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The International Nothing

Kai Fagaschinski | clarinet (right)
Michael Thieke | clarinet (left)

Margareth Kammerer | voice & guitar (on 5)
Derek Shirley | double bass (on 7, right)
Christian Weber | double bass (on 7, left)
Christof Kurzmann | remix with additional voice (8)

All compositions by Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, except „and the morning“ by Kai, Michael and Margareth Kammerer, „lovetone“ by Kai, Michael, Christian Weber and Derek Shirley, and „hauntissimo“ by Christof Kurzmann.
Recorded by Michael at KuLe (1-4, 6), at Maggy’s flat (5), at Derek’s flat (7), and by Christof at his flat (8), all in Berlin between July 2003 and June 2005. The duo pieces were recorded with the kind help of Nicholas Bussmann.
Mixed by Michael and Kai.
Mastered by Martin Siewert at Motone Sound Services, Vienna.
Cover designed by tanabemse.
Many thanks to Maggy, Derek, Christian, Christof, Nickel, KuLe, Martin, Maz, and tanabemse.



released October 29, 2006


A subtle, precise album from Berlin based clarinettists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, packed with soft, furry sounds and glowing multiphonics. The opener „Einfache Freuden“ („Simple Delights“) is a sustained exploration of pianissimo reed playing; it luxuriates in the bristling ‚difference tones‘ generated by discords or the hamonics arising from unison. Overtones gleam and fade as the held notes gently swell and clash.
Everything here is composed but deeply informed by improvisation, plus (obviously) a profound acquaintance with the clarinet. This type of writing can prove tricky for a composer who doesn‘t play the instrument in question – possessed of the ideas but not the technical know-how to achieve them, composer and performer alike can wind up frustrated. By writing their own material, Fagaschinski and Thieke engage directly with the sound that they sculpt so exquisitely.
Five duets are intercut by a song from Margareth Kammerer, whose vulnerable voice evokes Billie Holiday. This is recorded in Kammerer‘s flat with the windows flung wide open to admit birdsong. Double bassists Derek Shirley and Christian Weber join for the „Lovetone“ quartet, and Christof Kurzmann wraps things up by singing over his remix of the duo material. Overall it‘s a proud example of the new Berlin music, convivial, intense and light-hearted at the same time, and effortlessly blurring Improv into composition.

by Clive Bell (The Wire/UK, January 2007)

By rights this shouldn’t be in the Jazz / Improv section at all (though to be honest I’ve long since stopped worrying about where to draw exact boundary lines), since, as the accompanying press bumph makes clear, each of the eight tracks on the cheekily-entitled Mainstream (it isn’t) is carefully composed. But the two men behind the project, Berlin-based clarinettists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, are noted improvisers, and Ftarri is an offshoot of the Improvised Music from Japan label, so you’ll stand a better chance of finding a copy of this by looking in the Improv bin than in Contemporary Classical. The name they’ve chosen for their group is either depressing or ironic, or both – a sly comment on the music’s wilfully obscure niche market or a nod to the network of lowercasers strategically positioned around the globe (Berlin Reductionism + Tokyo Onkyo + New London Silence = International Nothing?)? – but the music isn’t. It’s a vibrant (in several senses of the word) if at times deadpan exploration of the tonal combinations and combination tones of two clarinets, and it’s refreshingly free from the plink plink fizz of extended technique fluster and bluster. Just tune your instruments carefully, hit those pitches dead on, and leave your listeners to thrill to the acoustic beats. Personal fave tracks: “wenn alles wehtut und nichts mehr geht” and “feathered machine song”. Talking of songs, the album actually contains two: On “and the morning”, Berlin’s answer to Karen Dalton (without the dental problems), Margareth Kammerer, adds vocals and guitar, and Christof Kurzmann provides the odd nightmarish berceuse “hauntissimo” that closes the album. Neither are ever going to make it into the Top 40, so don’t be fooled by that album title, but they do stick in the mind, almost annoyingly so. On “lovetone” – now there’s a Top 40 title for you – the clarinettists are joined by bassists Derek Shirley and Christian Weber for a grisly Polwechsel-meets-Scelsi workout. Great stuff. All I need to know now is why the cover is adorned with a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, a walrus and an armadillo.

by Dan Warburton (Paristransatlantic/France, February 2007)

Zwei Klarinetten in multiphonischer Konsonanz und mehr. Kai Fagaschinski (*1974, Dannenberg) & Michael Thieke (*1971, Düsseldorf), der eine bekannt mit Projekten wie Rebecca oder Los Glissandinos und No Furniture, die beide nicht zufällig auf Creative Sources heraus gekommen sind, der andere mit Unununium, Hotelgäste oder Nickendes Perlgras, taten sich vor gut 6 Jahren zusammen und verschoben ihren Fokus im Lauf der Zeit von diskreter Akribie auf vollmundigere Klanglichkeit. Als ob sie wieder die ‚einfachen Freuden‘ des Sonoren erkunden wollten. Und andererseits die Reize angenehmer Gesellschaft. ‚Lovetone‘ spielen sie im Quartett mit den beiden Kontrabassisten Derek Shirley und Christian Weber. ‚And the morning‘ klingt durch die Stimme & akustische Gitarre von Margareth Kammerer, ihrer Partnerin in The Magic I.D., ganz wie ein Kunstlied dieses zusammen mit Christof Kurzmann gebildeten Quartetts. Und der wiederum gestaltete abschließend den Remix ‚hauntissimo‘ ebenfalls mit Gesang als Wiegenlied. Die fünf reinen Klarinettenduette bezaubern mit gezogenen, harmonisch schimmernden Tönen, die von Clive Bell im Wire passend mit ‚furry‘ beschrieben wurden, und mit Klangfarben, die eher an Orgelpfeifen, Bass- oder Blockflöten und Mundharmonikas erinnern. In den rührenden ‚Morning‘-Song mischen sich Vögel mit ein, die die kunstvoll evozierte ‚Natürlichkeit‘ bezeugen. Das Quartett vergewissert sich anfangs summend seines gemeinsamen dröhnminimalistischen Nenners, einem geblasenen und gestrichenen Unisono, bis die Klarinetten nach oben, die Bässe nach unten ausscheren, Weber zupft ein dunkles Pizzikato und die andern Drei beben in einem gemeinsamen Vibrato. Von einem Schwarm von Klarinetten begleitet, sprechsingt Kurzmann, ‚Kylie‘ Fagaschinskis Kopilot im Raumschiff Zitrone, dann noch sein Lullabye. Echter als echt. Solche Väter braucht das Land.

by Rigobert Dittmann (Germany, February 2007)

Che Berlino sia oggi una specie di capitale europea, se non mondiale, delle attività musicali – e artistiche in generale – sembra essere ormai un fatto indiscutibile, altrimenti non si spiegherebbe la confluenza verso quella città di musicisti provenienti dai quattro cantoni. Ed è quindi logico che molti occhi siano puntati su quanto avviene nella capitale germanica, la quale non manca di ripagare l’attesa attraverso pubblicazioni di grande spessore che, spesso, vedono la collaborazione incrociata fra vari elementi che bazzicano quella comunità, andando così a costituire una fitta rete in grado di intrigare fra le sue maglie anche l’appassionato più sfuggente. Kai Fagaschibski e Michael Thieke, entrambi clarinettisti, non vengono certo trattati in queste pagine per la prima volta, e non dovrebbero rappresentare un’incognita neppure per i nostri lettori meno abituali.
Per la consistente scia che si trascinano alle spalle rimando alle sintetiche biografie presenti nei loro siti, limitandomi a ricordare come i loro interessi vagabondino dalla new thing meno primitivista alla musica creativa dei primi anni ’70 del secolo scorso e dal minimalismo più riduzionista all’elettronica-elettroacustica con tendenze minimali. Questo duettare di clarinetti – legno e aria – rispetta tali influenze, andando a definire un microcosmo poetico, soffuso e delicato, che però è in possesso di una propria forza e di una innegabile geometria, a partire dalla scelta di disgiungerne il suono nelle due uscite dell’impianto stereo (Fagaschibski a destra e Thieke a sinistra). Anche in Lovetone, dove alla coppia si aggiungono i contrabbassi di Derek Shirley e Christian Weber, viene seguita la stessa procedura, mentre la song And the morning ed il lied Hauntissimo (for Lucy & Richard Stoltzmann) si adeguano necessariamente ad una forma geometrica triangolare: nella prima la voce e la chitarra di Margareth Kammerer ci trasportano verso sciccherie in bilico fra old-jazz e cantautorato di classe mentre il remix e la voce di Christof Kurzmann definiscono una gig ‘morbidamente’ teutonica (vi giuro ch’è vero!!!). Ed infine il fascino esercitato da “Mainstream” non può che invitare a quell’opera di ricerca già insita nella struttura reticolare descritta ad inizio recensione. Di Margareth Kammerer e di Christof Kurzmann dovreste ormai sapere quasi tutto, mentre un primissimo approccio può riguardare i contrabbassisti Derek Shirley (canadese e residente a Berlino, dove collabora a vari progetti) e Christian Weber (svizzero e molto attivo, che abbiamo incontrato anche nell’ultimo splendido “Out” dei Day & Taxi)… ma è meglio fermarsi qui altrimenti si corre il rischio di andare troppo lontano. Un’altra annotazione per constatare come anche da quelle parti (a Berlino) non sia comunque tutto rose e fiori, almeno stando al fatto che i due clarinettisti si sono dovuti rivolgere ad una casa discografica giapponese per poter pubblicare questo notevole CD……… E, ancora, un’ulteriore domanda: ma si tratta proprio di mainstream? E cosa vorrà dire il nome che i due si sono scelti? E i quattro esempi faunistici della copertina, tutti a rischio di estinzione, non saranno una metafora sullo stato odierno della musica? Troppe domande senza risposta, e forse è meglio tornare all’unica certezza rappresentata dalla bellezza – direi pura – di questo CD. Allora, per dirla alla Jonathan Richman, ‘one more time…’.

by Sergio Eletto (Sands-Zine/Italy, March 2007)

Japonský label Ftarri, odnož Improvised Music from Japan, vyslal do světa první vlaštovku, ovšem pod číslem 222. Jelikož futari znamená dva lidé a v edičním plánu na příští rok je plánováno vydání dua Nakamura/Dörner, je zřejmé, jakým směrem se tento nový label vydává. Duo berlínských klarinetistů Kai Fagaschinski a Michael Thieke tvoří na větší části mainstreamu minimalistické kompozice v duchu Passing Measures Davida Langa. Krystalicky čisté barvy tónů naberou na výškách i naléhavější dynamičnosti ve čtvrté skladbě (feathered machine song), aby v následující byly zabarveny hlasem a kytarou hostující Margareth Krammerer. Pak se posluchač opět ponoří do jemných vln tónů protahovaných až na samotný okraj možností, jež klarinet skýtá, aby v předposlední skladbě (lovetone) prošel basovým stereem hostujících kontrabasistů. Na závěr alba se k duu ještě přidá se svým laptopem i hlasem dlouholetý spolupracovník Christof Kurzmann a k vysoké kvalitě zvuku této desky přispívá také technická spolupráce Martina Siewerta. Pro milovníky mainstreamové hudby pak už jen zůstane otázkou, proč čtyři tlustokožci na obalu
by Petr Vrba (HisVoice/Czech Republic, January 2007)


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The International Nothing Berlin, Germany

The International Nothing is a psycho-acoustic clarinet duo formed by Michael Thieke and Kai
Fagaschinski in 2000. They collectively compose multilayered sound sculptures using multiphonics, beat frequencies
and difference tones as an integral part of their language. The duo released four albums on the Japanese Ftarri Label and played concerts in Europe, Asia and North America.
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