs demonstrates how verbal sound astronauts expand the limits of nature’s oldest instrument when dealing with contemporary instrumental tones. The secret: not shying away from primitive mouth expression. Ken Waxman (JazzWord)

A while back, director Pavel Borodin released a DVD documenting a concert of this quartet (Ute Wassermann, Phil Minton, Thomas Lehn and Martin Blume) at Cologne’s Loft. The final two tracks of this set were recorded in that very location, whereas the first three were captured in Bochum. It is definite that the role of the vocalists weighs a lot in the sonic economy of Speak Easy: the conjugation of Wassermann’s “birdtalking” and Minton polymorphic glottology is a spectacle in itself, enriched by the kind of creativity that allows an audience to find new elements of surprise in each performance. Ultrasonic whistling, piercing squeaks, belching sub-harmonics and twisted lamentations are the consequences of an impressive technical exercise, which took decades to bring to perfection. The expressive exactitude – mixed with the right dose of recklessness – is almost chirurgical and, at times, downright frightening.
Yet things wouldn’t appear the same if those voices were left without the contribution of Lehn’s analogue synth and Blume’s intelligent percussiveness. Both artists work for the accomplishment of a satisfying communal texture rather than making their own personality come to the forefront. But – exactly for that modesty – this is what happens after all. In the second improvisation, around the third minute, there’s a rare moment in which the foursome give way to the inside energies with a mix of controlled hostility and reciprocal sensitivity. The synthesizer’s volatile harshness and the smart suppleness applied by Blume on bass drum and toms create a fantastic background to a drunken altercation between Minton and Wassermann until peace is restored, the group calming down in a sort of extraterrestrial Om before the conclusion. It’s just one among the many snapshots of brilliant resourcefulness to which this poker of extraordinary musicians has been treating us over the years, a feel of total contentment perceived every time a chance of revisiting these superlative edifices of visionary art materializes. Massimo Ricci (Touching Extremes)