As quietly as a large amount of the music it puts out, Another Timbre has asserted itself as one of the go-to labels for lovers of genre-pushing experimental music. And although tocando fondo may at first approach seem like one of Another Timbre’s slighter releases. It has, after all, only two tracks recorded by the two artists when Austrian Klaus Filip happened to be passing through Leonel Kaplan’s home city of Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, it encapsulates the essence of the new(ish) strain of minimalism known as “lowercase” better than just about any album I’ve heard in recent years. Yes, even more celebrated AT releases such as Skogen’s Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long or Jürg Frey’s Grizzana and Other Pieces.
Perhaps this is because the duo takes two instruments that superficially may not seem to coalesce very neatly and makes them do just that. Leonel Kaplan is a trumpeter with a background in both classic and free jazz, whilst Klaus Filip’s “instrument” of choice is a laptop generating high-pitched sine waves in a way that at times sounds like a kitchen appliance turning itself on or the weird “bongs” you hear when an airplane is about to bump into some turbulence. Combining electronics, even ones you can take a more nuanced approach to like sine waves, with acoustic “traditional” instruments can be a risky business with the potential for the former to overwhelm the latter. It is to both men’s eternal credit that this is never, at any point, the case on tocando fondo. Kaplan is a dextrous and measured musician who has long since transcended his jazz roots and transformed his trumpet into a sort of meditational drone device, his limpid held notes hanging in the ether rather than strutting forwards to assert the visceral authority one often expects from brass. In response, Filip gently coaxes tones out of his laptop that drift between subtle glitch and more muted sustained atmospherics.
As with all great improvised music, tocando fondo is therefore a conversation rather than a duel (although I still retain a fondness of the belligerent noise sparring of much free jazz in the Borbetomagus vein, there is a lot more to be said for this quiet, restrained exercise in listening whilst playing). Each performer takes time to drink in his friend’s contributions and then finds a response; the overlaps are all the more thrilling for being almost unexpected. Kaplan, like a fellow occasional Another Timbre contributor John Butcher, uses his own breath as an integral part of the trumpet’s range, broadening its potential to achieve sounds that, whilst in keeping with the indolent pace of the album’s two tracks, also matches the occasionally gristly, even noisy (although this is very docile noise) quality of Filip’s sine waves.
If tocando fondo is, at heart, a tranquil album in the Deep Listening tradition of Pauline Oliveros, there is also an element of tension lurking under its gossamer surface. Towards the end of the first track Klaus Filip holds a shimmering tone for an almost uncomfortably long time, and Kaplan slowly dances around him with hissing, rasping breaths. It’s a curious and mesmerizing slow waltz of a record, often intangible, as comfortable with silence as with sound, and a wonderful time capsule of a dialogue between two artists who seem quite relaxed as they softly but insistently probe the boundaries of their craft. (Joseph Burnett)